Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Running with the Big Dogs

At the book fair last Saturday, I was delighted to find myself on a panel with three writers whose work I deeply admire:

Pam Duncan is the author of Moon Women, Plant Life, and The Big Beautiful, beautifully and sensitively realized stories of women. Fred Chappell is a former NC Poet Laureate, recipient of many prestigious awards including the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, and the author of numerous novels and collections of poetry. And there was Ron Rash, poet and novelist, whose Serena I've already said a lot about here and his The World Made Straight here.

The panel was moderated by Newt Smith, professor of English at Western Carolina and the topic was the sense of place in our work -- we all write about the western North Carolina mountains.

I admit to a feeling of being the odd man out, the thorn amidst the roses. These writers are all natives with family ties to the area stretching back for generations -- me, I'm the transplant. And they're all "literary writers" whereas I'm a writer of genre fiction -- just a "paperback writer."

Now, neither the moderator nor any of the panel members made me feel anything less than a colleague and an equal. But I know that the perception exists that genre fiction is somehow lesser than literary fiction -- indeed, that's one reason I chose to write mysteries -- it seemed less daunting.

Genre fiction (and that would include, mystery, romance, science fiction, horror, fantasy, romance, western and all their sub-categories) briefly, is written and read mainly for entertainment. Literary fiction, on the other hand, has loftier goals -- education and inspiration.

Genre fiction is plot driven -- and the plot can tend to the predictable -- whereas literary fiction is character driven. And, in general, the writing is of a higher standard -- more "literary," in fact.

I loved being on a panel with these folks --and I really didn't feel a need to apologize for what I write. In the end, we're all story tellers, all telling our stories the best we can.

Here's an excellent article on genre fiction vs. literary fiction

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Reader Wil said...

I am really proud to know you! You meet so many interesting people and you are always kind and you don't need to feel the odd man out, for newcomers always bring new ideas and other traditions to a place.

Thanks for your visit. Yes, I believe that you have many books!! No doubt about that. I have many and four of them are Yours!

Martin H. said...


Phew! You've had me running around the various links, and getting acquainted with these new names. One of the many pleasures of blogging.

You sum it up neatly in your final paragraph. "In the end, we're all story tellers, all telling our stories the best we can."

Long may that continue.

KarenB said...

An interesting take on genre vs. literature. I struggle with the definitions and the limitations imposed by them as I find the books I enjoy the most and come back to for rereading are hybrids. That is, they may start as genre fiction, for instance your books or Laurie King's, but they hold so much within them, fully realized characters, deeply researched back story or history, fully imagined settings, that I feel they cross over into the literature category. Putting books into neat sections works for bookstores and for those looking for a predictable reading experience (and sometimes I like those too!), but may also serve to prevent readers from crossing over to another genre although the story contained within a books might appeal to them. If, for instance, someone says, oh I never read mysteries, I don't like all that blood and gore, you know they are missing lots of excellent books with little to no blood and gore. Ideally, I would wish that authors could just write the stories that are within them without having to concern themselves with marketability.

Sorry to ramble on so, but I obviously find this an interesting discussion!

Vicki Lane said...

Thank you, Reader Wil! Meeting interesting people (and that would include you) is one of the benefits of writing!

I love being able to stick in those links, Martin! It keeps me from saying too much but allows those who want to know more to explore at will. Now if only I could include such links in my books! (Oh, yes -- I could do footnotes, a la The Hitchhiker's Guide but I'm not sure my editor would go for it.)

Well put, Karen! There ARE lots of hybrids out there. Or, another way of saying it might be that some genre fiction is much better written than other.

NCmountainwoman said...

I have read each of those authors and you, Vicki, tell a story as well as any of them. I have NEVER before read four books by the same author without a break in between. Not ever! So enjoy your place up there. You ARE one of the big dogs in my opinion.

Tammy said...

Hi Vicki,
Beautiful writing is still beautiful writing, no matter the labels applied. In my opinion you either 'got it' or you don't, and you definatetly got it. Sometimes the loftier reading gets tedious and evidently I'm not appreciative enough at times, as I think 'what the heck are they trying to get across'. Your books have a wonderful way to bring to life the local culture, all wrapped up in a story that is going to draw to a conclusion by the end...with a mystery to boot. Doesn't get any better than that. :-)

Liz said...

Vicki - Which category does "Day of Small Things" fall into? Seems like it would be more character driven than plot driven. Just wondering.

Vicki Lane said...

Many thanks, Mountain Woman and Tammy -- I'm doing my best!

Liz, As Karen says, it's a bit of a hybrid -- but it definitely leans in the character driven direction.

willow said...

This is pretty darn cool, Vickie! Keep telling those stories, dear friend. Kudos to you.

Rebel Fan said...

Yes, indeed! You belong there with those big dogs. I'm all about place and my place is down across the state line at the bottom of the Blue Wall. Wish I could have been there, too. I would have loved to hear that discussion. Keep doing what you do so well, Vicki.

Carol @ TheWritersPorch said...

My friend, I speak as "sort of " an authority on NC writers, HA!:)
Anyway, I've read them, as well as many others who were there and you were definately "beside'" your peers!! xoxo

Vicki Lane said...

Willow, Carol, and Carol -- Aw shucks, you all! ( blushing modestly and drawing a circle in the dirt with the toe of my shoe)

Merisi said...

While most of the books I have read are of the literary genre, some of the best reads were genre fiction. I often surprise even friends by my choice of books and let myself not be fooled by the "literary" label.

I am sure you have heard of great and famous authors who couldn't shed that feeling of being the odd wo/man out. Their accomplishments proofed them wrong. Of all the great writers I have met, the best were also the most modest.

Vicki Lane said...

You know, Merisi, I suspect that very many, if not all, writers have something of that feeling of being an alien observing a strange world. And the writing becomes a way of making sense of it.

Elizabeth said...

All of you are my special favorites!
I even got our library here to buy all of your books.

Vicki Lane said...

Many thanks, Elizabeth!!

Darla said...

Popped back to this post from one of those "you might also like" links on your current post...anyway, I, too, liked how you said "In the end, we're all story tellers" -- so encouraging! :-) The labels and definitions of genre seem to be a bit of a stumbling block for my writing at the moment, and I keep reminding myself not to worry about it...the completed work will be what it will be. (Can you hear Doris Day singing? LOL)