27 January 2015

genre versus literary

I've been thinking a lot lately about the dichotomy between genre and literary fiction. This is probably because I'm in the process of reading The Best American Short Stories 2014. Of course, BASS is the collection for literary fiction. While all these stories are beautifully written, I wouldn't have chosen any of them for Electric Spec.

The series editor Heidi Pitlor had some telling words in her intro: ...many stories tended to wander--sometimes intriguingly, often into unsettling territory--rather than accelerate toward some definitive endpoint. While some stories that I read this year were built around or upon some narrative roadway...plenty were not.
To me this epitomizes the divide between genre and literary fiction. I would say genre fiction needs to have a narrative roadway, i.e. a plot. This means something needs to be changed at the end of the story. It could be subtle, e.g. a change within the protagonist, but something needs to be different.

When I choose fiction for Electric Spec I agree with the 2014 BASS editor Jennifer Egan: The best fun, for me, comes from reading something that feels different from anything else. ...Let's say that I'm biased toward writers who take an obvious risk, formally, structurally, or in terms of subject matter, over those who do a familiar thing exquisitely.
We do strive to publish original stories.

Egan is also a bit provocative considering her job as BASS editor: ...I don't care very much about genre, either as a reader or as a writer. To me, fiction writing at any length, in any form, is a feat of radical compression: take the sprawling chaos of human experience, run it through the sieve of perception, and distill it into something comparatively miniscule that somehow, miraculously, illuminates the vast complexity around it.
This is definitely something to aspire to.

Maybe the genre/literary divide isn't so big. What do you think?

Next week I'll tell you about the Production Meeting for the Feb 28, 2015 issue.

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