I can't keep up with all the different genres that have cropped up over the years. Crime fiction can be a thriller or a police procedural or a cozy detective novel, or hard boiled. Romance fiction can be Christian or sweet or erotic or paranormal or sensuous and there is no more bodice ripping even though romance novels also can fall into eras: Georgian, Victorian or contemporary. They are women's fiction and yet not women's fiction because women's fiction now also includes gay, lesbian, straight and transsexual, although I'm sure the latter has a new designation that I have missed altogether. Women's fiction is about women. It could be chick lit, which is also romance, which is also a commentary on what women really want and how they act as long as it also includes a lover who can be male or female or was once male or female. It's all so confusing. All these genres and breakdowns and writing to types of fiction that make it easier for booksellers to shelve books and make writers crazy. It's all about retailing and commercial fiction. And I don't even want to get into the whole literary fiction versus commercial fiction discussion because beyond that boundary there be monsters.
Back in the good old days of books for children and books for adults, and the line was crossed even in those days with children reading books written for adults and vice versa and everyone was happy, there was only fiction and nonfiction. Flights of fancy and down to earth writing about facts and figures and truth as sifted through the eyes, mind and pen of the journalist or historian. The genres were two and the line between them clear cut. Writers had one aim--to be commercial. Now being commercial is a dirty word--except for those who sit atop the best sellers list--to those who write literary fiction. Commercial just means sales and sales enable writers to quit their day jobs and continue to write.
As well read as I am, sometimes I completely miss the point of literary fiction. It seems to consist of a small group of writers who are more interested in playing with words andengaging in a contest to see who can write the longest sentence; one writer managed to write a whole book that was essentially a story. I don't think that would be considered commercial except as a curioisty. "Wow, he really did it." What happened to fiction? How did it come to be so muddled and confusing and combative within the ranks?
I doubt that Anthony Trollope or Virginia Woolf or Guy de Maupassant or Mark Twain or anyone you can name before the mid twentieth century gave any thought to branding or choosing a genre for their work. They wrote books for people to read who must buy the book in order to read it. In other words, they were writing commercial fiction. Even Henry Miller and Anais Nin wrote books so people would buy them to read. Whatever the subject, no matter how they framed their work, it was meant to be commercial. How would they view the current internecine wars between fractured factions of fiction? Would they say, "Just write what you know and what you feel and get on with it."? It's how I feel most days.
As I struggle to figure out where my books and stories belong--romance, women's fiction, literary, biography, horror, science fiction, fantasy, mainstream, sideslip, etc.--I wonder how it all got so convoluted and strained and why booksellers are telling writers how to catalogue their work when all I want to do--when all we want to do--is write stories that interest and amuse and plumb the deep heart of experience. When a nice turn of phrase finds its way into my writing, I'm happy, but I don't spend hours and days and weeks and months and years writing for the sake of creating a pretty word salad that shocks and awes and confuses. I write to tell stories. I write to share my view of the world and to entertain. I write to inform and leave a bit of myself in the world for now and for the future. I write to tell the truth. I write to lie and through the lie tell the truth. I write to tell stories. It's really all about the stories.
From the parables in the Bible to Aesop's fables to the epics, sagas and poems of the old world, and even to the storytellers huddled around camp fires in caves safe in the darkness from predation out of the cold and wet and heat, it was and should still be about telling a story, inscribing a truth or moral or the simple experience of living that left marks on walls in clay and soot and fire and even blood, cut deeply into stone and wood and lay upon the ground to outlast nature's rough touch and survives in some racial memory that connects us all. Writing is a fleeting moment of human history and consciousness that should be all about connections. It shouldn't be word acrobatics that fly and twist and turn but never land on the wire or the net or the ground. Writing should be about something, should have a beginning, middle and end instead of skirting the razor's edges of schizophrenic thoughts and disordered minds or like a raddled family relic whose synapses are damaged from lack of blood to the brain, trickling through constricted arteries that clot and stem the rushing flood of memory until in the addled mind the word salad is a story that links one moment to the next but in the listener's ears is a cacophony of sound and fury signifying nothing or weaving a tapestry of words with no loom or warp or weft, nothing to give it form and function. Even Hemingway's six-word story--"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."--there is a beginning, middle and end. It has warp and weft and a loom (a small loom, but a loom all the same) that gives it form.
We tell stories to each other and to ourselves to show a connection to the world and to each other. Writers tell stories to be read by a wide and varied audience with the purpose of showing and telling that we are all one and no one is really alone. Writers tell stories that are meant to be sold and widely dispersed, that are and should be commercial. It's a simple process that someone always keeps trying to make convoluted and difficult. As nice as awards and accolades are, it is the stories that survive the ages and connect the human dots that survive. Tom Sawyer is as much literature as Dr. Seuss's Grinch and Whos. From Homer to Aesop to Marcus Aurelius and Augustine and Emily Bronte and Mary Shelly to Virginia Woolf and Tom Wolfe and Collette and Henry Miller and Andre Norton and Stephen King and even down to me, we are all storytellers, keepers of humanity's flame and chroniclers of the moment and our aim is to reach out and touch the heart and mind through books full of stories. We are commercial--or at least we should be.