Saturday, October 13, 2012

Slicing and Dicing Writing

First things first…I’m back baby! So, hey everyone. For how long am I back? I have no idea. I felt no urge to blog for months and then suddenly I wanted to blog again.

Second, this might be due to my good friend Katie Hayoz’s new blog applause. She is a fantas…fab....err….totally fantabulous YA writer. See Katie, one adjective cannot contain you or your writing.

So, anyway Katie wrote this awesome blog post and it made me want to re-start blogging too. So here I am, blogging again. Katie wrote a funny and lovely post about being both a YA reader and a wonderful writer. Well, she says she writes YA and that’s the label under which her creative, fun and well-written book is making its rounds.

I would say though that she is a writer. A good writer, not merely a good YA writer, or a YA writer at all. Why, you ask?

It’s because I’m old-fashioned, not just plain old. I remember when there were no genres really except fiction and non-fiction. Sometimes I would hear that a book was a classic or that it was contemporary…a ‘novel.’ Sometimes there were some kids books thrown into the mix.

And then marketers got their paws on the industry and suddenly around the time I started writing seriously, what was once a wonderland of words and phrases became chopped up and divided into genres. So, just in fiction (forget the non category for now) there is literary fiction, commercial fiction, commercial womens’ fiction, romance, children’s fiction, young adult (YA) also known as juvenile fiction, horror, science fiction, mystery, crime, fantasy, and western. In fact there are many other ways to slice and dice fiction. Each genre has sub-genres and the whole thing makes my head hurt.

 Of course, the word genre has been applied to the written word before but the boundaries were more fluid. They were looser generalizations but in the modern marketing machine, genres have become set in stone almost. So much so that sometimes even writers become genre-ized.

When my first novel, The Burden of Foreknowledge, was making the rounds of publishers it was almost sold to one of the big ones. The acquisitions editor loved the book but it got shot down in the board meeting. They had already made their quota of, “female Indian authors,” for that publishing cycle. Yes, this is how publishing decisions are made…sometimes.

I remember when I was a child my parents went to meet the Dalai Lama. For years afterwards my mother would quote something he said. “There are only two religions in the world. The religion of the good people and the religion of the bad people. There is no other religion.”

And for me, there are only two kinds of books in the world, good books and bad books. If a book is good the genre becomes irrelevant. H.G. Wells’ books are classics not because they are science fiction but because they’re great books. Little Women is still loved for the same reason. Huckleberry Finn remains a much-read book but not because it was jammed into an obligatory genre.

To me, genres limit us, as readers and perhaps as writers. Writing is supposed to expand our minds, our creativity, and our imagination. As does reading. But putting ourselves in a little box and saying, ‘here this is your writing/reading arena. Stay within the lines and you’ll do well,” is counter-productive to that in my opinion.

Readers become entrenched within the genres they read. Think about this, a man might pick up Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights but would they be likely to do that if these two were packaged as romance novels with the obligatory lurid bodice-ripper (neck-biters, the Germans call them) covers?

As far as I am concerned genres should not be tools to guide readers or writers. They are merely marketing categories that have grown to encompass and, in my opinion, strangle the way we read books. I read Little Women and all the other Alcott books but I never knew I was reading YA. I read Invisible Man without knowing that it might be classified as horror or science fiction.

Good writing is good writing. It spans boundaries and breaks them. It defies genres and goes beyond defining them. So…bring on some good writing and screw the genre.


Katie Hayoz said...

Hmm. I think I would even buy a bodice-ripper if they were called neck-biters. Oh. Yeah. That's cuz I like that vampire stuff. Glad you are back, Jawahara! WHOOOOO!

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