On Slop in Genre: A Letter to All Industries
|Tantra, San Juan PR, is now closed.|
I realized something today which I think is hilarious: I understand the concept of genre as pertains to music (I create for myself a great visual of record store bins) but when it comes to literature I'm flummoxed - or so I just said to my guitar player. She loves playing with my crazy brain.
Mötörhead was formerly known as Hawkwind. Based on their name, Hawkwind got filed in the Country & Western section of the record store - I'm told sales were not so great*. At the local level - local being me - occasionally I'll write something that I know is a country song. It first happened in 1985 when I was living in Mississippi, in actual country. My brain naturally filtered verse through that...filter.
It was a less obvious default in 1992 when I worked in housekeeping and my brain wrote about 8 country songs while I made beds and cleaned toilets. I think there's something about rote activity that allows for creative freedom. But I lived in a world of grungy death metal and a B-circuit hair band in the basement. I can't do that math.
These days I write a lot of poetry - a LOT - because it's resolved in short spurts. I need a dedicated block of time to work on a big project, but I can throw down 280 characters of twitter-verse as exercise between thing 1 and thing 2. Occasionally, though, some beast drags itself up from the ossuary of my brain, presents itself with structure, and demands banjo. I still don't have a banjo. There's getting to be quite a backlog of these requests.
This is all to say I can form partitions around different music genres, possibly because I don't consider it my world. I am an HR nightmare when it comes to marketing literature.
I recently read an article in TIME that addressed the demarcation between Genre and Literary fiction(s). Part of the reason a problem even exists is because the reader base is a little cliquish. We love what we love and there's not a discernible acknowledgement of slop. You can be on Team Elves and Fairies, and also read Werewolf books, but try and write a book that includes both and you can hear the brakes screeching from the publishing house. And everyone assumes the quality of writing is going to be held to a lower standard, which is incredibly unfair. I'm ready to fight everyone.
I'm one of the editors of My Babylon, by James Wilber. You can probably find a typo or debate the veracity of any given comma, but it's good work. I'll posit further: even if you have no interest in what a summoned demon might want to wear, you can enjoy this book. The characters use believable psychology on each other. This story is not fluff. Is there a shelf at a bookstore labeled Literary Magick Genre Fiction? If you see one, please send me a shelfie so I can rejoice.
Here I'm about to jump the track and end up at the same destination: our society should be well past the point where we insist people identify themselves as only one race. Intercultural marriage is very much a thing, and always has been. At the local level - person to person - we don't even insist that people identify their sexuality in singular terms, and we're fighting to enforce that at the institutional level. We're not stopping any time soon.
We need to stop being dicks about literature - yeah, that's funny. The reader base is comprised of inherently opinionated persons; that's why we're here. I don't feel like we're being served by the industry, though. Our tastes are broad and delivery systems are not what they were 100 years ago when the big publishing houses grew up. They're working to keep up with us, but I wonder how much of their efforts are toward preserving homeostasis - their bigness** - and completely missing us on the menu offered. Now I'm ready to write the letter.
I'm probably projecting. My guitar player says she has the opposite genre-identifying problem, so I guess she can categorize my writing for me, and I'll figure out what genre wants her music. I don't know whether I speak for anyone else on the topic. Please let me know your thoughts.
Times are changing. We're hungry. Sitting us at the table and insisting we clean our plates is your grandmother ago. Some of us want fast food; some of us want fine dining, or both. Fusion cuisine has a market.
You have digital media fans as well as a solid base who want paper books and vinyl. Our artists are hungry, too. We know how to cook from scratch, and that's what we're doing while you figure out the menu.
Hear us. Stop screwing around.
Lev Grossman wrote this op-ed: Literary Revolution in the Supermarket Aisle: Genre Fiction Is Disruptive Technology.
*I can't find the article where I learned about the C&W mislabeling. Here's some background on Lemmy.
**Mel, that one's for you ;)
Spanish-Indian Restaurants - In today's COVID-19 arena, I'm not sure which restaurants are still in business and which will flourish. Eclectic fusion pairings are surely a challenge to keep afloat. I'll try to keep this page current, but I think I just saw a hummingbird out the front window. BRB.
BEBOP Korean-Mexican Grill - I'm having a hard time confirming an open Latin-Indian(the continent) restaurant. Come to Virginia, and we'll find Korean-whatever you want. I'm going to BEBOP first chance I get.
Taco Bamba - If you've been there, you already know. Taco Bamba provides a true community service in making taco fusion out of ever.y.thing.
Mazen's Lebanese-Cajun Cuisine - This is on my bucket list. The last time I had plans to eat at Mazen's it was closed for the day. They're a Lake Charles, LA, staple and still open.
Cowboys and Aliens is one of my favorite movies.
The Bad Livers - Death Trip I don't know that the Bad Livers self-identify as Death Banjo, but that's what I'm calling it. This is also one of my favorite things.