The Morning Muse 3 | Genre or Literary?

Journals & Notebooks, The Morning Muse

I am probably predominantly a genre writer and reader, if we’re going with labels and categories (and let’s face it, that’s what happens in publishing whether we like it or not).  Of course I’ve read and written literary fiction as well in my long years of doing this, and I appreciate a great deal of the literary stuff.  You could say that most of the micro & flash fiction I write and read is of a more literary nature, however, like I said earlier this week in The Morning Muse, I still usually require a strong sense of story, regardless of length or category.  When I was a fiction editor that was one of my major requirements of the pieces I considered for awarding the gift of publication, regardless of word count.  Still, for the majority of my fiction buying money and precious reading time, it’s genre fiction for me – crime, dark fantasy, horror, paranormal, science fiction, supernatural, suspense, thrillers, urban fantasy, a slew of sub-genres and more.  It’s just what I dig most.

I am reminded of what I once heard Stephen King say a few years back in a video interview (topic begins at the 7:20 mark). Essentially he said literary fiction (or “literature”) is often about extraordinary people in ordinary circumstances, and genre fiction (aka “popular fiction”) is generally about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

Breaking it down that way, I suppose my favorite of the two to read in long form is the normal Joe or Jane who struggles against abnormal situations, and terrible odds, and trials and tribulations that they must overcome just to try to get back to that normal life, rather than the exceptional (sometimes haughty) individual who stands out in the crowd of otherwise unremarkable people doing mundane things.  Unsurprisingly that extends to the long fiction I write as well.

I think I might touch upon this some more later in The Evening Muse.  In the meantime, check out this interview with Uncle Stevie from around the time Under the Dome was published (2009?).

6 thoughts on “The Morning Muse 3 | Genre or Literary?

  1. And it has been my experience, especially with The New Yorker fiction, that the exceptional haughty individual story is written by a younger author. My favorite stories from this magazine have been when a story presents itself, you’re not sure where it’s going but it’s narrative takes you early on, there’s a suspense in the story, maybe slight unease, and you are rewarded with a satisfying conclusion. I have high standards and can say that it has been a long time since a young American writer has delivered such a story.


    1. Andrew, as an editor I published several stories just like that in my anthology LOCAL HEROES. I wish it was still in print (or better yet, in digital) so that I could point you to it, especially the opening 3 pieces, one of which was actually a “genre” piece, low-level sci-fi where there was so much heart in the story that the mild science fiction aspects are mainly just the backdrop. The story was so immersive and emotionally engaging (wrenching) that I absolutely had to make it the opening piece of the book. That story, by Robert C. Eccles might’ve gone on to win an honor or award as well, if I remember correctly. This was nearly 4 years ago.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have all the volumes of Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina’s Kwame? series originally in Granta magazine. Also a deep source of writing.
        I agree, anthologies are a good way to pick out what you like and don’t. David Sedaris’ personal anthology series Children Playing Before Statue of Hercules also had some nice stories.
        The digging continues.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. “Younger author” meaning under 30 and perhaps a recent MFA grad? Haha, I suppose that’s a likely assumption. But I think the type of fiction you speak of and may be seeking is still out there, you’re maybe just not seeking it out or are aware of where to find it. For example, Best American Short Stories and the O. Henry Award anthologies, two I used to read in my early days, are still being published annually as far as I know. They get those stories from somewhere because they have to be previously published to become recognized and award-winning. Now, have publishing trends in the mainstream magazines changed? Sure. They evolve with the times like anything else commercial. But publishing media is bigger today than it’s ever been, so everyone should be able to find their fiction fetish. Unfortunately, it may just take some extra digging through the mud to find those standouts.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As I grow older, I am less patient with time wasting writing. Case in point, I wasn’t bowled over by Junot Diaz’ work the way others were and I think his dialogue-driven stories have spawned an unfortunate spate of further mediocrity. Other avenues for me have been reading other writers’ recommendations. It’s how I found Amy Hempel, Nathaniel Rich, Mavis Gallant and Paul Theroux.
        Art is subjective and it seems others from other countries, especially African countries have a richer, present story to tell.
        Thank you for the discussion, Brandon, and also for your recommendations.


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