Archive for August, 2008

How did I miss…

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Obama at the Wall?

Wow, I’m *really* living under a pile o babies right now!

I even *get* the NYTimes.  But it tends to get chewed before I can read it…

Newsprint is DELICIOUS!

A little clarification on “genre”…

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

(it is a fair bet that most of these stories have a bad guy and a good guy, and a crime and a gun)

Not to belabor the point… as I’m ready to move on.  But a few people commented, and a few people emailed, and complained that they don’t feel “genre” is formulaic.

And while I essentially agree with them that my definition came across as simplified and  overly negative, (because, basically, I’m a snob) I’m going to fight for my assertion of genre as formulaic.  Of formula as the defining characteristic of what might be called “genre” writing.

As opposed to readership.

I think formula=genre works pretty well as a definition. But I want to explain a little what I mean by “formula”.  I don’t really mean that no good writing is formulaic.  I don’t mean that all genre writing is bad. Or that a formula means the writing can’t also be creative and new.   I just mean that books from a like “genre” will share elements of plot, craft, set-up, resolution, etc.  That‘s what I mean by formula.

That books in a particular genre share some kind of lowest common denominator in their actual storyline.  The Once and Future King and Pat the Bunny do not share an LCD I can think of.

There are romances that will be categorized as such, but also be shelved with “literary” books.  Same for fantasy, detective fiction, etc.  But some of the conventions are still there.

All romance novels are not the same, but you can pretty much bet that genre/romance will have someone who starts out alone and ends up with a lover.  Or someone who starts out with the wrong lover, and finds true love. Most will also have some kissing, and the love will, at turns, appear to be thwarted.  Do you know of a “genre” romance novel with NO romance?

All detective fiction is not the same, but most detective novels begin with a crime of some sort, an unsolved situation. And by book’s end, a clever (though complicated or flawed) character will have figured out the answer.  Whether it’s an old pulp magazine, or The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, on some level, it makes use of a series of plot conventions.  Readers have some idea of what they’re getting.

That’s all I really meant.

And think about this– the less a book is plot-driven, the less the formula will make the book identical to other books.  I think when a book jumps from “genre” classifications into “literary” classifications, what is happening is that the author is leaving some of the plot/genre conventions intact, but focusing less on plot and more on other elements of craft.

I find myself thinking about fantasy, and that fantasy is perhaps, by definition, less of a genre. I recently read Merlin’s Dragon, and while I didn’t like it much, it’s NOT a book I’d call genre at all.  It has, like, no human characters.  It’s just about a little dragon creature looking for animals like himself.  Weird.

If that‘s fantasy, than I have no clue what the fantasy conventions are.  Dragons?  That’s dumb.

But I’ve read my share of mysteries, and my share of romances, and I’m sorry, y’all… they do, by and large, follow a recipe.

Further ranting on the snobs who diss kidlit…

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Here is what I have been thinking about…

My objection regarding  snubs from literary institutions  has a LOT to do with the classification of kidlit as “genre” writing.

And from the jump, one can argue that the  division between “genre” writing and “literary” writing is unacceptable.  But I won’t. Because I actually think it is useful.  Some books are “genre”.

Which is not to say BAD, only predictable.

When applied correctly.  the term “Genre” should be assigned to work that is primarily formulaic.  Mystery novels and Harlequin Romances follow very proscribed patterns.  Sometimes, a writer finds a way to manipulate and transcend a formula, and that’s AWESOME! When that happens, the book rarely gets considered “genre” writing.  Take a “sci-fi” book like Perelandra.  Such books free themselves of “genre” classifications.  But this whole system assumes a FORMULA.


When the term “genre” gets applied to kidlit, the term is being horribly (I think) misused.  What in God’s name is the “forumla” for kidlit? There isn’t one.  What formula applies to both Goosebumps #17 and The Little Prince?  Or Little Women and Charlies Angels novelizations?  Or Hop on Pop and Lord of the Rings (which are both BRILLIANT literature, btw)?

These books all fall into ONE genre?

No, the only thing they share is an extremely broad readership ( a readership, I might add, that encompasses a HUGE range of intellectual sophistication, far greater than the range of any adult readership).  They have  a lot less in common that, say, Bungalo 2 and many Pulitzer Prizewinners. And yet they all share this “genre” heading.

Which causes, I think, people to treat them all–to some degree– as forumulaic.  Which is SO WRONG.

And perhaps to assume that because the readership is less sophisticated( is it really?) and less discerning and divisive, that the writers of kidlit are less talented, serious, intellectual, and LITERARY!

When in fact they are innovators, poets, geniuses.

I find this “genre” terminology  particularly distasteful in light of all the terribly formulaic “literary” writing in the world.  How many MFA writers have published bad midlist “literary” novels about best online slots game young self-aware singles struggling against the urban landscape and their own ennui?  How many literary magazines have a published a poem that goes something like…

Daybreak at (insert old european building or decaying American industrial structure)

The (insert birds or small animals) aren’t here today,
but  as the (insert weather system) rolls in,
I glance at my (insert body part)
And remember you saying once
That (insert wise or spare comment),
On a day much like this one.
(Insert refection or question)
I notice for the first time that my
(insert phsyical attribute of aforementioned bodypart)
has grown (insert emotion or insightful  description)
And as I turn and walk back along the
worn path to the (insert name business or car)
I see that the (insert animal from line 1)
has finally come, bearing (insert something small).
And I feel (insert transformative and/or static emotion).
I notice my hands are empty.

How forumulaic is most “literary”  MFA-style writing?  Churned out as it is after  the same advice, the same comments, the same models?  It often takes an MFA student years to rediscover  their own voice.  I know it took me a loooong time, a lot of blogging, a few bouts of writer’s block, a ton of reading, and a massive intellectual re-org.

In fact, one could argue that good kidlit is less formulaic because most of it wasn’t written after such a streamlining process.

I feel strongly we need to STOP applying this term to books simply because they have  a young marketing demographic.  If the division of literary/genre is relevant to begin with, it needs to be assigned based on the content, not the proposed readership, of a book.

There ARE genre boks– romances, mysteries, horror, etc.  For ALL ages. There are juvenile romances, mysteries and horrors, just as there are adult romances, mysteries and horrors.  But to assign this title, this categorical term, to an entire body of literature before it has been read… or even written…

That’s bonkers.  And insulting.  Not because genre writing is bad (I’m a huge Agatha Christie fan myself) but because it is oversimplifed, reductive.

Anyway… I know I tend to rant aimlessly, and  I could go on, and on, and on…  but I won’t. I’ll stop here, and say that I’m pretty sure I’m right about this one.

A rant from beyond the tower walls…

Monday, August 4th, 2008

I’m angry today, at the literary academic establishment. Specifically, I’m mad at AWP and Yaddo.

Last week  I called Yaddo (nicely) to ask about residencies for authors of kidlit.  I was told that I should apply with a submission of my adult work, and that then I could work on whatever I like if I got in. But they cannot fund children’s books, no matter the artistic merit of the work.

Grrrrr.  How incredibly stupid is that?

Then, yesterday, I found out that the panel I was on for AWP was declined, a panel about literary fictioneers and poets who also write books for kids.  Not shocking I guess. How else will they make room for another panel about (insert boring topic here)?

I’m really disappointed about this. It was an amazing group of writers, and we had a lot of good things to say.  Not to mentin being something NEW.

But it’s no surprise, in a climate where  many MFA programs  refuse to apply kidlit publications to tenure.  Because those morons will never realize that some of the most innovative writing– the most genre bending, creative, crazy work– is being done for kids.


I’m famous (and so is Lew)!

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

My little book trailer got a mention today on Fuse #8′s Video Sunday!

I feel so fancy!

How we do…

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

…in the dirty south….

I don’t always love Atlanta, but sometimes I’m really happy I live here. Last night was one of those times.  Because last night was my  first ever Hot Summer Literary Car Smashing.

Yes, that’s what I said.  Hot. Summer. Literary. Car. Smashing.

There were cold cans of beer, and readings atop the old junker that was to be smashed.  There were kids and sledgehammers (always a good combination).  There was a parking lot full of gravel for Mose to play with, and there was a lot of art.

Oh, and of course there was grape soda.

You fancy folks can keep your wine and cheese, your carefully lit galleries and hush-hush bookstores.  Here in Hotlanta we know it’s about writing and reading and playing.  And more than anyone , the  wonderful people of the  wonderful Duck & Herring Co. know how to play.

It was a time.

Shameless hussying…

Friday, August 1st, 2008

Just a quick note to say that if anyone who reads this blog is also a reviewer or interviewer or perhaps OPRAH (are you there, Oprah? I’m sorry I never call you anymore. I’m really busy… but you understand, right?) I’d be delighted to chat with you and tell  you juicy secrets, or have an ARC sent your way, or whatev…

Just let me know!