I write speculative fiction. Genre fiction. Fantasy. Sci Fi. Horror. I’ve grown ill reading the backs of novels and the thousand and one stories about couples (mostly straight white couples) and their marital problems. I’m sure these stories are brilliantly told, and well deserving of literary praise for depicting the human spirit. But wouldn’t it be more fascinating if the novel literally depicted the human spirit?
What does the human spirit look like? How would it sound if it could speak? Would it sound liquid and silvery or grainy and fleeting like a fistful of sand? What would the human spirit desire?
I swore I would never write a story about marital problems. If I wasn’t interested in reading about that conflict, why should I write it? Toni Morrison spoke the truth when she said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
So I wrote a story about Bea, a young artist who marries a much older man and must then cope with her decision to suppress her art and slowly take on the role of care-giver as both characters ages. Really, I wrote a story about a couple and their marital problems. It was an immense shift. My creative writing professor at the time, sat me down and asked, “Is this the story you want to write?”
At the time it was. I wanted to explore themes of losing your youth, artists and aging, and female artists in particular. So what if there were no aliens, sword fights or elves?
But really, it did matter. It can be guilt inducing to write literary fiction! You can almost hear the genre writing defenders cry out: why are you abandoning us? Why have you forsaken the bizarre, the expressive, the worlds unexplored, the questions unasked and unanswered? Why are abandoning genre?
We are full of stories, overflowing with narratives and characters and the lies that create fiction. We cannot write stories at all unless we explore worlds (even our world) and ask questions. But we’re hard on ourselves, limiting our creativity to one camp or the other: literary or genre. Why can we not be literary and genre, if we so choose? If we’re writing and in love with our characters or the germ of an idea we could grow to love, then we are on a strong path.
Write what moves you. If it’s aliens one day and a married suburban couple the next, write what you want to read at that moment. Because all that matters is that you write. You write. You write. You write. You develop your voice and your principles. And in the end, you tell a story you’re proud of.