Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Literary vs. Genre

In 2003, the National Book Foundation presented Stephen King its Medal for "Distinguished Contribution to American Letters." This scandalized some in the publishing world. King, after all, is--egads!--a genre writer.

But in his acceptance speech, King made a blunt and passionate plea to those in the literary world who turn their noses up at genre fiction and at popular culture in particular:

"Tokenism is not allowed. You can't sit back, give a self satisfied sigh and say, 'Ah, that takes care of the troublesome pop lit question. In another twenty years or perhaps thirty, we'll give this award to another writer who sells enough books to make the best seller lists.' It's not good enough. Nor do I have any patience with or use for those who make a point of pride in saying they've never read anything by John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Mary Higgins Clark or any other popular writer.

"What do you think? You get social or academic brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture? Never in life, as Capt. Lucky Jack Aubrey would say. And if your only point of reference for Jack Aubrey is the Australian actor, Russell Crowe, shame on you..."

I don't think King is arguing that all writing is equal or that all writers are equally good. His point, with which I agree, is that transcendent writing and excellent storytelling can be found in many different kinds of books.

If you limit yourself to reading only so-called literary fiction, you're no better than someone who refuses to read anything but pulp mysteries or romance or...whatever. You can't claim to be better than those readers, in other words.

I've been thinking about King's speech lately (you can read it in its entirety here) for several reasons as we launch Istoria Books.

Soon, I'll be sharing news of a terrific upmarket/literary novel Istoria will release in a few short months. This book is written by a genre writer, a man who's had several mysteries published--as novels and short stories in mystery magazines. But this book represents a departure for him, a beautiful story set in Saigon in 1965 that explores lost love and callow youth.

The author doesn't have an MFA, never went to the big writing workshops, didn't participate in any of the publishing events that might have helped others in the book world to see him as a man of letters, and not just a man of genre fiction. But he's written a bittersweet, moving book that deserves an audience. Epublishing will, we hope, help him find it, and will help him find those bridges between literary fiction and popular fiction that King talked about so fervently in his speech eight years ago.

Special note: Don't forget to sign up for our mailing list. If you do so by Friday, you'll get a coupon code for a free copy of the mystery Death Is the Cool Night from Smashwords.com.

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