Why Writing Genre Fiction Matters



I have a friend whom I adore who refers cheerfully and affectionately to non-literary fiction as trash. In other words, if it’s not ‘serious,’ it’s. . . trash.

As a reader, that always amazes me.

Books have so many purposes, so many subjects, styles, so many different experiences to give us. I have a problem with saying that a story that holds my interest and gives me pleasure for whatever reason is. . . trash.

In spite of a master’s degree in English literature from Northwestern, in spite of an undergraduate degree cum laude and with honors, I am a reader who wants the story, who wants the experience an author is generous enough to share with me. I read thrillers, romances, mysteries, short stories, ‘literary’ fiction (although it pains me to so label a book), science fiction, fantasy, even westerns at times.

In other words, I’m pretty eclectic about what I read.

But here’s why I value genre fction and how I see its place in the wide world of books, whether e-books, paper books, or someto be determined in the future kind of book.

Stories matter. Language matters. Magic matters.

Books matter.

And books are magical.

To me it seems rather pedantic, snobbish, and, really, ignorant, to dismiss a whole chunk of stories on some basis that they’re not “literature.” Well, I knows me my lit’rurchure when Ireads it, and many times that’s the experience I’m craving. Not always, though. Sometimes I’m after a different kind of story with different language, different sentence structure, different effects.

If I wanted to be scared and terrified, I’d read more Stephen King, an undisputed master at causing psychic disturbance in a reader, a genius at creating stories that whip a reader through the pages. But I’m chicken, pure and simple, and King is too good at what he does. So, by and large I don’t read horror stories.

Does that mean a horror story is less well-written, less. worthy than another kind of writing?

Boy, not to me.

It means that that author is so blasted good at what s/he can create that the experience is incredibly powerful, too powerful for my ability to handle it and to get a good night’s sleep.

Thrillers, though? Bring ’em on. Hit me with those fast-paced, intense stories of big issues in a world that may be destroyed at any second if the protagonist doesn’t triumph. Give me those terse sentences, those action-packed scenes. Wham, bam, bang.

And when all ends with the world being saved and the villains defeated? I sleep better. Why? Because those stories remind me that in a crazy, confusing time, good people matter. Good people who try can make a difference and one man or woman can save the world.

Its hard to remember that when the news hits every day with its horrors.

Sometimes I want a love story. Hey, I’m not embarrassed to admit that. Why should I be? Love is important in a world where increasingly people are disconnected and fragmented. That love stories are occasionally considered sappy I believe has more to do with how the story is told, not with the power of a love story to create a sense of the importance of connections and caring, of loving one another and treating each other in loving ways.

If sentiment’s considered sappy? Well, sheesh. We could all do with a bit more sentiment and feeling in our lives. We don’t have to be cynical and blase and snarky all the time. I get that sentiment can be embarrassing, but, sheesh, man up. Own your emotions.

And if the stories have sex in them?

Should I, or anyone else for that matter, be embarrassed about sex, for pete’s sake? Good grief, it’s one of the most powerful bonding agents available to humans, a good thing, and stories that include it acknowedge that power, I think, for people who may have forgotten its value.

Believe me, that’s an odd thing for me, a child of conservative upbringing in a conservative time, to admit out loud.

If I want to laugh and feel good, my taste would be for one of the writers of romantic comedy, for a story that can lift my spirits and make me forget for a while whatever’s going on in my own life that I don’t want to deal with or am not ready to deal with. Genre fiction? Sure, and good enough to sweep me away for an hour or three.

My goodness, isn’t that a remarkable accomplishment? To create characters and situations that literally block out the rest of the world to the reader’s consciousness for a while? Why is that less worthy than creating a book that is hailed as a literary masterpiece? Why is one more. . . worthy. . . than another?

Sure, I’m setting up a bit of a straw dog argument here because the traditional viewpoint is that literary works are more valuable because they’ve stood the test of time. Because that imbues them with a kind of worthiness right off the bat.


I accept that the test of time is important.

What I reject, though, is the notion that a work which can give a reader joy and pleasure and affect his or her emotions powerfully enough to bring tears or laughter or shivers is less worthy. That book has done something special. It has touched the reader, may linger in the reader’s memory, and might possibly, as did Poe’s brilliant and unsettling horror stories, stand the test of time.

And if it doesn’t? Does that make it ‘trash’?

I think not. I think that writers of genre fiction are creating fictional worlds that have value for readers, perhaps only a transient value, but, nonetheless, value.

And writing a story that can affect a reader’s emotions is important, perhaps more so than ever.

So, pish posh, let us do away with labels. Let us find good stories wherever they appear and let us not, ahem, judge a book by its cover. Let us instead praise and appreciate writers who delight us, amuse us, terrify us (when we want to be terrified!), just as we appreciate writers whose stories and language cause us to look differently, perhaps more deeply, at the human condition and the world.

In other words, let’s not pit one kind of story against another. Let us celebrate the art of writing, the act of reading–magic there, you know?

Mostly, though, let us not feel embarrassed or apologetic about taking a good story wherever we find it.