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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » The pride of "Literary Fiction"?

   
Author Topic: The pride of "Literary Fiction"?
jerich100
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I'm not sure what my gripe is exactly, except I have an acute distaste for pompous folk who dismiss whomever they believe to be the irritant plebes beneath them. I write of those who wrap themselves with the holy cloak of “literary fiction”, as if there are “literary authors” and then everyone else.

It seems to me that “literary fiction” isn’t a genre, but is ANY fiction written exceptionally well. Refer to the two example definitions of literary fiction below. How does any well-written story not fit these definitions?


Extrinsic provides the first definition, posted on June 14, 2012:

Literary genre goes by many variant definitions. One of the more straightforward ones I've heard is realistic characters in realistic settings with realistic problems wanting satisfaction portrayed in a realistic and vigorous voice.

Some add in features like character emphasis, where a protagonist experiences a major personal growth or decline transformation outcome as a consequence of the dramatic action. Sometimes parody for social commentary is a literary feature, homage, lampoon, satire, sarcasm too.

Socially relevant and meaningful message and theme fits some definitions. Meaningful and accessible subtext fits many definitions. Some require more than average efforts to unravel deeper meanings or interpret deeper meanings and intents.


This second definition I condensed from a well-known website which I will not name, except that it begins with “wiki” and ends with “ia”:

Literary fiction is a term principally used for certain fictional works claimed to hold literary merit. Literary work usually must be critically acclaimed and serious. In practice, works of literary fiction often are "complex, literate, multilayered novels that wrestle with universal dilemmas.

Literary fiction focuses on the subjects of the narrative to create introspective, in-depth character studies of interesting, complex and developed characters. This contrasts with paraliterary fiction where generally speaking, the kind of attention we pay to the subject in literature has to be paid to the social and material complexities of the object.

Literary fiction usually focuses on the inner story of the characters who drive the plot with detailed motivations to elicit emotional involvement in the reader.

The style of literary fiction is often described as elegantly written, lyrical, and layered. The tone of literary fiction is usually serious and, therefore, often darker than paraliterary fiction. The pacing of literary fiction is slower than paraliterary fiction. Literary fiction, by its nature, allows itself to dawdle, to linger on stray beauties even at the risk of losing its way.

Literary novelists are typically supported by patronage via employment at a university or similar institutions, with the continuation of such positions determined not by book sales but by critical acclaim by other established literary authors and critics. Genre fiction writers seek to support themselves by book sales and write to please a mass audience.


I believe the term “literary fiction” is being hijacked by those who tell themselves, “my fiction is better than your fiction.” They’re turning a term of honor into an ad hominem attack.

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Tank1982
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Do you think those who write literary fiction were aware of it when they were crafting their works (especially with debut pieces)? I hear people talk about the "x" factor and I get to wondering: is this about skill, talent, or enthusiasm (or whatever combination)?
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extrinsic
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Unfounded rumors and gossip persist in writing culture, among them that an us and them mentality sharply divides convention-based genre fiction from so-called "literary" fiction.

Academia does not write fiction or prose or poetry or drama. Not for a primary vocational activity. Academia teaches how to express and expresses commentary about literature, critical review and analysis, secondary discourse, not the primary discourse that literature is. Humanities professors publish commentary about cultural topics to develop curriculum vitae credits for their hiring, tenure, and career development.

Creative writing professors are an exception. They must not only publish in their literature category (genre: fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, stage or screen script writing); they must also publish commentary and demonstrate basic composition and advanced creative writing teaching ability. Not to mention additional job requirements comparable to any professor's: academic advising, curriculum development and departmental lesson planning, define objectives and outcomes, and testing criteria and methods; leadership development, college or university representation at conferences and seminars, student recruiting, etc., etc.

Academia does not by and large have the necessary skills to comment competently about convention-based genre. Very, very few of any kind of reviewer or analyst or critic does. Convention-based genres' conventions appear tangible, irreducible, unequivocal, irrevocable, undifferentiated to the point they are subject only to a single, straightfoward interpretation that is stable and universally acknowledged as the sole, absolute interpretation. That in itself is an indicia of a far superior writing aesthetic than for "literary" genre. One accessible, stable, intended meaning interpretation of a narrative for a broad audience base is a remarkable result, considering opinions vary widely, often contentiously, in most any other circumstance.

However, convention-based genre is no less intangible and difficult than "literary" genre is to interpret. Actually, the opposite is more valid. Convention-based genre rarely if ever signals its intangibles the way "literary" genre does, at least since the rise of fiction as a distinctly narrative form, certainly since the dawn times of Realism. Convention-based genre has many, many intangibles open for access and interpretation; they're harder to unravel, though, than for "literary" fiction. Duh-huh? More literary than "literary" fiction? How can that be!?

"Literary" genre, on the other hand, is open to a wide variety of accessible though at times difficult interpretations. That's the conversation in which academia participates, the interpretive discourse secondary to the literature. Other groups participate as well: critics, reviewers, analysts, and other self-annointed auditors of art culture and taste and sensibility independent from academia. These folk get as much satisfaction from solving puzzles, riddles, conundrums, cognitive dissonances, and such, as they do from reading literature and arguing in a long spanning conversation through publication about the "correctness" and "incorrectness" of each others' claims and arguments. A particularly difficult narrative to unravel is delicious flesh for them to rend and over which to squabble.

Narratives that are both accessible and tangible and difficult and intangible appeal far more broadly than any one extreme aesthetic. They also are rarer than a full moon on a Friday the 13th. Writing one in the first place is about as likely as singly winning a superball lottery. What, once every decade or so? Popular and critical acclaim are not anathema to one another; they are sublime counterparts of a culture's artistic attraction.

Take a richly popular narrative like the Potter saga. A straight read is a tangible read. No doubt about it. Only one way readers generally interpret the parts and wholes. They are not open to variant meaning interpretation. No morally ambiguous characters. Characters are either wicked or noble. Too wicked and too noble for my sensibilities, frankly. Potter and his allies are too perfectly sinless to suit me. Even when they bend the social rules of the narrative's reality and the presupposed ideal Western culture moral codes, they do so for noble purposes. They are brave, bold, self-reliant, and suffer their punishments nobly.

Yet an underlying irony runs through the whole. Potter came out all right, considering his childhood is fraught with the self-serving, wicked, selfish examples he's set, he could as easily have adopted from the Dursleys, the Malfoys, the Death Eaters, and such. But no, they are the example against which he struggles mightily to remain pure and noble. He was harmed from birth by that wicked behavior. Instead of becoming a warped, twisted creature, he nobly fights the good fight though he lives in a sinfully self-indulgent magic milieu.

The irony therein is he's not an ordinary child indulging any occasional selfish, sinful whim. He is a saint for enduring against the worst inhumanly wicked odds. He is an inhumanly noble child yet portrayed as a very human child. He is an epic, larger-than-life example suitable for acculturating young people to the evils and nobilities of life away from the overseeing eyes of custodial guardians.

That's ironic, the kind of irony academia and critics sink their teeth into. If only they were able. Problem is, no one is out there who could lead them to the light. Critics and academia follow up on a lead as much as anyone else does. Leads are their bread and butter. Not to mention, a bold, new approach is a career risk. The risk-reward is great, though, since the field of convention-based genre criticism is wide open. Where are the leaders to lead the vanguard? They're coming up out of the generations who grew up on convention-based genre and developed critical, analytical, conscious, thinking-for-themselves skills, even though they accepted a large hand up from academia.

[ March 13, 2014, 03:21 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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shimiqua
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Personally, I don't care what people think. Everyone has different taste, and there's more than enough books out there for everyone.

I love a good contemporary novel, even if literary people like it, and I love a good genre novel, even if there are werewolves, vampires, and witches in it. There's something to learn from in everything, and there are simple too many books to read to waste time on complaining that people don't like what you like.

Own your own taste. Argue for your own taste, and make the best books you can. There will always be someone who doesn't like it, no matter what you do, and no manner of elitism, or anti-elitism is going to change that.

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Meredith
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What Shimiqua said.
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MAP
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Everyone thinks the books they like are superior to all other books. [Smile]
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kmsf
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It's a continuum of impenetrable metaphysical abstractions... mostly.
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shimiqua
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quote:
Everyone thinks the books they like are superior to all other books. [Smile]
But the books I like ARE superior to all other books.
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RyanB
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I've always thought of literary fiction as works where the style stands out more so than characters or plot. And thus discussion about literary works centers on description and metaphor and voice. Some people enjoy style more than character or plot or setting. Some of these people are SFF readers, which is why works like The Magicians can succeed.
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Pyre Dynasty
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Yeah, generally a person's definition of literary is writing that they like. Generally it's not worth worrying about until someone comes and says the kind of writing you like has no value. Then you have a choice; either you defend your own preference or denigrate theirs. Or possibly try to educate them on the futility of declaring one true literature. Either way I don't think it's a fight worth looking for.
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extrinsic
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The Postmodern social movement of the mid-twentieth century was at its roots a boisterous questioning and challenging of presupposed notions of propriety. Notions. The resounding answer was and is, Think consciously, critically, responsibly for yourself. Responsibly.

Writers as much as anyone owe to themselves that duty. Writing and interpreting writing allows personal expression and holding and expressing personal opinions. The one criteria for sharing those personal opinions is to substantively support them.

Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" can be read straight, literally, and read ironically, figuratively. Ample evidence within the text supports both readings. Which is "correct"? Both, neither, more than two. Only a sublime mind can see the poem's full meaning, and not too difficult to understand for any competent adult human mind. Human. Young minds, no, they haven't yet developed the cognitive abilities to recognize, reconcile, understand, and responsibly act upon excruciating double binds. One of the poem's figurative meanings is that exact and as well similar points.

Frost, Robert. "The Road Not Taken." Mountain Interval. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1920.
quote:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Exquisite, beautiful, spine-tingling ironies.

[ March 14, 2014, 04:18 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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rstegman
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Literary fiction is actually what those in the social circles are SUPPOSED to like.

It is just one of many things they use to set them apart from the Plebes of the general population.

Generally having a higher level of education, they "get more" out of the stories than the general population

They read a lot of those types of stories because they are supposed to read them. and then they talk about them because they are supposed to talk about them.

The general reading population likes quick, exciting, generally easy reading stories, where plot or character, and conclusion is a little more important.

On the other hand, literary stories are full of rich language, deep meanings. Dealing with problems seems more important than solving or concluding problems (second hand knowledge here)

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Kent_A_Jones
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I point to fiction on my book shelves and it is mine: My Harry Potter, My King Lear, My Gatsby. I filtered them through my experiences, my upbringing; every scrap of nature and nurture I possess went into them. I poured an entire life into those readings. Some were so sublime that I can't bear to read them again, knowing as I do that I would change them in the second reading; so they sit on the shelf as a reminder of dear sensations.

Literary fiction is fiction and it is mine.

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History
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I don't like labels.
Read and write what moves you.

It is the human element in stories that resonates with me.
A story may be set in Known Space, in Avalon, in Arakeen, in Beleriand, in Rome, in Greentown, Illinois..., but unless there are people and cultures and societies challenged by relatable internal conflicts, I do not find the stories memorable.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob
(of course I write "literary sf/f" that neither the literary or f/sf markets will publish, so what do I know) [Wink]

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shimiqua
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quote:

I point to fiction on my book shelves and it is mine: My Harry Potter, My King Lear, My Gatsby. I filtered them through my experiences, my upbringing; every scrap of nature and nurture I possess went into them. I poured an entire life into those readings. Some were so sublime that I can't bear to read them again, knowing as I do that I would change them in the second reading; so they sit on the shelf as a reminder of dear sensations.

Literary fiction is fiction and it is mine.

Just reposting so I can read it again. Man, that's beautiful.
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Denevius
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quote:
I don't like labels.
But agents, editors, publishers, and bookstores do.

Perhaps I've read different submission guidelines, but generally publishers don't just ask for writers to send good fiction. You may send a scifi magazine a very, very good romance story, but if there's no science fiction in it, they're probably just going to send you a rejection letter, and if they have the time, perhaps they'd ask if you've actually read their magazine and know what it is they publish.

I suppose it's a nice sentiment to have this somewhat communal approach to viewing fiction, but I don't think it's exactly helpful in getting published; and if you're a self-published author, I don't think it helps in selling your book. People tend to have a favorite genre of book that they almost exclusively read. I've read that the average adult reads about five books a year , and I seriously doubt this is a mixture of genres. Scifi readers don't tend to stray to romance, and vice versa. If you're into steampunk, you probably aren't also reading espionage and thrillers.

And if you're in the mood for historical fiction, it helps for your local bookstore to put books in categories so that when you walk in, you have an idea of what shelf to check out.

Just about everything in modern life has labels. If you're in the mood for Indian, it's nice to have 'Indian Restaurant' in plain sight on the building. If you're in the grocery store looking for toilet paper, it's great to not have to check every aisle because the rows aren't organized. And if you're looking for a fantasy novel, it's nice to not just have a bookstore of good fiction without any indication of where a particular type of book is.

As writers working towards publication, you often hear that it's good to know who your target audience is. Being able to define what genre your book falls into is really helpful in that regard. I think it's a mistake to believe that it's mostly quality of writing that gets you published. A lot of it is marketability. Is there an audience for this story? Are these fans of eroticism, or speculative fiction, or the gothic? Everyone thinks the book they enjoy is good, but you can't just write good fiction and sell it to everyone.

Now, if you have a gripe with the idea of literary fiction being considered superior, groovy. But keep in mind that there is a practical reason for books to be labeled as such. It helps the publishing industry know where these titles fit in the marketplace.

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Denevius
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quote:
We accept science fiction, fantasy and horror works up to 10,000 words in length. Submissions of up to 20,000 words are permitted from subscribers and from authors resident in Australia and New Zealand.
-Andromeda Space guidelines

***

quote:
Interested in representing Autobiography/Memoir, Commercial Fiction, Fiction, Journalism/Investigative Reporting, Literary Fiction, Narrative Nonfiction
-Miriam Altshuler Literary Agency

***

quote:
Blank Fiction Magazine is currently accepting submissions for our third issue! The theme is Science Fiction. Issues will be published in the Apple Newsstand and a free PDF version will be available on our “Issues” page.
-Blank Fiction Magazine

***

See, this is typical. Publishers and agents asking for a particular type of submission. But here's one that doesn't:

quote:
We are looking for short stories: fiction of every genre, which is good and entertaining. We have no set maximum for length, but stories under 8,000 words have the best chance of publication.
-Beyond Imagination Digital Literary Magazine

*However*, nine times out of ten, these types of magazines offer no payment to writers:

quote:
Beyond the Imagination does not pay authors whose work is accepted at this time.
In my mind, this isn't surprising, as one has to wonder who they're actually marketing this magazine to.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Denevius:
I think it's a mistake to believe that it's mostly quality of writing that gets you published.

Appeal, voice, craft, and mechanical style closely interrelate. Science fiction, for example, appeals to science fiction readers and writers. A conventional narrative voice for science fiction is close viewpoint character perspective, less narrator viewpoint perspective. Craft orients more around action adventure structure for hard (physical science) science fiction, more around a greater degree of introspection for soft (social science) science fiction. Mechanical style is no less critical a criteria of quality writing, though open to more informal style for, say, science fiction, since the audience generally is more open to informal style (as appeal, craft, and voice) to varying degrees.

I'm currently working closely with a struggling writer, who was a former classmate, on the writer's appeal, voice, craft, and mechanical style skill development. The writer's voice skills most of all recommend the writer for publication. Craft needs work. Audience appeal is subjective but needs work. Mechanical style—oh my.

First paragraph of the writer's currrent story on the hot seat I marked twenty mechanical style faults. Tense inconsistency faults, conjunction faults, static voice faults, self-involved, overly mediating narrator faults, and unnecessary, empty hedging faults. The entire piece contains identical faults throughout. The shortcoming generally is everyday conversational voice, an informal speech dialect and grammar that strives for a conversational reading appeal; however, the cummulative faults create a remote aesthetic distance from cluttered and confused content and organization.

On the other hand, the underrealized voice could, if realized, suit the story's core, underdeveloped meaning.

Quality writing is first, middle, last, all at once and throughout: appeal, voice, craft, and style.

My story in exchange is a grammatical wreck. Intentionally though naturally expressed, the narrative and viewpoint character and characters' voices is one of broken, informal English dialect common to many U.S. cultures though used to enhance the core meaning of the story and close narrative distance gaps. For rhetorical virtues, not grammatical vices. Strong signals evidence that the voice is intentional and part of the story's underlying meaning. The voice suits the story.

[ March 16, 2014, 04:13 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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RyanB
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:

*However*, nine times out of ten, these types of magazines offer no payment to writers:

OTOH,
quote:
The Atlantic magazine is always interested in great nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. A general familiarity with what we have published in the past is the best guide to our needs and preferences.
And from another source:

quote:
The editors of The Atlantic read with interest and attention every poem submitted to the magazine and, quite simply, we publish those that seem to us to be the best. Our interest is in the broadest possible range of work: traditional forms and free verse, the meditative lyric and the "light" or comic poem, the work of the famous and the work of the unknown.
Here's the best I could find for the New Yorker:

quote:
What is important for us is that a story succeed on its own terms. If the writer’s goal is to be linguistically inventive, he or she needs to pull that off and do something fresh; if his or her goal is to have an emotional impact, that must come through in some powerful way. The styles and approaches can be as different as is humanly possible, as long as they’re effective.
Likewise Harpers has no specific guidelines as to what kind of fiction they will accept.

So, perhaps the bottommost magazines have no specific genres, but that's a trait they share with top magazines.

I should also note that The New Yorker has published Haruki Murakami, noted fantasy author, 18 times.

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Denevius
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quote:
The editors of The Atlantic read with interest and attention every poem
Well, we have been talking about fiction up until now. But it would be interesting to note *what* poems The Atlantic has published in the last decade. Have they actually been a wide range of poetry from a wide range of poets? I highly suspect not, but who knows. Maybe they have published fantasy ballads about elves and dwarves.

quote:
The Atlantic magazine is always interested in great nonfiction, fiction, and poetry.
And I would also be interested to know how many romance, or erotic, or gothic pieces have fitted into that "great fiction" pieces they're looking for. And are these established writers with agents? Are there established writers that The Atlantic sought out for fiction? I did a quick google search for The Atlantic to see what their submission guidelines are: The Atlantic

And from what I know of this pro magazine, and pro markets like it, and from what I see of its site, I'd be quite surprised if they publish many unagented submissions. Perhaps they do, but here's something from the Marketlist putting that in doubt: Marketlist.

quote:
Market Type: Magazine
Contact: Kate Bacon, online editor

Accepts: Contemporary, Literary

As for The New Yorker publishing Murakami, you don't think that's somewhat different than the New Yorker publishing a fantasy piece by an unknown, or lesser known, fantasy writer?

To be honest, calling Murakami a fantasy writer is a bit of a stretch, though I see he won a World Fantasy Award for "Kafka on the Shore". World Fantasy Awards

I, admittedly, haven't read hardly any books on this list, but I'll rectify that soon. I see "Game of Thrones" on the list. Murakami's writings are commonly considered Magic Realism, or as Wikipedia points out, Postmodern Literature:

quote:
Murakami's fiction, often criticized by Japan's literary establishment, is frequently surrealistic and nihilistic, marked by a Kafkaesque rendition of themes of loneliness and alienation.[2] He is considered an important figure in postmodern literature. Steven Poole of The Guardian praised Murakami as "among the world's greatest living novelists" for his works and achievements.[3]
quote:
Writing Style: As a writer Haruki Murakami was influenced by Western literalists, which distinguished him from his fellow Japanese counterparts. Not only exclusive to Western influence, Murakami consistently aimed to provide a sense of Japanese heritage throughout his books. Most of his works are written in the first person prose to provide the reader an understanding of what the main protagonist encounters. He states that because the “family” plays a significant role throughout traditional Japanese literature, by portraying the main character as an independent individual he becomes a man who values freedom and solitude over intimacy. Also notable is Murakami’s style of humor in his writing. Such scenarios are evident in the 2000 collection of short stories, After The Quake. In Superfrog Saves Tokyo, one story from the collection, the main protagonist is confronted with a 6 foot tall frog that talks about the destruction of Tokyo over a cup of tea. While retaining a serious tone Murakami feels the reader should be entertained once the seriousness of a subject has been addressed. Another notable feature of Murakami’s stories is the comments that come from the main characters as to how strange the story presents itself. Murakami explains that his characters experience what he experiences as he writes, which could be compared to a movie set where the walls and props are all fake.
As for the last point you make:

quote:
So, perhaps the bottommost magazines have no specific genres, but that's a trait they share with top magazines.
Yes, I guess top magazines will publish pieces from world renown writers of any genre. Pro markets like "The New Yorker" and "The Atlantic", two of the country's biggest and oldest print journals, have some leeway in what they publish. I think, though, that this is only helpful if you're already famous, but again, you're probably right. I can imagine Damon Knight to Danielle Steel having published in both of those magazines.

Other than authors like that, I do think for us it's best to know what genre your story is, and where it fits in the canon of fiction in that vein. How is it distinctive from other fiction in that canon? What's its market?

I think it's also best to have an understanding of what type of market the publisher you want to submit your writing to normally works with. Who's their audience?

However, if you just want to write good fiction and submit blind, that's fine.

[ March 17, 2014, 05:37 PM: Message edited by: Denevius ]

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RyanB
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Murakami is famous now, but when the New Yorker first published him in 1990 he was almost unknown in the US. As for his fantasy credentials, I haven't read any of his works either, but they talk about him on Sword and Laser (I think they even read one of his books), and they're obsessed with Game of Thrones, The Name of the Wind and Dr. Who and such. That isn't to say that Murakami is like Martin or Rothfuss. He's not. But he writes Fantasy that people that like Fantasy will probably like.

Like Asimov's or any famous magazine, they want to be known for discovering great new talent. So they have to take chances on new writers. But mostly the publish renown writers. New writers are a risky business.

Anyway, you are correct in thinking that The New Yorker and The Atlantic are looking for different things than Asimovs or F&SF. I just don't it's correct to say that "general interest" or "doesn't cater to any specific genre" markets aren't any good.

If your Fantasy or SF or Horror story is good enough (meaning that a wide audience will like it) its gets promoted from Fantasy to Fiction (at Barns and Noble). King write horror or urban fantasy, but his books go the bestsellers shelf with the other non-specific genre books. Same thing with the Hunger Games.

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Denevius
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quote:
Murakami is famous now, but when the New Yorker first published him in 1990 he was almost unknown in the US.
Being unknown in the U.S. is different from being unknown at all. And the New Yorker, being a high brow, intellectual magazine, will do something like publish a renown foreign author not popular in America yet.

I don't know about the piece Murakami got published, but I think we can all at least admit that none of us are currently at the level in our writing careers as Murakami was, even in the 90s. He'd already published two of his most famous novels by then, "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World", and "Norwegian Wood".

This is just not us.

quote:
But he writes Fantasy that people that like Fantasy will probably like.
Now, I'm not a Murakami expert. I've read one of this books, "The Windup Bird Chronicle". I've read one of his short stories, the name of which escapes me. And I saw the movie on this short story at a small theatre in Tokyo, as well as attended the lecture on the man in his writing afterwards.

I *don't* think this above quote is accurate. Yeah, maybe Martin and Rothfuss like Murakami, but I don't think he's read by many people who enjoy fantasy in the vein of "Game of Thrones" or J.R.R. Tolkien.

Murakami's narratives are very dense, very complicated, and the fantasy in them is sleight. A man climbing in a hole for several days to get a revelation is *really* different from dragons. A guy with a birthmark on his face who is handsomely rewarded by women who simply want to lick said birthmark is different from sorcery. It's more similar to Borges, or Salman Rushdie, or Marquez. Murakami is much closer in writing style to Kafka than he is to any fantasy writer. And it's hard to imagine the typical fantasy reader being a fan of Borges, or Kafka.

I'm curious, how many people here have read anything by Haruki Murakami? And was it for school, or for pleasure?

I do not know why he won that fantasy award, though I plan on reading some of the books on that list. Right now, it boggles the mind.

quote:
I just don't it's correct to say that "general interest" or "doesn't cater to any specific genre" markets aren't any good.
Well, what I said is that they don't tend to be paying markets. Paying markets, in my experience, are very specific in what they want.
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RyanB
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
Well, what I said is that they don't tend to be paying markets. Paying markets, in my experience, are very specific in what they want.

But don't these high end markets refute that? I agree that I have almost zero chance of being published in The Atlantic and especially so if I send piece with elves. But they're certainly not specific in what they ask for. And they do publish a wide variety of material.

I'd say "what they want" is something that adds to their notoriety. Military SF could do that as well as some existential piece as long as it's noteworthy to the people that read The Atlantic. But a piece that finds rave reviews in Asimov's probably won't in The Atlantic. It would have to be a different kind of Military SF, something the world has never seen before.

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extrinsic
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Publications' submission guidelines may at times be open to interpretation and misinterpretation; however, they are required reading--if acceptance is wanted. Many recommend sampling their publications prior to submission too. These are a writer's due dilligence.

Fantastical notions in a narrative are not subject to automatic rejection by non-fantastical publications, though generally metaphysical motifs of a spiritual belief system nature are favored by them more than a social belief system nature. Ghosts are more appealing to them than vampires. One crucial feature for using either, though, is that fantastical motifs be intrinsic to the plot and meaning and the moral and message.

Writers of a type should note that revenant motif genre has become a social belief system convention in culture. However, all too often the motifs are mere coincidences or artless MacGuffins extrinsic to their respective plots. The motifs may work in film's spectacle strengths but not work in written word's close intimacy strengths.

These are reasons why Magical Realism may be accepted by non-fantastical fiction publications: The beliefs are part of the mainstream culture and they're crucial to the story's meaning making.

Magical Realism has a very narrow and often misunderstood convention: metaphysical and mundane world boundaries blur--what motifs are taken as metaphysical, spiritual belief is accepted as mundane and what's taken as mundane motifs are accepted as metaphysical. An ancestor ghost communing with the living is taken for granted, for example, and a timely and abrupt appearance of an artesian spring is taken as miraculous.

A military science fiction narrative does not need be fantastical in order to be accepted by a non-fantastical publication, only that it be extraordinary physical science, technology, and perhaps social science motifs that are relevant to the plot, to meaning, and their influences upon and from events, settings, and characters' life complicating complications.

Unfortunately, those core unifying characteristics of motif and plot relevance and influences are challenging to compose and organize in the first place, and often, very often, underrealized, regardless of genre.

[ March 18, 2014, 09:11 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
I do not know why he won that fantasy award, though I plan on reading some of the books on that list. Right now, it boggles the mind.

The people who do World Fantasy Con and who give out the World Fantasy awards are more of a literary bent than the people involved with the Hugo Awards. Often, the World Fantasy award winners and finalists are works most readers of science fiction and fantasy have never heard of.
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Denevius
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quote:
Publications' submission guidelines may at times be open to interpretation and misinterpretation; however, they are required reading--if acceptance is wanted. Many recommend sampling their publications prior to submission too. These are a writer's due dilligence.
My central concern is that due diligence requires a certain level of sophistication that's missing in the suggestion that fiction doesn't require labels; or to call all "good" fiction literary fiction. I don't think this attitude helps in getting one's material published, and I think it's probably counterproductive.

Understanding where your short story/novel fits in the genre you're pursuing is, in my opinion, paramount. When you're drafting cover letters and writing synopses, it probably looks betters to an agent/editor/publisher that you're knowledgeable about the craft beyond simply your personal fiction.

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extrinsic
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Marketing sophistication maybe, writing sophistication certainly, though not in the sense of a rigidity so much as an ability to realize the infiniteness of artistic expression, conventions, appeals, and categorizations within even the narrowest niche audience and market.

Too close a conformity to prior published works is stale and unoriginal. Yet a few areas need to be rigidly conformist: pattern and sequence content and organization, plot, for one. A reasonably Realist internal reality for another: the lllusion of reality imitation.

Read a few dozen fiction works from the New Yorker fiction archive. Note that narrator viewpoint and voice exchanges places with character viewpoint and voice in ways that the science fiction of Analog does differently, for example. Different narrative conventions, yet no less plotted, though different dramatic compilication sensibilities, and no less illusion of reality imitation.

If a pitch, query, synopsis, etc., exhibits those subtleties, suitable to the target audience, then the writer has demonstrated knowledge of the craft's larger criteria and even a genre's focal criteria. The artful part is managing the creative infiniteness within the confined restriction expectations.

[ March 19, 2014, 03:34 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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RyanB
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
or to call all "good" fiction literary fiction.

I just wanted to clarify that's not what I meant (in case you were referring to me). What I meant is that popular [genre] becomes popular fiction. King doesn't write literary fiction. He writes popular fiction. But he's also (in the bookstores) moved out of the horror section and into the "really popular" section, even though genre-wise he belongs in horror.
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Denevius
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No, basically it's in response to the OPs conclusion that started the thread off:

quote:
It seems to me that “literary fiction” isn’t a genre, but is ANY fiction written exceptionally well.
I think this statement works fine enough for the layperson, but for those trying to publish, it seems counterproductive.
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extrinsic
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Take a trip through authonomy's selections and note how many overdo genre categories, especially "literary" fiction, which none are.

Young adult paranormal fantasy dystopian science fiction romance thriller mystery literary fiction. Kitchen sink syndrome.

Personally, I believe no writer should label a work "literary." The audience decides if a work is literary, whether that audience is agent, editor, publisher, advertiser, distributor, bookseller, reader, or critic or all the above. I also believe a query, etc., should express what genre a novel is without a writer needing to label a work. And an opening should firmly express what genre a narrative of any length is. Note that a refined narrative will within one hundred thirty or so words express its genre. And that the central genre will derive from the central dramatic complication also at least implied in the same word real estate.

I also believe labels are counterproductive and counterintuitive. Writers and their progeny are as unique as fingerprints and DNA. Labels are shorthand, stereotypes, no more, no less, and unnecessarily restrictive for the creative process. A degree of blunt self-assessment, though, of course, from planning phases forward to submission phases, is warranted, though not so much doing so hampers the creative process.

Markets are open for even the most crossed over genre mixing so long as the writing recommends a work for publication. More due diligence might be required, though, to find the right market if a work is not easily categorizable.

Not too coincidentally, most often a work that has fantastical motifs and exceptional "literary" qualities, the default is usually a fantastical marketplace. If a novel, a literary agency that accepts a broad range of genres is recommended. The agency will place a work with a specialist agent according to their decision; or not, if the work doesn't recommend itself for publication. If a short story, the fantastical digest markets are generally more amenable to blurred distinctions among ones with stronger marketplace reputations, less among ones with limited or no reputations. I won't name agencies or digests with "literary" or fantastical motif antipathies, though.

Note that screening readers generally are unpaid interns learning the publishing trade. Though a seemingly counterintuitive practice--they are less sophisticated screeners than final decision-makers--they are an as ideal as practical screening focus group due to being less sophisticated than final decision-makers. Winnowing of the grain is a multistep process toward more and more refined separation of chaff from kernel. Don't be the chaff.

[ March 19, 2014, 02:37 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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I can't say that I don't empathize with both sides of the argument. I think genre authors are almost wholly underrepresented in university English departments as a result of the belief that literary writing is the superior fiction form. However, when I was in grad school discussing this with my professor, I didn't think the best solution to this problem was to change the established parameters of literary fiction.

I just thought English departments should hire some f*ea**** genre authors, and assign some genre fiction. I got a lot from studying literary fiction, but in the seven or eight years I attended school getting my Bachelors and Masters, I rarely had the opportunity to deconstruct and analyze genre fiction. To me, that's not a well-rounded education.

I guess I can see why some established genre authors are miffed that they'll probably never win a Pulitzer. They'll probably never be a novel nominated for that award that features an orc as a main character. But there's something kind of wrong with that line of thinking also since there's a Hugo you could win. I'm willing to bet most regular readers wouldn't know a book that won a Pulitzer from a Hugo anyway unless they see the sticker on the cover of the book.

And if genre fiction is going to start winning Pulitzers, does that mean non-fantasy and science fiction should start winning Hugos?

My point being that if you're actually losing something tangible for being a genre writer, you have a right to be frustrated. Right now, I don't think any of us are.

I'm a genre writer, but my fiction has literary influences. However, I have no problem with the category I consider my novel, speculative fiction/urban horror. And I hope even if I ever become established that I won't be miffed that a certain subset of people don't see my work as literary, especially since it isn't. I see no need to redefine the word from its mostly accepted meaning in order to, what?

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
I got a lot from studying literary fiction, but in the seven or eight years I attended school getting my Bachelors and Masters, I rarely had the opportunity to deconstruct and analyze genre fiction. To me, that's not a well-rounded education.

A master's is a certification for mastery of an art or science, like English literature sufficient to become a recognized at least literary critic. What's keeping you from deconstructing and analyzing genre fiction? For fun, profit, and prestige. I didn't stop studying or critically analyzing literature just because I graduated.

Sources for studying and possible market resources for Science Fiction and Fantasy Criticism:

Deapauw University SFS journal's "Bibliography of Science Fiction Criticism" including fantasy criticism sources

Veronica Hollinger SFS co-editor "Contemporary Trends in Science Fiction Criticism, 1980-1999"

Hollinger's faculty web page at Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

Above science fiction literary journal Science Fiction Studies is the web site of SF-TH Inc., affiliated with Depauw University, Greencastle, Indiana.

Note the universities of the SFS editors and editorial board range across the Western world.
SFS masthead and submission guidelines

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Denevius
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quote:
What's keeping you from deconstructing and analyzing genre fiction?
Nothing. But when you attend school, you *are* paying for a service, and a very expensive one at that that seems to take close to a lifetime to finally pay off. And since it's usually called a Bachelors in English, or a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, it would be nice if they didn't restrict English and Creative Writing to literary writing almost exclusively.

Going to the resources you listed is nice and all, but it's not like having the attention of an actual established genre author right in front of you for a semester. We had many nights sitting around drinking wine and reading and discussing prose and poetry that's simply not the same in solitary study.

It's like the difference between reading about Asia, and actually visiting/living in Asia. Both will get you something, but the real deal is just that. Real.

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extrinsic
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The literature and writing "real deal" is joining the conversation of peers in publication, presentations at conventions, conferences, and seminars, and participation in advancement of method, expression and interpretation of intent and meaning. The social components are as much part of the conversation as the research, work, and publication presentation parts. Only, post graduation, they're not conveniently packaged for consumption.

The Science Fiction Research Association, founded in 1970, is an international organization that fosters and promotes science fiction and fantasy criticism. They and Science Fiction Studies, also international, have annual conferences and other participation venues. They also track and publish infomation about topical publications--including exceptional fiction--conferences, seminars, and exhibitions around the globe.

The global pool of English scholars interested in fantastical fiction critcism runs to about two thousand from across the English speaking, reading, writing world. Many of them are Culture Studies PhDs also invested in other culture studies and how fantastical fiction functions in those other areas: literature and publishing cultures, film culture, fan culture, conventions and conferences cultures, consenus convention and dissenter cultures, folklore and folklorsitics, sexuality and identity cultures, LGBT culture studies, rhetoric, etc. The link to Hollinger's faculty web page above--her academic and research focus content of the page, is representative of the whole.

Any adult, whoever, has a first duty, writers included, to participate in the conversation that suits their sensibilities and abilities. That duty first of all, foremost, and all is to think consciously, critically, responsibly for one's self. No one is responsible for nor going to freely pass out accolades and accomplishments on a zirconium encrusted serving platter. Self-reliance and initiative are adult empowerment duties.

Wear the life or be worn by life.

[ March 20, 2014, 04:40 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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I'm not disagreeing with you on this point. As I've mentioned in the past, I'm a huge advocate for online critique groups, where conversations on a wide range of issues dealing with writing in all its forms take place. As of now, and for the last five years, I'm restricted in what type of physical writing events i can take part in. English events on this rural island I live are basically non-existent.

My point, though, about genre writing being underrepresented in colleges and universities, seems valid. I made two big moves to attend school, and it cost a good deal of money living and working in new cities. I don't think its fair to say this is letting life wear you. This, to me, is actively living life in pursuit of greater understanding of craft. The problem, however, is that English departments have a deficient in a huge wealth of reading material enjoyed by a significant portion of the population. Their rationale for this deficient is poor, and it lowers the quality of education for English majors. I know, Extrinsic, that you and I are in disagreement on this next point, but I do think there are strengths literary writing tends to have that genre writing doesn't, and strengths that genre writing tends to have that literary writing tends to not have. Studying this in a critical manner in an academic setting seems beneficial to all.

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extrinsic
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Academic settings are prepackaged to suit assembly-line education sensibilities. They are little more than surveys of content and method suited to their presenters' sensibilities and prepackaged for consumption as much as any given auditor may absorb and retask for personal onwership. They are convenient for both presenter career security and consumer access in one location: the academy.

Outside the academy is an entire world of possibility not confined to the isolation of academia's narrow perspectives.

Convention-based genre studies are comparatively recent in emergence but gaining ground. Hidebound classical education is eroding, though recent literature academy developments follow similar practices that are as ancient, noble, and honorable as those of Plato's era.

They are simple to list shorthand labels, complex to apply without some guidance and effort at first, but after further skills development have potent possibilities as independent journeyperson studies and travels in the life of the mind and in-person post academy apprenticeship. Yet they are reproducible, applicable, and sharable within and after the academy and profitable.

The one obstacle of note is conforming to the methods of the critical discourse community. The list includes approach; be that "queer theory," Marxism, Realism, Postmodernism, historicism, and so on; and discerning method and message, content and organization, and interpreting intent and meaning. New Criticism, for example, analyzes method and moral meaning. It is as close a method and approach to writing workshop practices as practical presently. In fact, New Criticism and writing workshops development paralled each other's emergence.

I had misgivings about the moralist approach of New Criticism until I realized moral value systems and beliefs are a core method of creative writing persuasions, not per se a promotion or glorification of any culture's value system, but interpreting how a moral value system influences a story.

Primary discourse in the literary sense is the story. Secondary discourse discussions of primary discourses evolve and revolve around appeal, voice, craft, and style. These are writing workshop criteria. They are not limited to in-person or online discourses. They may be one-on-one in-person or through written correspondence. Developing a writing community is a writer's prerogative. It's not easy though. Cherrypicking where and when to participate with whom, how, what, and why is comparable to a lifetime of relationship development.

I've prospected for a one-on-one writing partner for most of my life. One is at this moment arising. We meet again, after studying together for years, for a one-on-one first time tomorrow. Our writing sensibiliites are similar enough, and we are at a close proximity on the Poet's Journey. We'll see how it goes. I'm optimistic this will be a meaningful exchange.

Convention-based genre studies are emerging across the globe. My universities exhibited both biases against and biases in favor of "genre" studies. I didn't start or stop there though. Within any restrictions I worked and arranged my own curriculum to my satisfaction. Some of that was within the academy; some of it was outside the academy; some of it overlapped inside and outside the academy.

I found like-minded peers with whom to correspond, in person at times, across the globe at times. You, for one, in Korea. Others in Sweden, Italy, Ireland, Chile, Jordan, and so on.

I meet writers, editors, publishers, agents, critics, booksellers, and readers at conferences, not as many conferences as I'd like. Crowds unsettle me deeply. And conferences cost sums I cannot often afford. Membership in assorted writing associations affords me opportunities to cherrypick venues I might attend or correspond through.

I also correspond with peers as well as potential networking venues that may enhance my career ambitions. Sincere well-thought questions about writing culture adressed to most anyone in the culture will be and are answered. I've corresponded across the hierarchy, with publishers, with agents, editors, writers, critics, celebrities, professors, students, etc., in person and by e-mail. I've gotten back meaningful insights from all. I'm no longer surprised that writing culture celebrities respond personally, but ever more delighted and satisfied.

Stuck on a backwater island, the world's your oyster in the Digital Age. I am figuratively stuck on deserted island of my own making due to a crippling social anxiety condition.

I do not disagree on your last point, that "literary" fiction has strength appeals and weakness alienations and same for "genre" fiction and that they have gaps between their appeals and alienations. Though I heartily disagree the consensus divide is as wide as many would have it. That is my point for this entire discussion.

One of my academy goals was bridging the consensus divide. Instead of spanning the divide, I realized it is an artificial construct that evaporated for me. The cosmos spanning distance between became a mere veil to move back and forth through at will.

[ March 20, 2014, 09:29 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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