Genre Fiction

genre fiction, literary fiction, writing life September 20, 2010

My name is Nikki and I write genre fiction.

There. I said it.

I don’t write literary fiction. Did you say that with the proper amount of breathiness? Say it with the italics. Literary fiction– the kind of cerebral writing that means the writer has done an adequate amount of soul-searching, of yoga, meditation and hand-wringing to make it existential and meaningful. Literary fiction is preferably written on a windswept beach or in a squalid kitchen surrounded by poverty.

Nope, I write genre fiction, specifically mystery fiction. I write the kind of fiction that requires me to research poisons and firearms (which led to some really awesome hobbies, but more on that another day), the kind of fiction that leads to hesitant comments from my kids’ teacher during conferences- “Your child says his father pretended to be dead under the dining room table while you planned his discovery.” *sidelong glance* “And that the topic of discussion at the dinner table was whether belladonna or divinorum would have the grossest side effects.” I write my fiction in my attic office, accompanied by the sounds of arguing, barking and lawn mowing.


Definition: “Webster’s” defines “genre” as “a kind; sort; type: said of works of literature, art, etc.” On this site, and in general, “genre fiction” refers to nonliterary works and include the categories of mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, western, and horror. Genre fiction tends to be written and read primarily for entertainment. Though it may certainly aspire to and attain other goals, entertainment is the primary objective. However, as David Mamet points out in his essay, “The Humble Genre Novel, Sometimes Full of Genius,” many works now considered great literature were originally genre novels. Raymond Chandler, of course, exemplifies this phenomenon. (Mamet goes so far as to open his essay with the line, “For the past thirty years the greatest novelists writing in English have been genre writers.”)

If you’re unsure whether your story or novel can be considered both genre fiction and literary fiction, it’s worthwhile trying both camps. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have more options for publishing your work, especially if you’re not too proud.

That’s kind of insulting, particularly that last line. I’m fine with defining genre fiction as something being written for entertainment. Why else are movies made? Hollywood wouldn’t exist if we didn’t like to be entertained. But that last line… “especially if you’re not too proud.” Excuse me? So I can only have pride in my work if I sell it as literary fiction? (Read it with the italics, come on now. If you can get a sigh out, even better.)

I, and my closest writer friends, write the books that everyone loves to read, but tend to hide on the bus or train. Why is this?

Is there really some social stigma to genre fiction? There are definitely genre writers who have straddled the fence, in the sense that their genre fiction has become acceptable. Stephen King, James Patterson, Janet Evanovich, Dean Koontz, and, gee, J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer come to mind. Hmmm… Most of what we consider classics today started as genre fiction. Pride and Prejudice wasn’t the great work of art we consider it today. When it was published in 1813 it was considered a “fashionable novel.” What about a piece of work blurs that line between genre and literary fiction?

In terms of sales, the romance genre outsells everything else. Why is that? Aside from the fact that more women tend to make book purchases than men, I believe it’s because romance novels tell a timeless tale. Everyone can relate to the joy and pain of loving another person. Literary work often deals with subjects that are relatively unrelatable or even painful (Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye comes to mind here- beautiful but horrible at the same time). Reading is an escape. I want to laugh, I want a puzzle, I want a thrill, I want to laugh, I want a happy ending. I think most readers do. I’m not surprised that romance outsells everything else- I am surprised that a lot of people don’t like to admit they read it.

So before you rest your book in your bag so fellow commuters can’t see the title, think about it. Think about the merit of genre fiction. If it’s good enough to be in your hand, be proud.


Tattooed writer with an attitude seeks like minded people who appreciate snark and ink. Or snarky ink.

Comment 1

  1. Meg Mims says on September 21, 2010

    Nice post! The mystery genre also provides a “happy” ending in that justice is served and life returns to “normal” – whatever that is, LOL.

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