Telling Tales Out Of Genre

No, this is not an article on how to take a story in a genre and turn it into another.  I can do that too, if you guys wish, sometime in the future.  It is not uncommon and, anyway, it is as good a technique for beginning writers as it is for beginning painters to copy the work of a master because before they understand composition, they can feel in their guts and bones what “good” is.

Yes, there is such a thing as “good” and such a thing as “quality” – after all you have to know what to strive for when you’re trying to improve your writing – but that’s an article for another time, particularly since “good” and “quality” have been as maligned as “hate” which can now be used to mean “I’m annoyed.”  (And by the way, no, dears, quality and good probably don’t mean what you think they mean, not when it comes to art.  But blah, none of my business provided you don’t yell it in my face.)  And yes, the hate thing is an article too.

This is not even an article about “tastes can’t be argued” though it touches tangentially on it.  What I’m talking about here is talking about things you know nothing about because they’re not to your taste.  Not that it’s any of my business to advise you on this, mind, but a lot of you are brilliant people who don’t realize how silly you sound when you expound on what’s not at all to your interest.

This was brought about because in an email I told someone I didn’t read (traditional) heroic fantasy anymore because I got tired of girl-with-sword-saves-the-world and all men are evil.  The gentleman rather politely told me that he’d never come across those.  Which is when I realized I was flapping my lips on something I know nothing about.

And it’s not even something I NEVER knew anything about.  It’s just something I haven’t read in about twenty years (which since at the time I was reading used, means probably twenty five to thirty year old information) when I got tired of the two above plots and the plot device known as “cruel father” (used in Darkship Thieves?  Don’t be ridiculous.  If you read it you’ll realize it’s no such thing!) threw a book against the wall and never picked it up again.

I was in point of fact flapping my lips and showing my ignorance.

I’m hardly alone in this.

BTW if you’re new to fantasy or science fiction and in a panel with me feel an urge to say something like “I just want to know why we can’t have strong female characters in these two genres.  Why must the woman always be rescued?”  DON’T.  Or if you do be aware that you’re putting your life on the line.

No, I don’t hate hearing it.  At most I strongly dislike it.  But when you feel my fingers around your throat as I scream “Like every strong main female character since the late eighties at least?” you might have trouble telling the difference.

And as I pound you with the nearest object (usually there’s a pitcher of water) and scream “How about we also have strong males now?  Can we do that?” it might really get hard to tell.  Because when you say that, you’re talking not only out of ignorance, but out of smug, self-satisfied ignorance, and repeating stuff you heard without the courtesy of at least reading in the genre you’re trying to sell in.

I’ll tolerate this sort of idiocy if you’re not trying to sell in the genre, because I’ll assume you never read it, and are just flapping lips with received wisdom.  (See, I’m not trying to sell heroic, traditional fantasy, so bonus for me.  I’ll still shut up about it in the future.)  But when you’re sitting there at the table, with your copy of Marysue Doright To The Stars, the book you just wrote to prove women can too be heroes, it’s very, very hard not to beat you with a copy of Podkayne of Mars or the collected volumes of the Honor Harrington saga.

And condemning entire genres because they’re not to your taste is also silly.  Oh, don’t misinterpret me.  You’re perfectly allowed not to LIKE a genre.  In fact, you’re allowed to loathe it…  Hell, you’re allowed to not like it or loathe it without having EVER read a single piece.

We live in a highly specialized society and we’re all the products of rather individual development.  Well, okay, maybe not all.  I often think half the population is cranked out in a factory somewhere.  But for all that, the truth is if you get to know someone, you’re bound to find that they’re not as… standard as you think.

Someone has coined the “Normal is a city” (apparently in Illinois — who knew?)  I’m not sure I agree with that because “normal” as in “functioning well enough to perform in daily life” is a broad tent, and it fits any number of idiosyncrasies.  (My neighbors don’t need to know I build worlds in my head, and the gentleman who ran out of his house when I was walking Marshall to elementary school shortly after we moved here, dropped in front of me and – groveling around – performed one of the more heart-wrenching soliloquies of Lear was probably perfectly normal when he wasn’t rehearsing so intensely he rather literally forgot himself. [And wasn’t he lucky he got me?  Someone else might have dialed 9-11.  I was momentarily charmed, I confess, at the idea of guerrilla eruptions of Shakespeare, but no, he was just rehearsing and probably thought to freak the mundanes.  Served him right that Marshall corrected a line!])

But none of us are… mass products.  Despite those of us born roughly at the mid-century mark of the 20th century (or twenty years either way) having gone through a system of mass education and being fed our news through mass systems for most of our lives, most of us are still shockingly individual.  (A built in issue for future worlds like 1984, say, or the people who think it’s an instruction manual.)  Genetics, environment and the sheer cussedness that is humanity means you can have twins raised by the same parents, and at least some of their tastes will be startlingly different.

Why am I prattling about that?  Because even your best friends; even those who like the exact same genres of literature you do will NOT have the same tastes.  (And this doesn’t mean there ISN’T quality, just that some of the quality I’ll be completely blind to, it not being my thing.)  For years you could have sold tickets to the epic arguments my best writing buddy and I would get into when our favorite authors were mentioned.  I find her favorite utterly bland and unconvincing, and she finds mine annoying.  Neither of us has read the other’s favorite extensively, mind.  Just enough to determine “it’s not my thing.”  And yes, we might have been better served by reading a different book, say, or at a different time.  However, it’s no use disputing because given the infinite choice of what you CAN read, why bother revisiting someone who disappointed you a couple of times?  And why bother trying to convince someone they “MUST” read this when they’ve already told you they hate the genre/subgrenre/type/author?

(Yes, I’m guilty of that sin too, having grabbed random strangers and screamed, “No, no, those books were BEFORE he became Pratchett.  Read Night Watch you illiterate buffoon” – it’s bad of me and I shouldn’t do it.  And in the future I’ll try to refrain UNLESS the person in question is trying to write Pratchetterian fantasy in which case I’ll beat her/him to death with the collected witches’ saga.)

For centuries – millenia?  Forever –  it’s been known that one man’s meat is another man’s poison.  And for centuries one man has sneered at the other for this.  Only now, there are so many varieties of meat, we’re convinced there must be “the one true meat” which feeds everyone.

Let’s put this in another venue: I must sometime remember to thank my friend Kate Paulk for coining The Meaty Skull With Snakes Style Of Art phrase in her Con books.

Every con I go to the art show, partly because I’m a penniless writer and in years when the economy is bad you can pick up stunning pieces for under $50.  Also because as a penniless writer, I like to encourage penniless artists.  I’m always happy to pick up a very good but not quite there piece from a young artist starting out.  Because that will hopefully work like a first short story sale upon a beginning writer.

And every con I find the art show has at least one stall, and sometimes as many as half of them, filled with Meaty Skull With Snakes Style of Art.  You know the canvases when you see them.  They make you fall back in sheer horror at the “OMG WHY?” sprays of arterial blood, the axes with bits of flesh clinging to them.

I’d never buy one of those pieces, not even if they were the best paintings in the world.  And yet I have friends who collect them and put them on their walls to look at every day.  They’d probably find my semi-nude winged beings which I tend to buy for my walls (hey, you have your kinks, Mr.) blah.

Of course my real taste is renaissance art – and there we’re touching on quality again and it’s well… for another time – but it’s very hard to go back in time and buy a little-appreciated DaVinci.  (My younger son assures me work on the time-space portal continues apace.)

As a consequence, I can’t tell you anything at all about the artists who do this.  I know they exist.  I mean, at a con in New England, the artist guest of honor had paintings of meaty skulls, and sculptures of meaty skulls, and possibly taste tests of meaty skulls.  How the heck would I know?  It’s not my thing.

In the same way, I know next to bl**dy nothing about the names in contemporary romance.  I know Nora Roberts, is about it.  After that I draw a complete blank.  And frankly Nora Roberts – though her writing is magnificent (if you don’t think so, you haven’t read her ever.  She’s both transparent and carries the story very well) doesn’t do it for me. I find her women an irritant. They do irrational things, just to prove they can. I do best at hearing her narrated than reading her.

Are other contemporary romance heroines the world’s greatest twits?  Who knows?  I’ve sampled a couple here and there – like the one where the two main characters spend the first fifty pages in bed and the poor guy should have called his GP because it’s way more than four hours, having sex and discussing the world’s most vapid subjects.  Is this representative of the genre?  Eh.  Probably not.  But now those failures of sampling have caused me to be more cautious and contemporary romances have a higher bar to sell to me.

Until seven years ago, the same applied to ALL romance.  And then Dave Freer convinced me sample Georgette Heyer.  This made me aware at least SOMEONE could write romance I would read.  And then…  And then I got stuck at RWA, giving away books, next to Madeleine Hunter.  Both of us had piles of books.  My editor refused to let me build a fort and hide behind mine.  For the first half hour I had no one (then I had a line, and I finished before everyone.)  So, out of sheer boredom, I grabbed one of Hunter’s books (well, I HAD read mine.  Have to, to edit it.  Also, rumors I type with my toes while blindfolded are exaggerated) and started reading.  I now have most of her books and haven’t been able to finish only two.

This introduced me to regency romance in general.  Yeah, the vast majority (of everything, not just romance) is crap, but I’ve learned to find nuggets of gold.

Still, even now, because Romance is something I read when I’m out of sorts and because I buy them on discount at the thrift store (I did mention I was cheap, right?), I couldn’t tell you who the luminaries of the field are nor would I presume to say something in public like “So and so is one of the seminal influences of the field” – unless the so and so is Heyer and the field is Regency Romance specifically.  Much less would I go as far as Jane Austen, whom most young writers know only by the execrable movie.  And did the Bronte sisters influence anyone working now?  Probably.  And I hope I never read her.  Most of the people working now?  Oh, please.  Unless through a movie, I doubt it.

H*ll I do read mystery, more or less obsessively – though in waves – and I don’t know half the people publishing today.

And sometimes genres still surprise me, as Romance did.  I’d have said I’d never, ever, ever read Christian fiction published as such.  NOT because I have anything against it in particular, but because the few I’ve sampled were HORRIBLY written.  Probably because it’s a restricted field that people will buy for reasons other than quality, I tend to find incoherent plots and instead of a journey of faith, I find a rambling book with occasional declarations of faith or pauses for prayer.  And yet, I found one for free on Amazon, set in WWII and didn’t read the description enough to catch on it was Christian, so I read it.  It’s mainstreamish in reading, but a very good book.  (I’ll find the name if you wish.  It’s in my kindle.  I have ordered two of her other books, but they seem to have wandered off from my room.  I haven’t read them yet.)

But in general I’ll tell you I don’t read erotica, horror, YA, contemporary romance or procedurals.  There are exceptions to all these – people at the edge, whom I like – but in general those hold true.  I do sample all of these now and then, and have learned to see when it’s “well done” even if it makes me recoil.

HOWEVER I guarantee to you there are good writers in erotica, horror, YA, contemporary romance AND procedurals.  I bet you there are authors I would like, but I’ll never know unless I stumble on them.  And there are authors I would loathe but say “they’re doing it right.”

So, I learned my lesson.  When talking about genres or subgenres I don’t read or unless I’ve read it recently, I’ll keep my mouth shut on quality, because I don’t KNOW.  Keeping my mouth shut is probably of benefit to no one.  In fact, it might annoy those who wish to laugh at me.  BUT it will preserve my – tattered – reputation for omniscience.

You can choose to do as you please, but you should be aware dogmatic pronouncements about what you don’t know might make people laugh like hyenas.  (Or answer in puzzled and gentle politeness as my correspondent did.)

On the other hand when WRITING in a genre, do at least try to read the last twenty years of your particular subgenre – or at least skim.  That will save you from craving “strong women heroes” in a field awash with them.

And it will save me from beating you to death with a copy of your brand spanking new book: MarySue Does The Space Navy.

185 responses to “Telling Tales Out Of Genre

  1. And it will save me from beating you to death with a copy of your brand spanking new book: MarySue Does The Space Navy.

    Hmmm. but that’s my next book.

    Now.

  2. I’ve never heard “Normal is a city.” I suspect you heard “Normal is a setting on a washing machine,” which seems to have originated among U.S. personnel in Vietnam. I have never read much YA even as a kid, but I picked up a copy of “Blitzcat” by Robert Westall because of the very striking cover, and it’s now one of my favorite novels. An amazing book. Beware, Sarah, there’s an upsetting scene in which Lord Gort loses one of her kittens, but it’s an astounding book.
    The trouble with horror is that the best work is short fiction, and the novels that crowd the shelves during the occasional horror craze are mostly awful. Check “Horror: the 100 Best Books,” which is the best guide to horror long fiction ever.

  3. Oh well… I was horrified when I sat down to edit my book Conjure Man and found that it was horror. I have some taste in horror, but I only like a few Stephen King books. I like Dean Koontz’s Odd series. Also, I am not too keen on Clive Barker. But, I wrote horror. I looked back at what I was writing and I write people who go through terrible quests usually in the desert. ;-)

    Billy the Kid is my first romance (except for the short Halloween romance I wrote which has a ravening ghost). lol

    So I understand why you wouldn’t like horror. I used to write to Dean Koontz and got his newsletter over a decade ago. I realized that good horror is really about hope. (and not the meaty slice-em up horror–I really dislike that type). Suspense and supernatural creatures are under the horror umbrella btw. (Good horror is human wave.) The hope (sorry I lost track) is from believing that you can survive. When you do survive, it is an adrenaline rush… it makes you a kinder person to the people around you. (It is cathartic imho… like after seeing King Lear performed.)

    So quality… I quit reading mysteries a few years back because I just wasn’t getting the satisfaction from reading them. I do like Larry Block. He has gone indie btw. (in small amounts). My mother loved cozy mysteries and the TV show “murder she wrote). I go back to those and see the same plot over and over. Kind of gets boring after awhile.

    If I love a writer and if the writer writes the same plot with the same elements over and over and I look at the title and see that it is not the last book I read, then I’ll throw that book at the wall. It will take some convincing to go back to the same writer. I enjoyed LKH’s first books… Lately I have been throwing her books at the wall. I like her voice… I just don’t like to wade through chapter after chapter of explicit sex. Ugh. Get a room.

    Sorry for the epistle.

    • ROFL. No. I CAN write horror — and it’s easier in a way, because it’s primary colors — I just can’t read it.

      Of course there are exceptions:If you haven’t tried F. Paul Wilson, I highly recommend his Repairman Jack series. Might not be your thing, but I love it.

      And under “might not be your thing” I cordially hated Block’s fiction. Liked his “how to write” books. Go figure.

    • Free-range Oyster

      “I realized that good horror is really about hope.”

      I am reminded of something Dan Wells mentioned in the very first season of Writing Excuses (“Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart”). He said that horror is an inherently moral medium, because it has at its core the conflict between good and evil. Now I have little interest in horror – I have much too fervid an imagination, and am far too prone to projection and visualization – but that struck me as true from my limited experience. I am aware of sub-genres where that is not the case (torture porn, etc) but 1. I believe those are the exception and 2. I have less than no interest in them. Horror as a moral medium was such a compelling paradigm that I actually want to read some.

      • I agree. I like some horror, can’t stand others. Dickens’ Christmas Carol is a horror story. So are the wonderful ghost stories by M R James, and I love those (the Victorians really wrote the best horror and ghost stories, but they had the spiritual underpinnings to get good and evil in a way most moderns don’t). I loved Dan Wells’s I am Not a Serial Killer books, too – a sympathetic and likable protagonist and good does triumph (though not without sacrifice) and a real moral conflict.

        Horror has just as many sub-genres as fantasy and SF. And you can get two, say, fantasy readers in the same room and find out they still don’t like any books in common.

    • It would help if the douchebadgers writing it would stop conflating “horror” and “gore”. I would direct those seeking further data to Robert Bloch’s essay at the start of the Arkham House edition of _The Dunwich Horror and Others_.

      (Hint: How do you make Three Yellow Barrels brick-shittingly terrifying? >;) )

      • yes. “Gross out is NOT horror”

        • When I was 17 I took a trip on Greyhound and a 13 year old boy sat next to me behind the driver (no doubt under identical orders from his mother.)

          He tried to gross me out by describing horror movies he’d seen.

          So I told him about dehorning calves, castrating pigs, and all the various stages of dairy reproduction including the removal of dead and rotting bovine fetuses. Poor dear turned green. It wasn’t until years later I wondered what the driver thought of it all.

          I wrote it all up and submitted the manuscript to my critique group and got positive feedback of the sort “You should call this “The Awful Truth About Cows” but I don’t know where you should submit it.

          And then… (this is where the horror part comes in)…

          … I lost the manuscript.

          *shudder*

        • Alfred Hitchcock tells a story about the shower scene in Psycho. The prop department made him a torso that would spurt blood when you stabbed it. He refused to use it, because the effect he wanted was to shock and horrify, not shock and gross out.

      • Also so many of them are really bad at writing gore. Some authors can do realistic blood and guts (David Drake for example) others writing is so unrealistic I laugh at what is supposed to be horrifying. You CAN NOT completely detach someones arm from their body with three shots from a .223 (especially when the previous paragraph specified using mil-spec full-metal jacket ammo) and please how do you reach through the upper chest cavity and rip out someones liver without dragging out heart and lungs first. Give me a break, did the author sleep through their frog dissections in biology?

  4. And yet, I found one for free on Amazon, set in WWII and didn’t read the description enough to catch on it was Christian, so I read it.

    At first I thought this was How Huge the Night, but then I saw your mention of “her other two books” and realized it couldn’t be. But please allow me to put in an utterly shameless* plug for How Huge the Night. I usually dislike the whole Christian fiction genre, but HHtN felt completely different. The authors don’t preach at you — characters pray or talk about God because that’s just who the characters are, not because the authors are Trying To Make A Point.

    I also notice that of the 49 reviews on Amazon, there’s not a single one that’s 3 stars or less. That’s quite rare, from what I’ve seen.

    * Full disclosure: the authors of How Huge the Night are, respectively, my sister and my mother. So this is almost as shameless a plug as plugging my own book would be. :-)

    • I went to a Christian Writers Conference some years back and I was shocked and appalled at the low quality of the fiction writing I saw there. Nice folks, but nothing like C. S. Lewis for quality of prose.

  5. Oy… the “if you don’t like X, it’s just because you haven’t read Y” arguments. Jesus wept. If I say that Heinlein doesn’t impress me much (after having read Starship Troopers, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and I will Fear No Evil), some Heinlein Dork will insist that all I need to do is read The Number of The Beast, and my opinion will totally change, dude.

    Nu-uh. What people miss is that when I say I don’t like a particular author, it’s his style, not material or story, that doesn’t impress me. And to me, Heinlein writes very cold novels, and I find the vast majority of his characters unsympathetic. (Note all the first-person singular pronouns in all the above; your mileage may vary.) Ditto a lot of today’s libertarian writers, because most libertarians are borderline autistic and therefore pretty much incapable of writing characters like Hugo’s Jean Valjean, Du Maurier’s Julius Levy or Hardy’s Jude Fawley.

    Fact is, like many adolescent boys, I read a ton of sci-fi when I was a teenager. But I grew out of it in my twenties, and now only seldom dip into the genre–because my tastes have evolved to more complex characters than, say, Rico or Rasczak (sp?), and I don’t find that modern sci-fi writers have written any better, or more sympathetic characters than Rico or Rasczak. (DON’T. Just DON’T tell me to read Ringo or whomever. Total crap, unless you’re a fan of the genre.)

    Just so we’re all clear on the subject: my idea of good fantasy storytelling is Catch-22 or The Magus, not Like Water For Chocolate [barf]. And any story which contains goblins, elves, wizards… hide the Colt .45 from me. And while I hate the whole zombie genre like poison, I will admit to liking Mogworld and Shaun of the Dead, because they’re tongue-in-cheek.

    My, how I do run on. And now, having pissed off pretty much everybody, I’ll go back to writing.

    • See, I read an AWFUL lot of your favorites, because my dad ran to “literary” and growing up (Portugal is different. No backlist on the shelves) I was prepetually short of stuff to read and therefore read anything and everything, including old want ads — Literary btw IS a genre, not a level. ALL OF IT puts me to sleep, pretty much. It got to the point, through my degree, that finding a READABLE book shocked me. I rather liked Tess D’Ubervilles and, in German literature, Effie Briest, even if neither can hold a candle to Heyer for sheer enjoyment. (Or to Heinlein, frankly.) When you least list (typos are strong today) your favorites, other than Shakespeare and Dumas (and Dumas was a hack, suspected of hiring writers — which I suspect he didn’t), I go zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. It’s all so much puerile, inchoate EUROPEAN self conscious “culture” which to me REEKS of adolescence. Frankly if I’m doing European and old, I prefer the Ancients.

      OTOH I KNOW this is me. Heinlein liked them. (Shrug.) Product of a different time and place, I guess.

      I have stayed away from literary so determinedly that I was shocked to find (waiting room, only one book, and that book was Brideshead Revisited) that I enjoyed Evenlyn Waugh. I know WHY — I mean, I know the “quality” and it’s the same reason I enjoy Dumas, and Shakespeare, and Austen, and Sir Walter Scott and my exceptions to “genres I don’t read.”

      So, again — to each his own. I was bit by a “literary” book in childhood — well, college — so I have PTSD — which is to say, I had so many forced down my throat that just the names make me go “Oh, please! NO.”

      I rather enjoy Borges. When I was a kid I thought well of Pearl S. Buck (It’s been very long) and I used to like Thomas Mann. My brother tells me he was a proto Nazi, and maybe he was, but… this is my brother. It might mean nothing.

      At 12, though, I “grew up” into Science Fiction and discovered literature that dealt with the questions that interested me. Again, to each his own.

      • By “questions that interest me” I mean questions of stuff like “how should society be organized” or “when is war right” are best stripped of their present moorings (even if those remain symbolically) and looked around turned the other way. A great part of my shifter’s series (granted fantasy) is “what is human?” Weirdly, so is a lot of the Darkship series. OTOH that also examines “in a society where we’ve gone beyond mere human, what is the way to organize it?” “Would being governed by angels work.”

        Also I like to play. Things like Simon Hawk’s time war series are pure schlock, but in revisiting all the literary cliches, he makes them enormously fun. (And I wish he’d bring them out in electronic.) In the same way, say James White Doctor To The Stars series is a puzzle and adventure stories. Good stuff to read to unwind and interesting from the biological-puzzle perspective, like a thought experiment. The characters were formulaic, but that was Space Opera THEN.

        • “how should society be organized” or “when is war right”

          See, those kinds of questions bore me, because as long as one has studied a bit of history, they’ve all been answered, many times.

          Far more interesting is putting a man and woman in a society which is being reorganized in a way which isn’t likely to be benefical to them, and seeing how they deal with the situation. Then have them fall in love with each other, just to muddy the water (and make separation/danger more piquant), throw in a malevolent or bureaucratic antagonist, and, oh wait… Hugo already wrote Les Miserables.

          But you get what I mean. I’m no longer interested in the Big Issues, just how people are affected by and react to them. With sex added. Lots of sex. That, I can write. From memory, of course.

          • LOL. Vice versa. I get that from history and biographies. While history hasn’t exhausted the number of ways things can be done because tech changes them. Eh. Different mind sets.

            Mind you, I read practically anything if it draws me in.

          • And here I thought that Les Miserables was an inspiring story of true grace and mercy at work in a man’s life.

      • Waugh is cool. Do you have his short novel “The Loved One?” Black humor about Hollywood, humor so black you can’t believe what you’re reading.

        • So far I’ve only read Brideshead. Because he’s well thought of by the literary establishment, I’m afraid of being disappointed. But if you’re taking notes for bday/Christmas, I would be willing to try others.

      • Did they have Perry Rhodan in Portugal? Either the original German texts, or translations? I went through all of the English translations when I was an undergrad.

    • Actually, Kim, real Heinlein dorks will commiserate and wonder if maybe someone at the Mayo Clinic is researching treatments for this disorder.

      • He’s probably thinking the same about how I feel about his tastes, Charlie. I just find it interesting that our experiences are neatly reversed. To me the “important” books were part of adolescence (and childhood) and therefore I view them as predictable and see where they’re posing. SF, otoh even when “schlock” was FRESH schlock. Its very lack of pretensions charmed me. Heinlein is deeper than most, so is Anderson but heavens, I read Van Vogt with great enjoyment, and it brought me to adulthood. (Then again, consider I’m a person of no account and low tastes… I’m not saying everyone should imitate it. It just goes to what my mom — growing in a century and a country blessedly innocent or at least rare in — surgical modifications, said: “Each one must p*ss with the equipment he has.”)

        • My great aunt and uncle used to do housekeeping and gardening for a pastor. When he died, he gave them his library. I still get sad about it because when my mother decided that they were “evil” (came out of her religious training–there was a time that some of the “Prophets” were trying to regulate reading materials for the members), she gave them away. There were first and second editions of Asimov, Heinlein, Burroughs, and a whole set of sci-fi writers. I read them all from fourteen til I left home about twenty-two.

          So I grew up on sci-fi littered with Shakespeare, plus my mother’s stageplays from her high school days “Oklahoma,” and “Caurosel,” and others. My reading materials were eclectic. I think I read “the Hunchback of Notre Dame” at fourteen.

          We didn’t have a television, heck at that point we didn’t have electricity, so reading was a leisure activity that helped make the days go better.

          • Not exactly related, but funny — When my parents got married — I’m still trying to understand that one –the local priest gave them a book he had written, called Impious Men. Now, my mom and dad are both great history buffs, so if I’d known about this, I’d have known there was something wrong with the book because mom took ONE look at it and put it under the stairs with the “preparedness supplies” (First, mom like me was paranoid, second she had lived through Portugal’s last genuine famine, when people resorted to boiling weeds off the side of the road to survive, third during revolutionary times the stores might or might not have stuff — so we had enough preserved/non-perishable/oil (you run out of oil first in Portugal. Everything used to be fried) to last a year.) way at the back. I found it at about sixteen while organizing the preparedness supplies and rotating the aging ones. I sat there, reading it, mouth open in wonder. What this quiet village priest did was take the most scurrilous and exaggerated reports of Roman emperors and write them as stories, only exaggerated and GRAPHIC. It could put any Laurel K. Hamilton to shame. It was… mind boggling. Then I put it back (mom never threw gifts away. Unlucky or something.) asked mom about it. She gave me the beady eye and said it was a gift and she was keeping it but ew. And then I went and took a shower.

            • To this day, I wonder was the book a warning? “This is where you end up without Grace” (Like, you know, either of them ruled the known world.) Or an encouragement? “Yes, yes, go out and have orgies and kill people in horrible ways” or was the priest just a desperate self-published author thrusting his book into everyone’s hands regardless of suitability?

              • Ummm sounds like the desperation of a self-published author. BTW anyone wants to read my four novels? :-) (definitely desperate here)

                • EVENTUALLY (actually I have a flight coming up) I’ll get around to reading some stuff I have earmarked, and if I like them I’ll flog. (But not with a whip, because, ew.) BUT you know, in those days? Printing. Leather cover. And no way to sell it. It would drive a self-pubbed author nuts.

            • Ewwww…. http://www…www. (had to breathe between ewww) In those days I learned how to cook with a fire pit. I have an idea where the book would end up if there ever were some shortages.

        • And I still think that Shakespeare’s Goneril would beat Freddie Krueger in a fistfight, nine times out of ten.

    • And any story which contains goblins, elves, wizards… hide the Colt .45 from me. And while I hate the whole zombie genre like poison, I will admit to liking Mogworld and Shaun of the Dead, because they’re tongue-in-cheek.

      Hm, given that… tried Terry Pratchett? The one about the Wizard School having a football team sounds like it’s perfectly made to fit your mentioned exceptions.

      • Monster Hunters International. Only horror fiction I can tolerate. If a vampire is sparkling, it had better be because of incendiaries.

        • That’s horror? I would have classified it as good urban fantasy, what is horrifying about MHI?

          • Free-range Oyster

            There’s the monster angle (and they are truly monstrous in Correia’s depiction), the Lovcraftian elements, and in a more general sense there’s the fact that even when they win, they lose.

            • I’d say it’s more an Urban Fantasy also. They also have all those elements.

              • ppaulshoward

                Well, IMO this is a problem about Genre. IE what is “horror”, “urban fantasy”, “science fiction”, etc. To me, “Horror” involves an element of intrusion. For Owen Zastava Pitt (in the first book), when his boss turns into a werewolf, it was an intrusion into Owen’s world. Up to this time, Owen thought werewolves were only in movies or books. So his fight with his boss was horror. However, once he joins MHI he learns that werewolves, vampires, etc are part of his world so in a sense they aren’t an intrusion but a fact of life. IMO from that point on, the books move from horror to Dark Fantasy/Urban Fantasy as the heroes are part of that world. Mind you definitions always fall into YMMV territory. [Wink]

              • I have a problem with the term “urban fantasy” because in my limited vocabulary urban means of the city. Since I write mostly about the desert, I started calling mine rural fantasy. ;-) ( or horror… whichever term you’d think appropriate.

  6. Free-range Oyster

    Your mention of the issues with the Christian set of sub-genres made me want to jump up and down and shout “Yes, exactly!” I’ve found it applies to any explicitly demographic-based genre.

    For me it started with Christian pop and rock music. I was introduced to them via a couple of the best groups around (I still hold that Jars of Clay’s debut is one of the best albums ever) but quickly discovered that a great deal of what was available and popular was crap. It got even worse in more narrow demographics such as LDS pop. The Oyster Wife, on the other hand, adores religious romances. She’s had to learn not to discuss them with me because most of the time I cannot restrain my eyes from rolling at the cliches and contrivances.

    People seem, in general, willing to tolerate poorer quality when the product is explicitly made for them by people like them. Me, I can’t tolerate that. I know there are better Christian musicians and authors, better black authors (I had to read some popular black teen-targeted novels for a research project; the poor quality made me want to weep), better conservative/libertarian authors and musicians, etc. If you want to point to a creator and say “This is what my tribe does, this is what we create” then point to people that are *good* at what they do! Do not tolerate much less support poor quality just because you share things in common*.

    Oyster out.

    * NB: blood relations are an understandable – though still unfortunate – exception to this

    • Some of the Christian regencies are painful. You might hold yourself absolved by reason of faith, but this doesn’t excuse NO RESEARCH.

    • okay, then. I’ll point out when I wrote Darkship Thieves I was NOT aware of writing a Libertarian book, or even that the demographic existed. So I hope it flies on its own.

      • L. Neil Smith – Libertarian author archetype, IIRC? (Except for Their Majesties’ Buckateers, which is Alien Holmes Pastiche with a rather magnificent brawling scene that I should dig up and re-read sometime with an eye for “how did he do that??” though even the Buckateers is in the same multiverse, again, IIRC.)

        Loved his tech.

    • Some time ago I started to wonder why anyone was absolved from basic standards of story telling or other arts just because it was in a subset that represented an identity group. For heaven’s sake (possibly literally), why not set out higher standards for yourselves?

      And once upon a time there were illustrations by Rembrandt, Dore and Goya. Now we are offered a sea of offensively inoffensive pabulum. Oh, occasionally some of that pabulum is technically beautiful, but this makes it all the more obvious and irritating that something is missing. (But then, I guess, one man’s pabulum is another man’s meat. And there we once again enter into prior discussion in this blog.)

      • actually it’s perfectly sensible. SOME markets, and Christian is one of those — though a lot of non-Christians read it, to escape blatant sex in novels — are/were SO underserved that ANYTHING would be considered good. Like… fifty shades of grey to submissive women markets. Like a lot of to-the-righ-of-Lenin fiction. People are starving for it, and willing to ignore the flaws. Baen is mean, it still makes us have plots and characters, and they check our science and stuff. There ain’t no justice.

        • I don’t recall it occurring to me ere now, but 50 Shades is a classic instance of transgressive art. So many women these days are driven by cultural imperatives to “be strong” that the idea of submission is forbidden fruit.

          Start with the premise that most women want a dominant male (so do most men; leadership is scary and humans are at essence pack animals) and you have a transgression that deeply accords with fundamental human nature. VERY powerfully enticing.

          Yeah, Baen’s management sure is mean to demand craftsmanship. A body would think they were in the genre for the long haul rather than just to make a quick exploitative buck. The dastards!

          • Oops – had intended an extensive sidebar discussion of Harry Potter’s success being due to similarly transgressive attraction: a boy who actively challenges the problems life throws his way — and is a hero, not a villain??? I thought only girl protagonists are allowed to do that these days?

            Carry on.

          • Yeah, Baen’s management sure is mean to demand craftsmanship. A body would think they were in the genre for the long haul rather than just to make a quick exploitative buck. The dastards!

            Yes, exactly. TERRIBLE people. (Note they’re the only house I still work for. Without them I’d now be full indie. This is full tongue in cheek.)

            And you’re quite right about transgressive art, and it has nothing to do with sex — though it’s selling to people who read sex, of course.

  7. This is your random “WordPress I is disappoint” comment. I started getting emails whenever ANYONE commented. Yep, my settings had been changed. I was now supposed to be pinged if someone so much as LIKED a post. Head> desk. WHY? WHY?WHY?WHY?

    • You’ve been WordPressed. Too bad I quit blogging, or else I’d have converted your site over to a real content management software package for you.

  8. Deb Kinnard, who writes C-fic

    Thank you, thank you, for reading and enjoying a Christian fic piece — and saying so. Too many people have read a single book, or part of one, and say it’s all dreck without knowing otherwise.

  9. I had never read a romance novel until I heard part of Ann River Siddons’s “Low Country” on Radio Reader. The descriptive power that woman has just blew me out of the water, and I trotted down to the library and devoured that book and two more by her. Do I enjoy romances? Not really. Did I enjoy her books? Very much, because she has a way of using landscape as a character in some ways.

    Westerns as a genre don’t catch my fancy either, although some Louis L’Amour (The Lonesome Gods, Bendigo Shafter) and Elmer Kelton grab me. My problem is that since I read historic ranch records as part of my day job, I tend to run balance sheets in my head instead of thrilling to the hero turning a stampede. (“This is set in August 1894, northern plains cattle were bringing $.15 per hundred weight on the Chicago market, these are three year old steers, averaging 1200 pounds, so that’s $18 per head at best, lost 100 head for a total of . . .” You get the picture.) :)

    • LOL TX. That’s how I read gunfights.

      Hmmm… he’s using a .44 Magnum, but unless he loaded 20 grains of Alliant and a Federal 150 primer behind a 240gr solid or 220gr JSP, there’s no way he could have dropped the horse from that distance… unless, of course, he was using a heavier load in a Browning High Wall–no wait, didn’t the author say he had a lever rifle back in Chapter Two?

      • Amen, the totally screwed up guns really turn me off. Movies where the bullets all bounce of cars are one example, then in the other direction you have the books (or movies) where the bad guys can’t ever hit anybody with fully automatic rifles, and the good guys consistently make head shots on moving targets at a hundred yards, WITH A 9MM LUGER!

    • But that’s how the characters were thinking, too. Whether or not the author knows it, the characters really had cattle prices on the brain. :)

      • Absolutely – did you know how expensive a stampede is in terms of ???probable bankruptcy. And, the cowboys (hands, buckaroos, or whatever you called them depending on your region) learned to sing to the cows at night… lullabies.

        • I was trying to remember what we were taught about stampedes… ummm get out of the way of cows and buffalo… but with horses, stand really still and upright. (it was a long long time ago… I could be wrong).

          • Sheep will run you over.

            They follow the leader, and if the leader is past you it’s best to give up.

            The one time I tried to keep sheep from escaping it ended badly.

    • “However, nothing annoys me more than to see someone write a history based book, be it romance, war, or whatever, and get the history wrong.”

      Ditto. Although, as a writer in said genre, you’d be surprised how much research you have to undertake just to write the simplest history tale–and something ALWAYS seems to slip under the net.

      I remember reading a piece by a very well-known author, who had his hero strike a match to light his “churchwarden” (pipe)… he got the colloquialism of the pipe right, but this happened a hundred-odd years before matches were invented.

      • Yes on something always slipping past. And it ALWAYS makes you feel like a total moron. (Well, makes ME feel.) I only get really upset at authors who make it a big plot point: like the serving maid who can sashay down to the local fair and buy a sky blue blanket that exactly matches her mistress’s unusual cloak. On serving maid money — IF she was paid and not a villein — in the 13th century. Also, apparently the village fair — I grew up with these! — was Walmart and had whatever you wanted or close enough when you went looking. (ARGH.) It could have been papered over — wench’s bf was could dye the clothes or whatever (though sky blue I think is unlikely, then again I haven’t checked) — but the way it was written it was like a poke in the eye. That mystery series does quite well, but I’ve never read another book.

    • Okay, I’m now desperately curious about that day job. But having grown up on a cattle ranch (one of the hands rode with Pancho Villa, and our top kick was Bat Masterson’s deputy in Pueblo) one of the things I love about L’Amour’s stuff is that he really knew the country. one of his books (don’t recall which right now) travels back and forth in Southern Colorado, and you could pretty nearly follow his directions today.

      • About L’Amour’s geography: a while back (dear lord, it must be about twenty years now … talk about feeling old!) I read a review of a book published by a guy whose job had him travelling all over The West and, realizing he was near the lava beds described in L’Amour’s novel Flint he spent a day off touring and recreating the trails L’Amour described. Future explorations proved sufficient of L’Amour’s descriptions accuracy that he wrote and published the book whose review I read (IIRC, in the Wall Street Journal.) That my friends, is attention to detail and knowing your subject.

        And people wonder about the EPA losing 9-0 in that legal decision to the Sackett family in Idaho! Clearly, the SCOTUS reads L’Amour.

      • I’m a historian specializing in the rivers of the US West. One thing I have to look at is stocking rates, which means going through the business records of things like the XIT, Bell, and other ranches. And stocking rates were based on cattle prices, as well as on land condition (in the time I concentrate on). Cattle prices were based on season (higher in January, lowest in summer when people cooked less), economy of the US, economy of Europe, the location where the cattle were raised, and you can see why I know far more than I ever wanted about the price of live beef in the 1890s. :)

  10. Were I a writer, (and I am not) I don’t think I could write about anything I didn’t fully understand or have knowledge of. Science Fiction, what we call hard science fiction in our house, is generally based on a basic understanding of the science of flight, biology, language,war, and physics. Fantasy, or soft science fiction in our house, is based on all those things too, as well as flights of fancy, drama, and romance. At least that is how my husband and I tend to look at it. Of course, as a retired English Lit teacher, I have a hard time reading anything without picking it apart for inconsistencies, plot mistakes, continuity, character development, and the like. A hold over from comparative lit classes, and my own inability to ignore things I find that ring my BS alarm bell. Science Fiction/Fantasy rings that bell less than other genre. Because, I suppose, it is meant to stretch one’s ability to suspend disbelief.

    However, nothing annoys me more than to see someone write a history based book, be it romance, war, or whatever, and get the history wrong. Truly, makes me want to toss the book in the rubbish. If you are going to write a book about a subject where facts can be checked, then do not try to fake or change data to fit your story plot. The exception is when writing alternate history genre. Even then, however, one must have a decided and extensive knowledge of the era of the plot to be able to create an equally compelling alternate world.

    I agree, with you , Sarah, that spouting off about a genre with which the writer is out of date or lacking understanding, can make a person feel foolish. But, standing one’s ground when knowledgeable, can lead to some spirited, and wonderful, discussion between writers and readers.

    • depending on how much the writer is writing, I now cut some slack on history. NOT a lot. HOWEVER, at one time I was writing a book set in 19th century China and one set in Tudor England at the same time. SOMEHOW the “wooden bells of refuse collectors” migrated from China to Tudor England. (CRIES.)

    • Oh no – when it is fiction the author can just pull it out of their bum. I have it on good authority from a professional writer of non-fiction.

      • Oh, yeah. Good old wassname. No one cares if I make up stuff…. (Mumbles. Woman should read my email. “Aramis had black hair” “Why did you change it” Whine, whine, whine.)

  11. 'nother Mike

    “it’s very, very hard not to beat you with a copy of Podkayne of Mars or the collected volumes of the Honor Harrington saga.”

    Be careful about hitting someone with the collected volumes of the Honor Harrington saga. That’s probably a weapon of mass destruction — at least it is heavy enough — and you don’t want to be charged with that!

  12. Actually, you DO read YA – you read Diana Wynne Jones and Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching and Harry Potter and I’ll bet you’ve read Lloyd Alexander, too. These are my very favorite authors – I guess they’re traditional YA.

    That being said, I’ve been very disappointed going to the YA sections in the bookstores the last couple of years – rows and rows of books with pensive female faces or male torsos. Bleah.

    • Bleah is right – sexualizing the YA reading…

    • oh, yeah. I said there are exceptions to every one of my “do not read.” (Not Lloyd Alexander, though. Titles. I have these holes in my knowledge.) BUT my kids loved a lot of people I COULDN’t read. Not that there was anything wrong with them, there just was nothing there for me.

      • Lloyd Alexander wrote the Prydain chronicles – the Book of Three is the first one. The last book, The High King, got the Newberry, back when books like that could still win the Newberry. (Disney made a dreadful movie version, The Black Cauldron, completely screwed up the characters, but you already know not to judge a book by its movie.)

        The thing is, by the old definition of YA, it’s my favorite genre. It’s what I write (I think). By what’s recently shown up in the bookstores, eh, not so much. But where do we put Diana Wynne Jones, then?

        And there are books I loved as a kid that I can still enjoy today; others that don’t hold up.

        • Oh, yeah, I love the Heinlein YA, too.

          You know, they’ve been dumbing down YA though, and that’s what I don’t like — even more than I despise the sex. The sex in YA is introduced because they no longer want to give the kids the things that fascinate them… like big ideas. Then they might think… The people who say “Question Authority” do in fact want our kids to be good robots.

      • Susan Cooper’s “Dark Rising” series is an excellent example of YA writing, and I would be remiss if I ignored Andrew Klavan’s Homelanders series. D. W. Jones you already know about, and I expect you’re already familiar with Neil Gaiman’s YA work. The best YA is very good, although it can be somewhat light reading for an adult as the author must assume the audience is more easily distracted from the reading.

        When the Daughtorial Unit was young her reading comprehension outstripped her understanding of human emotion; if you do not understand sexual lust you will be hard pressed to understand James Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, for example. The best YA addresses the questions and issues with which a child is confronted, with a language and sophistication more commonly found in adult works, while eschewing those issues and questions the (intended) reader lacks the background to appreciate.

        • My kids stumbled onto some of the “older” stuff when they were quite young and hearing them tell me what they thought some books were about was enough to make me roll on the floor laughing.

        • I recall Lloyd Alexander’s books, though it has been years since I read them. They were good books but have two strikes against them for modern publishing, they were clean YA, and were sometimes marketed as ‘Christian Fantasy’, much like C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books (which incidentally I couldn’t stand). Basically although no christianity is actually mentioned in the books, good moral values are actually regarded as the proper way to get ahead in life.

          I don’t read much YA but growing up I read a lot of Jim Kjelgard and later when he came out, Gordon Korman. Gordon Korman fits neatly into the niche for authors that are an exception to genres I don’t generally read, YA and comedy. I usually hate both movies and books that are comedies, because they are usually based on unrealistic stupid humor, which I find…. stupid. Gordon Korman’s books are ROFL hilarious however, and I recommend them to anyone who wants some light, humorous reading.