I love reading all kinds of genres. Whether it be poems, song lyrics, autobiographies, recipes, etc. I’m not a picky reader. In this post, I’ll discuss something few talk about.
The War of the Genres!
Publish America and the Hasty Generalization That Pissed Off the Science Fiction and Fantasy Community
Almost twenty years ago, a company called PublishAmerica asserted SF/F authors, “have no clue about what it is to write real-life stories, and how to find them a home,” are “not ashamed to be seen as literary parasites and plagiarists,” and believe that their preferred genres liberate them from such concepts as “believable storylines” or “believable every-day characters.”
Needless to say, this feud started by PublishAmerica’s needless criticisms of the science fiction and fantasy world didn’t end well for the company. Don’t they know this rule: when reputation is on the line NEVER, EVER go against a group of people that plays god for a living by weaving words into worlds.
A group of renowned authors got together and created a sting operation to show the world that PublishAmerica was indeed (at worst) a scam and (at best) a vanity press swindling naive writers out of their money while pretending to be a traditional publisher. They created an unpublishable and unreadable book called, “Atlanta Nights”. PublishAmerica being who PublishAmerica was or is (hey, is this company even around anymore?) published the book. You can read more about all of those juicy bits here.
On a personal note, I had almost fallen for the PublishAmerica scam. At that time, I may have been a teenager, but I sensed a disturbance in the force and stayed away. 🙂
I find it interesting that the way the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre has flowed in so many amazing directions that the hate would go away. Unfortunately, someone had posted this question on Quora: “What are the fatal flaws in writing fantasy?”
The responder, (whose name I won’t post) has his own opinions that for the most part I don’t agree with, but this gem . . . oh boy, this gem I found to be so untrue:
Fantasy for many writers is just a decoration. They don’t really need anything “fantastic” in their story, but they like it. It’s easier to write fantasy because it doesn’t really take that much research and you can explain a lot of things by how “this world is made”.
First of all, in order for fantasy writing to work, there needs to be the spirit of realism that not only breathes life into the author’s fantastically amazing world (setting), but also connects the reader so that the reader can then make connections. Second, fantasy does indeed take a heck of a lot of research. For instance, let’s say that your main character is a farm girl, and you, the darling author, know nothing about this profession. Well, you better start researching on agriculture. How are crops irrigated? What crops does your main character grow? You know, simple stuff like that to infuse realism into the story. Now, let’s say that your main character farm girl needs to travel for miles to reach the next plot point — how long will it take? How many hours are even in a day of this fantastical and fictitious world? Is she using a horse? Traveling by boat? How many miles? What, we don’t use miles in this world? Well, what are they even EQUIVALENT to?Oh Lord — bring forth the calculator!
Here are some basic questions most fantasy writers know to ask themselves when planning their worlds:
- Do you know the general layout of your world? Do you have some sort of loose map of it in your head? Where do different places lie in relation to others?
- How does the location of different landmarks and countries influence their trade?
- How does the climate and terrain differ in different regions of your world?
- What are the weather patterns like? Are certain locations more vulnerable to certain elements of nature?
- What plants grow in which areas? Do any of them have any special properties?
- What wildlife is common in which areas?
- Are your names based upon certain cultures?
- Do they translate to something?
- Does the name fit the world and cultures you’ve built into it, or will it your reader find it jarring?
- How are troops obtained? Through conscription or voluntary enlistment?
- Who are the country’s allies? Why are they allied with them? Are the allies happy with the arrangement?
- Is the country at war, or close to it? Why? With who?
- What are the key military fighting techniques?
- Are there any noteworthy weapons or transports?
- What branch of the military excels? Do they have a particularly strong army, navy, etc.?
- What about previous wars, alliances, and treaties? What prompted them? How did they influence interacting cultures, countries, and warfare?
- Is there any sort of public education, or is schooling reserved for the wealthy?
- How about books? Do “peasants” and the middle-class have access to them, or are they solely in libraries– at schools and in wealthy estates?
- Is it common to know how to read?
- What are the basic tasks and facts people learn as children? Does it differ between genders? How about between social classes?
- Are studies valued, or looked down upon culturally (generally speaking)?
- Is the government a monarchy? A democracy? A republic?
- Who are some past noteworthy rulers or government officials? Who do the citizens remember now? And why are they remembered?
- Is there an essential governing document (like the U.S.’s Constitution)?
- Is it largely a patriarchal or matriarchal society? Or does it attempt equality?
- What’s the currency?
- How is incarceration determined? Is there any sort of court system?
- What about capital punishment? Are people regularly executed– and what are the capital crimes? How about the method of execution?
- What are the most important laws of the land? What laws are particularly unique to your world?
- Related to the above topic of government, does religion have a place in the government or is there a separation between the two entities?
- Are religious practices mandated by the state? Do those who don’t comply– or those who have a different belief system– face persecution?
- What do people believe in this religion? What myths surround it?
- Is the religion monotheistic? Polytheistic?
- Are there holy texts? Scriptures?
- What practices or services do worshippers attend? What’s entailed in them?
- Who are the religious officials?
- Are there particular holy days to note?
- What denotes status in this world?
- How does courting work?
- What traditions are there surrounding life milestones (birthdays, weddings, births, deaths…)?
- Are there particular superstitions?
- What are the fashions like? The trends? What influences (modesty, climate, status) does it have?
- What’s the architecture like?
- What’s the food and drink like?
- Are there any special festivals that people attend?
- What are the typical gathering places for inhabitants of the world when they have spare time?
And that’s just scratching the surface! Click on this link (information provided by SFWA — Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) to see how deeper one can go when they’re seriously planning their fantasy world. The above questions were provided by Jennifer Elision.
Here’s a diagram of what we readers experience as we (automatically — this skill sometimes has to be taught to young readers) interact with the text:
Most importantly, these three connections keep readers engaged from the beginning to the ending of a good book.
The Tortoise and the Hare
When you were little, you may have heard this fable and learned that the moral to the story is “slow and steady wins the race”, but I’m going to have to go with what Jacob Davenport deduced instead:
Success depends on using your talents, not just having them.
And when it comes to being slow, I mean reeeeeaaaaallllllyyyyy slow, three incredibly talented and fantastic authors come to mind and they’re making their fans lose their minds:
My husband introduced me to Jim Butcher and Patrick Rothfuss. My oldest brother introduced me to George R.R. Martin. These three amigos are talented authors and I hope to meet them someday at conventions. Not to bask in their glory, but to soak up their great literary wizardry through osmosis.
But I digress. Apologies.
The simplest conclusion one could come to is that authors like Butcher, Rothfuss, and Martin aren’t doing their jobs because books are taking too long to “come out”. But again, like I said, it’s the simplest conclusion that doesn’t take much thought or consideration for the fact that these authors are also people with lives other than their books. Lives that include families, hobbies, and other personal attributes that may get in the way of their writing. In one interview, Rothfuss mentioned that he hadn’t finished the third book in the KingKiller Chronicles because he had to deconstruct it first. He also expressed that he wanted it to be just right. You know, he cares about impressing his fans.
Jim Butcher has endured a lot lately: divorce, death of his beloved dog, and I’m sure a lot more that the public doesn’t need to know about.
Nevertheless, some George R.R. Martin fans be like: “Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie, return to your Cave of Ordeals and complete the final book and kill off another beloved character so that we may cry!”
George be like:
Binders Full of Research
I’m reading 5000 Words Per Hour by Chris Fox. The first day, I was able to crank out 1,964 words. I noticed that if I had all of my plans more detailed I could have written more. But every once in a while, I had to flip back to my notes, maps, character goals, fears, and so forth . . . or sometimes, I was quite naughty and chose to just keep writing even though I knew I’d have to go back and fix those wobbly bits during revision time.
Fantasy writers have so much to keep track of! In an interview, George R.R. Martin explained that he’s unable to write while he’s traveling to conventions and attending other meetings. He feels most comfortable at his home where he can easily access his notes.
I get it! Oh, do I get it and I empathize with both the readers that want the next book in the series, but I also understand how writers feel about the book being “just so”. After all, we are creating worlds from scratch. Now, I don’t personally know about other fantasy writers (besides those who have based their works off of medieval Europe), but I often base my worlds off of historical and current events that I find interesting. I even look to the geography and customs of real-life cultures and languages for inspiration. Not only am I learning more about the world I live in, but I’m able to create great plot twists and character sketches based off of historical places and people. Now, just because I may think that fantasy writers have it harder than a strictly mainstream fiction writer doesn’t mean that I have to demonize said mainstream fiction writers in order to lift up or edify the trials and tribulations of the fantasy genre. Unfortunately, writers of different genres sometimes treat one another poorly (even writers that belong in the same genre group — read about the sad puppies and rabid puppies to get an idea of what has happened and is still happening in the Science Fiction and Fantasy community).
“My Genre Brings All the Readers to the Checkout”
In Kelise’s Hip Hop R&B song, Milkshake she sings in a taunting and sensuous voice, “my milk shake brings all the boys to the yard and they’re like, ‘it’s better than yours’. Damn right, it’s better than yours. I can teach you, but I have to charge.” If the word milkshake is metaphorical for sex appeal, then when it comes to writers and their “literary appeal” it’s all about how well we craft words (and often worlds) in order to keep our readers spellbound page by page. There are so many different flavors of books! When I teach genre writing, I often compare the different genres to actual tastes. It’s like Baskin Robbins with all of those glorious 31 flavors. In other words, horror doesn’t have the same flavor to me as a space opera. Don’t ask me why, but horror stories have a medium-rare cheeseburger-ish quality to me while space operas make me think of popcorn and grilled cheese sandwiches. Oh, and a side of pickles. Can’t forget the pickles.
Even when you’ve read a mystery novel, one book differs from another. Obviously because they’re written by two different people.
For example, The Julius House, by Charlaine Harris in comparison to Kwei Quartey’s Wife of the Gods are worlds apart — not necessarily because one is a Caucasian-American woman and the other is an African man (he was born in Ghana) will be exceptionally different. Most importantly due to the settings. Quartey’s crime novel takes place in Ghana while Harris’ cozy mystery takes place in Georgia. Sometimes the settings of any good book (regardless of genre) becomes a character all on its own.
Now, back to the main debate. Critics of genre fiction, more specifically Science Fiction and Fantasy, believe that literary fiction is better because readers get a sense of “accomplishment” and “fulfillment” when they finish reading a book by authors like Haruki Murakami or Zadie Smith. While on the other hand, Science Fiction and Fantasy books are solely meant for escapism and entertainment.
Yes, Science Fiction and Fantasy stories can also be a commentary on society and a way of seeing the world and understanding it. Not escaping.
A fantastic example of an author writing stories that transcended this Tolkien idea of fantasy as a “glorious escape” is two-time Hugo Award Winner, N.K. Jemisin Her novel, The Fifth Season left me crying — not only because I wanted to read more — but because the book was so emotionally gripping! Before the first book in the Broken Earth trilogy even begins, Jemisin dedicates the book like this:
“For all those that have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question.”
As I’ve said before it’s unnecessary to denigrate one group in order to protect and uplift another. We don’t need to demonize one to uplift the other. Whether you like Genre fiction or Literary fiction there’s plenty of room for both. 🙂 Or even better . . . a hybrid of the two.
5 thoughts on “The War of the Genres and Why Fantasy Writing isn’t for Everyone! (I Feel Your Pain, George R.R. Martin)!”
Interesting post! I have a novel idea on the back-burner in the semi-futuristic urban fantasy genre, and your questions to work through will definitely help me plan!
You’re most welcome. I noticed that I hadn’t given proper credit to the author who provided those fantastic questions. I’ve updated the post now with that information.
There is nothing and I mean NOTHING like great Fantasy or Sci Fi… I read so much of it in my youth that I still have several works of both genres in my head and on my shelves. Sounds like someone at PublishAmerica had an axe to grind or did not do their due diligence. Both genres are rock solid in fanbase and sales…and where that happens a little respect is owed!