About those literary labels …

Bottom line: They’re all useful. And like anything useful, they can be misused.

Over at Thoughts on Fantasy, Nicola Alter argues for the necessity of literary labels:

As a reader, I love genre. I love that there are labels in the different parts of the book store, or labels on Goodreads, that help me find the kind of story I’m looking for.

As a writer, I love genre, because it allows me to convey the kind of story I am writing with a few simple words. I love to think about stories I could write that use elements of different genres, or that subvert or fulfill genre expectations in interesting ways.

Alter also weighs in on the debate she calls “The Myth of Genre Fiction vs Literary Fiction.” It’s true they are distinct categories, but they are not castes. One is not superior to the other. There are good and bad examples of each. Plot and characterization are vital in both.

I can relate. I’ll get an occasional raised eyebrow for considering both Hemingway and Howard as mentors. But I learned a great deal from reading Hemingway and Howard. Both authors crafted great stories that still crackle with energy.

That said, another label that generates more heat than light among readers and writers involves region. Dannye Romine Powell dismisses regional labels as restrictive, even dismissive. But I tend to side with Hailey Foglio on this:

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the identity of writers and how we define ourselves. Writers label themselves based on location, genre, themes, etc. Personally, I refer to myself as a Young Adult writer because that’s what I love and that’s what I do. A couple weeks ago, we had a wonderful writer visit us at WVU named George Singleton. George is from South Carolina, and during his visit, George told us that he had been invited to an Appalachian writing conference. But he distinctly argued, “I don’t consider myself an Appalachian writer; I’m a Southern writer.”

I consider myself a Southern writer primarily writing fantasy fiction, and I see nothing incongruous in adapting the wild and fantastic to traditional themes. The best apologist for this approach was Flannery O’Connor, who famously said, “You have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”

Works for me.

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Better than you remembered

“In truly good writing no matter how many times you read it you do not know how it is done. That is beacause there is a mystery in all great writing and that mystery does not dissect out. It continues and it is always valid. Each time you re-read you see or learn something new.” ― Ernest Hemingway

Fred on the Head has posed an interesting question: Do you re-read?

To this I can only plead: Guilty.

There are about a dozen works I find myself returning to, and for exactly the reason Hemingway cites above. In fact, three of Hemingway’s works are on my list: The Snows of Kilimanjaro, The Killers, and The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. For me, they never lose their power to amaze and teach. Even when my intention is to analyze, I end up getting lured in once again by the robust narrative.

Mishima’s Patriotism leaves me reeling each time I experience it. What a show: breathtaking eroticism and rapturous prose made all the more vivid and potent by the blunt reality of sepukku. Whoa.

Among the classics, I keep returning to A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Beowulf more than any of the others. And I’m in the process of travelling to Mordor once again with the Fellowship of the Ring. I’ve almost finished The Two Towers, and am just as carried away by Tolkien’s imaginative world-building as the first time I experienced him.

All good friends I could never get tired of.

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How to Succeed at NaNoWriMo

I will confess to having never been tempted to participate in NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The goal of dashing off a 50,000 word manuscript in 30 days struck me as gimmicky and pointless.

But I may have to change my mind. Though a recent Publishers Weekly article on NaNoWriMo is entitled “How to Succeed at NaNoWriMo,” I’m more interested in WHY I should participate.

Turns out the article zooms right in on that concern, and it got my attention:

NaNoWriMo’s pressing time constraints leave little time for polishing and perfecting—and that’s perhaps the point.

Marissa Meyer, whose novels Cinder and Scarlet (Square Fish, 2014) began as NaNoWriMo drafts, says the beauty of the program is that it “forces you to silence that internal editor and just get something written. If you’re telling yourself that it’s OK to be writing something bad because you can always come back and fix it later, it takes a lot of the pressure off.”

Ouch. That hit home. That internal editor remains one of my biggest writing roadblocks. I can’t peck out two sentences on the laptop without having to go back and proof what little I’ve done. I know I’m supposed to complete my manuscript before getting all editorially and nit-picky, but I succumb every time to the temptation to tweak what I’ve written. And that slows me down, which impedes the completion of my manuscript, and a completed first draft, despite its inevitable ugly spots, is an accomplishment that will spur me on to sticking to the whole process.

I used to dismiss flash fiction as a gimmick, too, until I tried my hand at it and discovered the rigor and discipline it takes to complete quality pieces. It isn’t easy, and that’s the point. There’s no doubt writing flash fiction has improved my writing by forcing me to say what I want to say in fewer, stronger words. You can judge for yourself here and here.

So look out, NaNoWriMo 2015. Here I come.

You’re human

From Young & Twenty, a new favorite:

Your family may fight but it shows that they’re there. Your job may be boring but it means you still have one. Your skin may be flawed but it means that you’ve grown. Your mistakes may be bad but it means that you’re human. Your smile may be temporary but it means there’s still hope. Your life may be hard but it means that you’re living, and the fact that you’re living means you’ve done something right