Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Literary Fiction

There was an excellent post here about genres, which got me thinking. Yes, got!!

According to the post, Literary fiction tends to be more geared to the characters, the inner workings of their minds and hearts. The article goes on to state that literary fiction does need to have a plot, but as Nathan states, the plot is often beneath the surface, whereas in commercial fiction, the plot is on the surface.

My current out-to-query project is, in my opinion, literary fiction. The characters are all pretty much at cross roads in their lives. There aren't any easy solutions to their problems. They all pretty much, through the advice of friends and a few pitchers of margaritas, need to figure out what they really want from life, which is easier said than done in most cases. Basically, they need to rely on the inner workings of their minds and hearts to figure out whether even the most meaningless of relationships, ironically, have meaning after all.

There is a plot to the project, but, as the definition states, the plot is beneath the surface rather than on the surface. The story is not about the everyday events (the story takes place over the course of a year), but rather about the inner musings that lead to the major, sometimes heartbreaking, decisions in the characters lives.

As the characters, and the author during the writing process, discovered, sometimes happiness isn't enough. Sometimes, love isn't enough either. Sometimes, a person must walk away from what they think is their happily ever after to truly discover happiness.

So, what must the characters discover?

Jared ~ he must decide if his happily ever after exists with his partner of five years, or if there isn't something else out there. Is the grass truly greener on the other side of the fence.

Wes ~ he's content in the misery of his current failing relationship. He doesn't believe in happily ever after. He's afraid to journey past what he knows, to a life where misery is not his constant companion.

Nick ~ never one for commitment, always loving the single life. He begins to ponder the beige, not white, picket fence ideal.

Marik ~ suddenly single after his partner of eight years decides their relationship is not working. He must confront single life as a man nearing fifty, and also confront how a seemingly perfect relationship suddenly dissolved into reentry into singlehood.

Jeff ~ newly divorced and no longer in denial about his life. He must somehow overcome a brutal attack and discover (find the courage) whether he can ever trust again.

There are no gun battles, no moments of terror as a car goes careening off the highway, no fear of the thin ice breaking beneath the weight of too many bodies on a frozen pond in early spring. There is only the friendship of the boyz (well, grown men desperately trying to hang onto their youth with an endearing term), snarky comments, and margarita nights to help the boyz deal with the current uncertainty of their life.

The story takes place beneath the surface as each character (though not that many perspectives) struggle with their inner demons in their search for happiness.

Now, in my current query, I list the book as commercial fiction. This is the second genre change. I initially listed the book as gay fiction because the characters were gay. The book (at least according to my beta readers) appeals to a broader audience, thus the change in genre. In fact, my very hetero friend Susie, when asked whether the book would appeal to heterosexual women was like "hell yes, unless all they're into is self-help books". Susie is quite blunt at times, which is one of the things I love about her the most. So, based on her input, and that of others, I changed the genre. Then, I entered the secret agent contest at Miss Snark's First Victim, and the Secret Agent made the following comment chick lit with a gay narrator. Great, so now I need to market the book as chick lit. Just frakkin' wonderful.

The more I thought about my genre (forget about the where would it fit in a bookstore - don't even get me started on that subject), the more I realized that what I wrote, what I currently write, is not commercial, gay lit, chick lit, fantasy, or whatnot, but literary fiction. My story takes place beneath the surface, in the minds and hearts of the characters.

With this lengthy post (I'm on a roll lately, in case, dear readers, you hadn't noticed), I acknowledge my desire for literary fiction. I read all types of fiction. Fantasy is always my genre of choice, though I have expanded my genre horizons in recent years. My questions, dear readers . . .

What do you consider literary fiction? Is it a dying genre? Are more authors writing commercial (i.e., mainstream) to get published? Does literary fiction have a stodgy reputation? Are authors afraid to genre-lize their work as literary fiction because of that reputation?


Litgirl01 said...

Uh...did someone say margaritas? Dear God...let it be Friday soon!

Maybe you could give me some of that posting energy you have! I am clear out of good ideas at the moment. ;-)

KLo said...

Do you ever get annoyed by the pigeonholing, the "is it or isn't it" literary fiction or should we call it chick lit or gay fiction to make it appeal to a very specific audience.

For a long time, I just said, "It's a good book." Now of course I want to publish it so I speak differently, but this still bothers me a bit.

Am I crazy on this one?

Lisa and Laura said...

Ok, first off, your book sounds fabulous.

Secondly, I think one thing to consider when you're querying this work is marketability. You might want to tailor the genre of your book based on who you're querying. For example, if it's an agent who's in to gay fiction, you call it that. For an agent who's into chick lit, you call it chick lit with a twist, and etc. I'd be a little bit careful about calling it literary fiction only because it sounds like it has loads of commercial appeal. Hell, it might even be high-concept (Jennifer Weiner meets Queer as Folk).

Good luck!

Davin Malasarn said...

This is a dilemma that doesn't every seem to be solved, so you're tackling a tough subject! Personally, I'm beginning to think that the difference between genre fiction versus literary fiction is more intuitive and hard to define.

Some people will say that commercial fiction isn't quite a valid way to market your book, since most writers would like to be commercially successful. It's more of an after-the-fact term after a book either succeeds or doesn't.

I've really started to adopt the idea of categorizing my book where I'd like to find it in the book store. And, since I love to browse the literary fiction aisles--whether they are popular or not, that's where I'd want my book to be.

Scott said...

LitGirl - every Friday is margarita night. And I echo your sentiments . . . let it be Friday soon! My posting energy all depends on the inspiration at hand. Today has been an inspiring day.

KLo - I definitely get annoyed at the pigeonholing. The fact is, I've found some of the best books ever not on prominent display at Borders, but rather stuck away on the shelves. It's a shame that every book can't be prominently displayed. We must pigeonhole our books to sell our books. A sad, but necessary, fact of life.

Lisa & Laura - OMG, thanks! I'm in awe of your success so far. I think it's great that you two found a fabulous agent. Thanks also for the advice. I tailor my queries already, so what's one more stich here or there to sell the book. High concept? Really? You two just made my night.

Davin - you're right, the dilemma is not easily solved. Personally, I wish the dilemma didn't exist. I'd like to see my book on the front display table at Borders. Then again, who wouldn't?? In the real world, a gay fiction book is confined to a very small set of shelf space in an isolated, hard to find part of the bookstore. Thus, the need to define it as something else.

Thanks to everyone for your comments. Trust me, your comments make my day, time and again.

Now, I bid you adieu!

Lady Glamis said...

This is a HUGE subject for me, and I plan to answer it over on The Literary Lab sometime, with the help of Scott and Davin.

I love literary. All my work has some sort of "literary" element. To me, it means going deeper than the first layer. If you read my posts about layers, you'll understand what I mean.