When Genre Might Not Matter

Blogland,

This is a post I’ve been planning and stewing on for the better part of six months. It came about as most things do for me, I experienced something that made me ask a question. I was at the West Salem Branch Library, my usual workplace, and I was in the stacks shelving fiction. As I went down the aisle, placing books in their respective places, I noticed that I shelved multiple Science Fiction classics in the general fiction section. Greats like Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Huxley’s Brave New World, Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, and Orwell’s 1984 were all cataloged G-FIC. And not just in my library, but in almost every other library in our consortium of 19 public libraries!

splm
Ooooh. Shiny….

Initially, I was a bit miffed. Why were some of the most celebrated books in Science Fiction history having their genre erased? Both Fahrenheit 451 and Flowers for Algernon have won Hugo awards (the oldest Science Fiction and Fantasy award in the country), and Keyes’ novel also won a Nebula (the most prestigious of SFF awards, depending on who you ask), but if you visits the Salem Public Library, you won’t find them with their Speculative peers.

I had to know why, so I emailed the Collection Development Librarian at Salem Public Library to learn more. Now, I work with Emily Byers on a number of projects at the library and knew she would answer my question with the care and thoroughness she exhibited in her daily work. I didn’t expect a two page email that detailed all the possible factors that Selectors and Catalogers must consider before deciding where to place a book in the library.

And while she admits that cataloging is both an art and science that is “ultimately subjective”, she outlined some of the criteria she used to decide on genre placement versus general fiction.

Factors range from the librarian specific, Bib Records and BISAC subjects from the vendor, to the discretionary, such as Reader’s Advisory considerations (who would want the book, and how can we make it easier for them to find it?) and how closely a text adheres to genre specific tropes. “In more ambiguous cases I would consider the work as a whole — for example, it may have a science fiction element (i.e. technology that’s not currently available), but without separate world building or other SF elements beyond a future setting, I might put that book in general fiction where it might be found by more readers.”

Hard to be riled up about books being more generally accessible. I mean, that’s the whole point of libraries; to provide services and access to materials. Emily even offered up some reference titles for further research on the topic if I was interested, which I totally am, so she even offered ease of access to me! She really opened my eyes to the work and consideration that goes into selecting and cataloging materials, especially in a library as big as ours, with over 500,000 circulating materials!

spl
Salem Public Library is a big place, with three levels!

But what really stuck with me from this conversation was an even larger question: what purpose does genre really serve?

In the sense of the library, having collections divided into genres helps facilitate patron searches. For instance, I know that I like to read Science Fiction and Fantasy, but I also know that I’m not as well-versed in the genre as I’d like to be. I can go to the library, find the section I want, and then browse with relative confidence that I will find something that will pique my interest. And I have, on multiple occasions.

But as a writer, why do we write in genres? And how do the two functions of genre, from a writing and reading perspective, gel together?

These are, of course, completely subjective questions. My answer will be wildly different from yours. I read SFF because I love the awe and sense of wonder I get from reading something born from someone else’s imagination. Something I could have never come up with myself. Like pretty much every aspect of N.K. Jemisin’s novels, the setting of Sam J. Miller’s Blackfish City, and pretty much all of Sanderson’s magic systems. I read SFF because it helps me expand my own creativity and strive to write beyond my own perceived limitations.

But, I write SFF for different reasons. I don’t think there’s just one, and I think the reasons will grow and change as I do over the years. Right now, I’m experimenting with analyzing emotions and human motivations, and seem to be most comfortable doing so through a more removed lens, like that of an AI or non-human being. I think I write SFF because I tend to feel a bit separate from my peers, and have found an angle into expressing that isolation within the tropes of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

And thanks to all my reading, I’m learning to build imaginative worlds, invent complex magic systems, and tell stories from perspectives I may not have personally experienced along the way.

I also think that, by writing genre fiction, my stories and their themes are more likely to find readers with similar interests and concerns as myself. By writing genre fiction I may very well limit my audience, but I think I also increase my chances of proving successful with my readership, because we all know, at least a tiny bit, what the heck we’re getting into when we crack open those pages.

jealous
I giggled at this.

Does genre fiction have an advantage over general or literary fiction when it comes to discussing and exploring themes of humanity? I don’t necessarily think so. I think genre fiction has an advantage to me, because it’s the content I’m drawn to, and only the content we ingest actually has the opportunity work its magic on us.

So yes, I was initially peeved to see so many of Science Fiction’s giants shelved in General Fiction, as if the genre had been shorn from their spines because they had ascended from the hive of scum and villainy that so many people think is genre fiction. But, ultimately, placing them in with general fiction makes those titles easier to find for people who might not otherwise think to read them. And that’s a really good thing. Any time a book finds itself in a patron’s hands, that’s a good thing.

reader's advisory
Can confirm: this is RA in a nutshell. 

A great thing is when the patron comes back, excited and enthralled, asking, “Do you have anything else like this?”

Nothing feels better than knowing a book suggestion was a hit with the patron and then launching into a discussion of what they liked about it and what they’d like to get out of their next read. That’s what I really love about my job; I get to talk about books with members of my community and help them find their new favorite authors.

And the day I get to show someone that there’s an entire section of the library they might like, the day I can introduce them to Genre Fiction, and they’re world broadens just that little bit more? That’s the best day.

 

BZ

Advertisements

Well, Hello There!

Hi Blogland,

Huh. It feels kind of weird to be back. I’m still not promising anything, or even pretending I’m back in any sort of routine. I’m not. I still play Mass Effect just about every day, and I’m reading (and writing) way more fanfiction than I ought to.

But, I thought about From the Quorum for the first time in a month the other day. I call that progress. I also felt a pang of guilt/longing for The Steel Armada. We’re getting there.

The whole point of this was to keep me from falling into the spiral of guilt that I normally feel when I hyper-focus on something. When I start feeling guilty for doing things that I enjoy, I tend to further procrastinate the tasks I’ve sacrificed in order to hyper-focus in the first place.

Right now, I tell myself that writing fanfiction is better than not writing at all. And since I’ve put over 6k words into this one fic just in April, I’d say that’s damn good.

Also, The Audient Void #3 is out! Get you one! Available at the Book Bin in downtown Salem, or online at their Facebook page.

My reading has seriously slowed, but a steady stream of fanfiction keeps me going. I fully intend to pick things back up sometime in May. I promise. Pinky swear. All that good stuff.

Also, I wanted to mention that I’ve applied for another full time position with the library. I know better than to assume anything at this point, but I’ve learned a lot in the last 9ish months since my last interview with the city, and I have a lot more confidence in myself than I did even four months ago. Keep your fingers crossed for me just the same, huh?

Thanks for sticking with me through this gaming fog. The fact that I’ve come up for air is promising. I look forward to talking at you all on a regular basis again soon.

 

BZ

Book Review – A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe

We meet again, Mr. Blog…

Obviously, I’m in a strange mood today. Yesterday was a refreshing success on many accounts, and I’m feeling relaxed and ready to get some work done today. The Husband came home sick from work, so he’s in the next room napping, and I’ve got the Writing Room door closed for the first time since I’ve started using it for its intended purpose.

It feels so… solitary. Isolated. Deliciously mine. Surrounded by my favorite things (my Garrus Vakarian figurine, my framed Elantris maps, coffee, my diplomas, and of course the books!) I finally feel like I can get down to business.

garrus-vakarian
“Can it wait a minute? I’m in the middle of some calibrations.”

So, yesterday. I wrote a book review for Blood Rites, outlined four chapters and an interlude of From the Quorum, and then wrote 1,113 words of chapter 11.

I also read Saga vol. 6, and finished reading A Borrowed Man. FINALLY. This book took multiple attempts, each time maxing out the possible renewals from the library. I had to return it and read something else at one point, but I finally came back to it.

I was damn near ready to execute my “200” rule. This is a relatively new thing I’ve implemented, in an effort to keep me reading as I work on completing my annual reading challenges. I found that, occasionally, there are books that I just can’t get through. I’ll spend weeks trudging through them, or avoiding them, instead of moving on and reading something else.

In an effort to curb this habit, I created a “rule” for myself. If I can get to page 200, roughly the 50k word mark of most books (which is a generally accepted minimum length of a novel), and I still am not interested in finishing the book, I get to count it toward my reading challenge. At that time I can decide, based on how much I understand of the book, whether or not to write a review.

Obviously, any review written about an unfinished book would be proclaimed as such, and would be a generally vague “I liked it and why” or “I didn’t like it and why” sort of review. I have yet to actually do this, but I am open to it. And who knows, maybe I’ll make another attempt to finish it somewhere down the road, as I’ve done in the past. In which case I could then do a full and proper review.

Anyway, a comment of mine basically stating the concept of the “200” rule on John Guillen’s blog led to this response blog post on his site. It’s worth a read and comment if you’re so inclined.

But, A Borrowed Man was nearly my first “200” book of 2017. I was all set and ready to return it unfinished. And then I hit page 200 and things actually started happening. Literally 2/3 through the book and something interesting finally happened.

But, let me go back and actually do this review right.

a-borrowed-manA Borrowed Man is a Sci-Fi novel by Gene Wolfe. He is widely accepted as one of the most prominent literary voices in the genre, and seems to be generally well-loved. Apparently, my mistake was introducing myself to him via this particular book. Based on a number of reviews, I should have started somewhere else.

I would consider this book to be literary Sci-Fi. The science fiction elements are definitely there. The whole premise is that E.A. Smithe is the property of the Spice Grove Public Library, because he is the clone of a popular 21st Century crime novelist. A woman checks him out to help her solve the mystery of her father’s and brother’s deaths, not just because of his expertise in understanding and writing murder-mysteries, but because their deaths seem tied to a physical copy of one of his books, Murder on Mars.

Add to it that the setting is a futuristic Earth that lost 2/3 of the population to some sort of war, and a very intriguing bit of astrophysics later in the book, and I staunchly agree that this is a Science Fiction novel.

But, it’s also a Noir. And it’s also very literary in its approach to character development and the narrator’s voice.

This combination of genre elements could have been very interesting and attention grabbing, but instead it plodded along, and bits and pieces fell together in ways that just weren’t very satisfying for me.

That could be a problem with me and not the book. Perhaps I missed a lot of cues early on (most likely due to bored inattention) that prevented me from anticipating the finished result. Apparently, with Gene Wolfe, that’s not unlikely. The book is very cerebral, without giving me anything to latch on to and get my brain in gear. dark-run

In short, I was bored. Only the last 50 pages or so were decent, but by then I was just frustrated with the previous 250, and not open to thinking too kindly of E.A. Smithe and his associates.

Anyway, it all comes together in the end, so if you don’t hate the first half of the book, its worth finishing. But, I’m glad I can put this one in the rear-view mirror. Now on to Dark Run by Mike Brooks! Nothing like a jaunt with space pirates to captivate my attention!

Until next time, Blogland!

 

BZ

 

Good News, Everyone!

Well, hello there. You probably didn’t expect to hear from me, and yet here I am! And that’s because I have quite a bit to share!

Firstly, I want to remind you all that Caladria‘s first issue of Fab Fables is now available for purchase! We’re also hard at work on issues two and three, so now is the time to check us out!

And, not only am I a contributing author, but I have just added on the responsibility of joining the editing team! Leah is the Chief Editor, and an amazing one at that, and then the wonderful Ellie Musgrove has joined us as well. I’m so thrilled to work with these incredible ladies!

So keep an eye out for all kinds of Caladria awesomeness in the coming months!

If you’ll harken back a week, you’ll recall that I had an interview with the Salem Public Library. Today I got the email, and I got the job!

And I’m pretty sure I’m insane. I’m going to school full-time, working two jobs, running a book club, writing and editing for Caladria and still attempting to work on my own fiction. Oh, and reading all kinds of things in my miniscule amount of free time.

I promise Andrew Knighton, you will get your feedback!!!

Anyway, I have a ton of homework to get through tonight. Just wanted to pop in and share the good news! See you all soon!

BZ

Back to Work and Joining the Rebellion

Hi Blogland!

It’s good to be back at it. Also, it’s really nice not having a list of homework three miles long. Already today I’ve read through the first round of edits for Hunting Storm and given my feedback to the editor. I wrote that story in such a frenzy that I didn’t remember much of the details. I was reading through and I’d think, “wow, this bit is great! Leah must have made some changes.” Then I’d check the original only to find it untouched.

I wrote that awesome line. In fact, I wrote that awesome story! I am beyond excited to see the final product!

So, after this blog post I’ll be cracking open A Stranger Comes Knocking, my new short story for Caladria. I’ve got a good concept for it so far, but nothing too concrete. I don’t want to say too much, but it involves elves, which is just cool in an of itself.

In other news, I’ve started reading Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. It’s weird. Which is funny coming from someone who usually reads Speculative Fiction. But, I don’t dislike it. I do worry for the rest of the Book Club though. It’s such a different direction than the last book, and not at all like the next few books. Kayla, our resident non-reader, is having a hard time with it, and even I find myself eying The Star Scroll instead. But, I will power through.

I’ve been in a huge Cage The Elephant funk. These guys are just too great for me to turn off. If you haven’t checked out their newest album, I recommend it. It’s a lot more mellow than their past efforts. They’re a weird band. You can’t listen to them once and know how you feel about it. Their albums demand multiple listens and reflection. And after two or three listens, the songs that seemed too harsh, or just plain weird, suddenly make sense and become some of your favorites. It’s music that grows on you until it becomes a part of you. Suddenly you’re walking around work humming and bobbing your head because the need for Cage The Elephant is too persistent to ignore. I’m obsessed, but, that’s my MO.

Last night I finally started watching Community. This requires some back story.

I have seen clips of this show, and discussed it in classes, but never actually watched it. I have this thing about watching shows from the pilot forward. I can’t start somewhere in the middle. So, when Community started, I missed the beginning, and then it became a Hulu exclusive. We had cable, a DVR, and Netflix. We weren’t going to pay for Hulu too.

And so, it seemed I would never watch Community.

And then we rebelled against Comcast. They were charging us $145/mo. for cable, internet, and a DVR. Our due date shifted randomly, and our monthly bill would fluctuate. I was over it. So we cancelled our service, thinking to join the rebellion with Century Link and dishNetwork. Only to discover that our apartment suffers from a case of arboritis.

Our unit is completely surrounded by giant trees, because Oregon is gorgeous. But, that means no satellite signal, no matter where we put the damn dish. Which means, no cable.

So, suddenly we were left with just Netflix and the internet. And I talked my husband into a GameFly subscription and a HuluPlus account. For about $80/mo. we have high speed internet and every game, movie, and TV show we could want. Why people still succumb to cable companies is a mystery to me.

And so I finally started Community. It’s brilliant. Beyond brilliant. It is my favorite thing on the planet right now, my husband a close second, and only then because he loves Community too. The characters are written and performed to perfection. I laugh out loud multiple times every episode, and the Bromance between Ahbed and Troy puts JD and Turk to shame.

Anyway, I must defer my raptures, otherwise I’ll watch the show instead of start writing A Stranger Comes Knocking. Can’t have that now.

In other other news, I applied for a seasonal position at my local library. It’s a lead position and the pay grade is just crazy good. I’m qualified for it, though my lack of library experience could be my downfall. I need to take a crash course in Library Science, and a refresher on the Dewey Decimal System. But, it turns out that I know someone who works in the same department, and he offered to put in a good word for me.

I’m really excited about it, but I’m trying to keep my hopes in check. It’s hard to land City jobs, and I don’t want to start dreaming about what that pay grade could do for us.

But, I’ve always thought working in a Library would be awesome. Quiet, with solitude, but enough human interaction to keep you from going all “Here’s Johnny!” I’ve got the customer service and leadership skills they’re looking for, and I’ve got the passion about books and literacy to make a difference in my community. I just hope I get a call back for the interview. The experience would be invaluable.

Plus, the added cash flow could really make a dent in all this stupid credit card debt.

Anyway, I’ve got a short story to start!

I’ll see you around Blogland!