Per Wikipedia, “Literary fiction is a term principally used for certain fictional works that hold literary merit. In other words, they are works that offer deliberate social commentary, political criticism, or focus on the individual to explore some part of the human condition. Literary fiction is deliberately written in dialogue with existing works created with the above aims in mind. Literary fiction is focused more on themes than on plot.”
What is “popular” fiction?
Also per Wiki, “Genre fiction, also known as popular fiction, is plot-driven fictional works written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre, in order to appeal to readers and fans already familiar with that genre.[“
“Literary fiction is more character-driven and less concerned with a fast-paced plot than genre fiction… [but…] Just as the best genre novels are populated by well-crafted fictional characters, so the best literary novels have page-turning plots.”
Exactly. I find this whole distinction suspect. Read Faulkner, then Dunsany. What makes the first “literary” and the latter “genre” fiction? Who’s to say the Faulkner is better?
On my bookshelf, Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf sits next to Tim Powers’s The Anubis Gates. Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground butts against Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity, Dickens’s Great Expectations shares shelf space with Stevenson’s Kidnapped, Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice kisses up to Ian Fleming’s Dr. No, and the shadow of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land falls upon Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
Here’s the thing: I don’t think any one of these tomes is necessarily, objectively better than any other. I enjoy some more than others, and some I appreciate more at certain times than others (depending on my mental state and emotional mood), but none of that shows that Dickens is somehow more “literary” – that is, of higher quality – than Heinlein. They were both popular authors of their day. They both have something to say, a worthwhile message to pass along. They both use the tools of language and story to convey it. Why do snooty English majors turn up their noses at one, but not the other?
Now to business. After a two-week holiday hiatus, I have returned with a vengeance, ready to kick 2015 in the arse in the best way possible. And what better way to start the year than by listing some of the great books I plan to read in the next 52 weeks?
To begin with, I have had such a blast interviewing and getting to know so many cool authors these past few months, that I will be digging into their stuff post haste.
Right now, for instance, I am in the middle of Matthew W Harrill’s Hellbounce, book 1 of The ARC Chronicles. I interviewed Matt back in early November; if you haven’t heard that episode yet, go back and listen! Matt’s a Brit, so his accent alone is fascinating. Plus he’s a hell of a horror author and an all-around outstanding gent. And seriously, Hellbounce is wonderfully terrifying. Grab it now!
Post at least one Fun with Fiction podcast episode per week. (Sorry if I’ve been bad about consistency. I’ll get better!)
Publish at least six books, including:
Two full-length novels
Three children’s/young adult books
One non-fiction book
Get to know and interview at least twenty more great authors, delving into what makes them great
Meet a hundred or more fans and build a community of fellow acolytes of awesome who will spread the word about Fun with Fiction (and how great stories make all our lives better)
This I do resolve. HOLD ME ACCOUNTABLE! Don’t let me get away with short-changing listeners, readers, fellow authors, and everyone else who deserves my very best. Contact me and call me out on any b***s*** I try to pull. Tough love is the love that really counts.
How about you? What outstanding resolutions will you follow through on in the coming year? Is there some way I can help you pursue your goals? Let me know!
Thanks for making 2014 fantastic, Fictioneer! Let’s make 2015 even better.
Hola, Fictioneers! Here is part deux of my fantastic interview with fantasy author and all-around badass Orlando Sanchez.
In case you missed it last time, these are Orlando’s books:
And his magnum opus, The Spiritual Warriors (Book 1 of The Warriors of the Way), is being re-edited and re-released in January, with the next two books in the series to follow shortly thereafter. Can’t wait for that!
As you can probably tell, Orlando likes to incorporate martial arts philosophy into his fiction (whereas I tend to keep them separate). We discuss how he accomplishes this, making his books read like mystical kung fu films for the modern age. (Think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets The Matrix.)
Returning to the writer’s perspective, we talk about how horrible it is to get a great story idea while you’re in the middle of writing another story (I’m sure our fellow writers can relate). What can you do? Keep on pushing through, no matter how much your ADHD and self-doubt scream at you to change course. Remember, though it is art, you must treat it like a job. And sometimes, jobs just suck.
And the rough draft (a la NaNoWriMo) is just the beginning.
Then comes the editing, and the wretched pain of murdering your darlings (meaning your words, not your children). As Bruce Lee put it: hack away the inessentials, and let the beautiful tree within flourish. And in a rough draft, there are a lot of inessentials. Only once a book has been thoroughly edited and revised is it ready to show to the world.
But you also can’t show it to the world without a great cover. Sure people say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover… but everyone still does it. Since the great book cover designer and book publishing/marketing master Derek Murphy introduced us, it’s only fair to give him a shout-out here, as well. (Derek designed the new cover for The Spiritual Warriors. Take a look at it in this post’s featured image!)
Yes, all of this is a lot of work. But hey – no one said writing was easy. (Well, actually, a lot of people say that – but they’re not writers.)
Thanks again for listening! Please email me at email@example.com if you’d like to be on the Fun with Fiction podcast. If you’re an author, an avid reader, or just someone with an interesting take on storytelling, I’d love to talk to you.
Peace out and read on,
[P.S. – I know I say this EVERY time, but I’m going to keep doing it ’til everyone signs up: If you want some great FREE books, other give-aways, and to hear all the latest stuff going on in the Fun with Fiction world, CLICK HERE. Thanks!]
It’s mid-November, Fictioneer. What do you like to read at this time of year?
Okay, okay, I’ll tell you my favorite Fall fiction first.
Everything’s dying, so the horror & dark fantasy genres are perfect (yes, even after Halloween) – particularly the ghost story.
What is a ghost story?
Definition from Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
a story about ghosts
a tale based on imagination rather than fact
(Incredibly helpful, that.)
a tale in which such elements as ghostly visitations and supernatural intervention are used to further the plot and a chilling, suspenseful atmosphere.
(That’s a bit better!)
A ghost story may be any piece of fiction, or drama, that includes a ghost, or simply takes as a premise the possibility of ghosts or characters’ belief in them. The “ghost” may appear of its own accord or be summoned by magic. Linked to the ghost is the idea of “hauntings”, where a supernatural entity is tied to a place, object or person.
While ghost stories are often explicitly meant to be scary, they have been written to serve all sorts of purposes, from comedy to morality tales. Ghosts often appear in the narrative as sentinels or prophets of things to come. Belief in ghosts is found in all cultures around the world, and thus ghost stories may be passed down orally or in written form.
(I guess that’ll do.)
For me, a ghost story isn’t just a story with a ghost in it, or just any scary story. A true ghost story requires three elements:
A supernatural visitor. This may the spirit of a dead person (most common), an invisible malevolent entity (such as a poltergeist), the mystical personification of an idea (the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, & Yet-to-come), or the spiritual energy inhabiting an old house (as in the traditional haunted house tale).
A human (or otherwise ‘normal’) protagonist. A tale of a group of ghosts hanging out and getting on each other’s nerves may be a “ghost story” in the prosaic sense, but it’s not the kind of lore you share around the campfire on a dark night.
An eerie mood, a creepy vibe, a haunting atmosphere. This is a more esoteric element, harder to pinpoint than the other two. It must be conveyed through the interactions between the humans and their supernatural foils, and the time and place in which those interactions happened.
Word choice is crucial in creating the atmosphere. The order of events is very important in conveying the story effectively. Establishment of character is important in making the haunting real to the reader, and in making the reader care about it. (Yes, these things are important in all forms of fiction – but in the ghost story they are crucial.)
So, let’s have some examples!
To begin with, I disagree with Wikipedia that a ghost story has to be short. A ghost story can be any length, from a single sentence to a series of novels.
I’ve already talked about Poe, Lovecraft, & Stephen King ad nauseum (that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop).
Most of Poe’s & Lovecraft’s works have elements of the ghost story in them – though in Lovecraft the supernatural goes far beyond ghosts, while in Poe most of the ghostly elements are in the characters’ minds. That doesn’t diminish their power or disqualify them as ghost stories, however.
Outstanding modern, full-length novel ghost stories include King’s The Shining and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. (Yes, Gaiman’s tale does feature a bunch of ghosts hanging out with each other – but there is a human protagonist, a haunting atmosphere, and a human antagonist more threatening than any ghost.)
The best full-length work of the genre, though, may be Peter Straub’s Ghost Story. Hell, that may be one of the best horror novels of the twentieth century. Why is it so effective? Because it begins with characters that seem like real people. Characters with good points and flaws and human emotions. Characters that we, as the readers, can’t help but care deeply about. When horrible things start happening to those characters – when they start to become haunted – we want to know how, and why. As the ghost is revealed, bit by bit, the mystery deepens, the danger increases, the atmosphere becomes more oppressive. Straub ratchets up the fear with an expert’s touch.
But it’s true, ghost stories more often play in the short form rather than the long.
Ghost stories may be my favorite form of horror fiction. When I say horror, I’m not talking about gore – I’m talking about psychological horror (with or without paranormal elements). Ghost stories usually do feature the supernatural – but sometimes (as in Poe) the ghost’s are all in protagonist’s mind.
In some of the best of the genre, you don’t know for sure whether the ghosts are real or not. Classic ghost stories like The Turn of the Screw by Henry James leave it an open-ended question.
Other great ghost story authors include:
M. R. James (author of Ghost Stories of an Antiquary and other collections; huge influence on H.P. Lovecraft)
I had lots of fun putting this week’s show together for you. That’s because this time I lay it all on the line and tell you my top 5 favorite fiction authors ever.
Okay, to be fair, the list is always adjusting, and picking an all-time top 5 is actually an impossible task… but I did it anyway! Check it out below, and click on the pictures if you’d like to buy the books at Amazon and find out what all the fuss is about.
Also, let me know: do you agree with my picks? Disagree? Want to murder me with a hatchet for having such horrible taste? Who are your top 5??? Comment below, review me on iTunes, and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell me off.
I ordered my top 5 mostly arbitrarily, but I can say with near-certainty that my favorite fiction pharoah is and always has been J.R.R. Tolkien. Author of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and other masterworks, he is the father of fantasy and one of the greatest minds to ever put pen to paper.
Next on my randomly-ordered list makes the giant leap from fantasy to sci-fi: Robert Heinlein. The founder of future history is one of the primary reasons science fiction became a major force in contemporary literature.
That’s my list! I call out a dozen runner-ups in the show, and have another hundred that I could add (since truly picking a top 5 is, as I said, impossible), but I’m sticking to my story. If you haven’t read any of these authors, click one of the pics above and grab it on Amazon (for cheaper than you’d get it in most brick-&-mortar bookstores). This helps the Fun with Fiction podcast out, and doesn’t cost you a penny more. 🙂
What, you want to challenge my palette? Bring it! I’d love to hear from you. (Also don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter for free books and stuff!)