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[GUEST POST] David B. Coe (aka D.B. Jackson) on Community and Genre (Part 2)

davidbcoeDavid B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning author of eighteen fantasy novels. Under the name D.B. Jackson, he writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and, the newest volume, Dead Man’s Reach, which was released July 21. Under his own name, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books. The first volume, Spell Blind, debuted in January 2015. The newest book in the series, His Father’s Eyes, comes out on August 4. He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

Community and Genre, Part II

by David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson

Hello again, SF Signal-heads! I’m back, continuing my blog tour to promote my two big summer releases. Dead Man’s Reach, the fourth and (for now) final volume in the Thieftaker Chronicles, the historical urban fantasy I write under the name D.B. Jackson, came out from Tor Books on July 21. And His Father’s Eyes, the second book in a contemporary urban fantasy I write as David B. Coe, came out from Baen Books yesterday. I hope you’ll check out both novels.

I was here two weeks ago, writing about the science fiction/fantasy genre, and I would like to continue that conversation today.

I live in a small college town in the Southeast, which happens to be home to a prestigious writer’s conference and one of the oldest literary journals in the country. Not surprisingly, both the conference and the journal specialize in Southern literary fiction, which is fine. Good for them. They also cater to poetry and creative non-fiction.

But they want nothing at all to do with genre fiction. I have lived in this town for twenty-three years, and for eighteen of those years I have been a professional writer. I’ve published close to twenty novels and nearly as many short stories. I’ve won awards, garned great reviews, taught extensively at writer’s workshops and conferences, and been a faculty mentor in a university master’s program. Never once has my local writer’s conference invited me to be any part of their program.

The ghettoization of genre fiction by those who consider themselves part of a literary elite is nothing new, but it’s lack of novelty doesn’t keep it from being annoying. The assumption has always been that those writing genre rely on narrative devices — violence, sex, magic, technological jargon — rather than on the crucial elements of writing, like character, story, and prose. I happen to think this is a load of crap. I read extensively in speculative fiction and have found brilliant work, filled with memorable characters, strikingly innovative stories, and gorgeous prose. And, by the way, I feel that I’ve written some pretty good stuff myself.

Sadly, I noticed early in my career that this kind of literary snobbery extends to genre fiction as well. Even as writers and readers of the various genres chafe at the arrogance of the literary fiction community, they are guilty of the same thing. Some mystery readers look down their noses at fantasy and SF. Some speculative fiction readers look askance at romance. And so on.

I will admit that I was guilty of this sort of thing. I didn’t think much of romance. I thought that media tie-in work was somehow “less” than my own “original fiction.” Until I did some media work. Until I met and befriended romance writers. Now I know how wrong I was. Writing is hard work. Completing and selling a novel takes talent, dedication, and tremendous perseverance. Writing a decent, marketable short story is REALLY hard. I don’t care what kind of book or story we’re talking about. Publishing anything is an achievement.

Which is why it is so very disturbing to see different constituencies within the speculative fiction community questioning the value of each other’s work. We share so much. We are writing in a new publishing environment, one that is still sorting itself out. The competition for shelf space is greater than ever. The publishing industry continues to reshuffle and contract. Big-name bookstores are more interested in selling stuffed animals and toys than they are in marketing books. These are challenging times for all of us. And yet we keep at it, because we are, all of us, passionate about storytelling. We love the written word, we love this crazy, beautiful genre in which we write.

How strange then, that we should be looking for lines of division rather than focusing on our commonalities. We owe ourselves better. We owe our readers better. We ought to be mature and tolerant enough to understand that even if we don’t enjoy another writer’s work, we can still honor the achievement of the finished product, and respect the legitimacy of the vision behind it. Surely there is room in this genre for quiet stories and loud ones, for the old-fashioned and the new-and-weird, for space opera and epic fantasy, for military SF and urban fantasy, for writers of all races, religions, sexual orientations, and gender identities. If you don’t want to read all of these stories, if you don’t want to follow all of these writers, you don’t have to. No one is forcing anyone to do anything.

But it is one thing to choose. It is something else entirely to dismiss. It is time that we as a community recognize the difference.

5 Comments on [GUEST POST] David B. Coe (aka D.B. Jackson) on Community and Genre (Part 2)

  1. I feel your pain. I grew up in Canada. Lived there 80% of my life. I took a few creative writing classes in high school and university, but as passionate as I was about writing SFF stories, I always ran into teachers who were discouraging. “Wellll…your Canadian. What you should be writing is something of epic literary magnitude, which portrays your sublime Canadianness and becomes a national treasure.” I was basically told commercial genre fiction was not open to Canadians or worth pursuing.

    Of course now with self publishing none of that matters…and yet I finally come back to writing after decades of discouragement and I hear “Wellllll, your a woman…what you should be writing is strong female characters that will reflect your sumblime womanness, and become a treasure of the gender equality movement…”

    For crying out loud. I’m gonna write what I’m gonna write!

  2. Amanda, this is a terrific comment, the reflects perfectly what I’m talking about. I took a creative writing course in a college, thinking at the time I would be a professional writer. The course was a disaster, mostly because nearly everyone in the course savaged my work. Not because it was bad — though, sure, it needed work — but because it was the wrong kind of writing for an Ivy League student to write. I gave up on being a creative writing major and took a 10 year detour to graduate school and academia. I wound up becoming a writer anyway, but no thanks to that course or program.

    Write what you love, love what you write. And respect the work of others, even if you don’t necessarily enjoy it personally. Thanks again for the comment.

  3. *that* reflects perfectly . . . — sigh —

    I should have also said, “And proof read your posts BEFORE you submit them.”

    • Yup. See that is me to a tee. I took a detour from writing because of all the lines drawn and pigeonholes I didn’t fit in. And now I am back…enjoying a modicum of success on Wattpad and trying to get myself ready to actually put my stories out for sale 🙂

      Re: the typo. Smart phones have erased any spelling/grammar snobbery I once had. In fact, I didn’t even notice the typo until u pointed it out…probably because I was reading on my smart phone. My brain has learned to automatically translate typonese.

  4. Re. The typonese, I totally get that, and I do it, too. But there’s something about it that’s just wrong, you know? We should still care about that stuff. But that’s not to the point at all. Good for you for writing again. Keep at it, and best of luck.

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