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[GUEST POST] Daniel Abraham’s Private Letter from Genre to Mainstream

Daniel Abraham is the author of the critically acclaimed The Dagger and the Coin series. He also writes as MLN Hanover and (with Ty Franck) as James SA Corey. He has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards. His forthcoming books include The King’s Blood and Caliban’s War. He lives in New Mexico

A Private Letter from Genre to Literature

I saw you tonight. You were walking with your cabal from the university to the little bar across the street where the professors and graduate students fraternize. You were in the dark, plain clothes that you think of as elegant. I have always thought they made you look pale. I was at the newsstand. I think that you saw me, but pretended not to. I want to say it didn’t sting.

Please, please, darling let us stop this. This artificial separation between us is painful, it is undignified, and it fools no one. In company, we sneer at each other and make those cold, cutting remarks. And why? You laugh at me for telling the same stories again and again. I call you boring and joyless. Is it wrong, my dear, that I hope the cruel things I say of you cut as deeply as the ones you say of me?

Our friends nod as they offer condolences and sympathetic condemnation. How many times have I heard voices that meant to be kind saying that you have descended into sophistication for sophistication’s sake? And, love, would you believe that I deny them? I point to Harper Lee and Robertson Davies. The Picture of Dorian Gray and the dirty jokes in Shakespeare. I tell them how good Pride and Prejudice is, and The Name of the Wind and The Life of Pi. They smile. Worse, they smirk. I defend you to my defenders, and they see right through me.

But allow me this, dear: what you do is crueler. You take the best of me, my most glorious moments – Ursula LeGuin and Dashiell Hammet, Mary Shelly and Philip Dick – and you claim them for your own. You say that they “transcend genre”. There are no more heartless words than those. You disarm me. You know, I think, that if we were to compare our projects honestly — my best to yours, my mediocrities to yours, our failures lumped together — this division between us would vanish, and so you skim away my cream and mock me for being only milk.

I forgive you. I weep and I resent and I say how little I care what your opinions are. And, let me be honest, dear, I take comfort in the fact that I make more money than you. That my audience is larger. Outside the narrow halls of the academy, my star is brighter. I go to the movies, and I am on every marquee. A television is practically my mirror. My house is larger and warmer, and the people there laugh and weep more loudly. Not all of them are sophisticates. Many of them find comfort and solace in things you consider beneath you. But they are my people, and I love them as they love me.

So I forgive you and I long for you. I do. The beauty and depth and sophistication that you aspire to, I aspire to as well. You lay claim to a deep love of language, but I have Kelly Link and Carole Emshwiller. You say that your work plumbs the depths of the human experience, but I have Maureen McHugh. You are concerned with the deep questions of religion and philosophy. So is Gene Wolfe. Look at them, my dear, but not too closely. I don’t want to lose them to you, and each of them is good enough to be “literature.” The things you want, I want too.

What do our friends make of our assignations, do you think? Those nights when you come to me and we find ourselves in each other’s arms must seem comic to them, given how much we rail against each other in the day. And don’t tell me that no one knows. Cormac McCarthy took the Pulitzer for a post-apocalyptic horror novel. Junot Díaz won his joking about Gorilla Grodd and describing violence in terms of hit points. Wuthering Heights is as much romance as ghost story. Roth’s The Plot Against America was alternate history. Ishiguro wrote Remains of the Day and also Never Let Me Go. Faber wrote Under the Skin. Whitehead, Zone One. Don’t let’s start on Atwood. Everyone can see that you want me as much as I want you. And more than that. I have begun to suspect you need me, my dear.

I read through the collections of your most honored short stories, and what do I see? Fantasy, mystery, ghost stories, romance. How often you refresh yourself at my springs. I wonder whether your contempt might hide something deeper. Fear perhaps, that you might be less without me as I am less without you. Are you vulnerable, love? You can be. I will not turn you away.

I am sometimes loud. I am often gaudy. I am sentimental, and I embarrass you in public. I apologize for none of it. You are respected, sophisticated, more passionate than I give you credit for, and sometimes even wise. I would no more ask you to become me than I would suffer remaking myself in your image, but we belong together. The proof of it is in the thrill you take from me and the comfort I draw from you. And so let us end this. Let us stand by one another as we should have all along. Let us take pleasure in each other. Where could the harm possibly be? Whose good opinion could we lose, and why should they matter?

Come to me, my love. Come to me tonight. I will meet you at midnight in the garden outside my bedroom. I will wear those bright, lurid, exciting things that are my signature. You bring those pretentions that are your best and worst aspect, and – can I hope? – the willingness to shed them.

39 Comments on [GUEST POST] Daniel Abraham’s Private Letter from Genre to Mainstream

  1. joshua Corning // December 9, 2011 at 12:59 am //

    Dear Genre,

    You get laid more, you get adored more and you get paid more…….so quit your bitching.


    Your masses of paying fans.

  2. Dear Genre,

    Good luck. You two make a good couple when you aren’t at each others’ throats.


    A paying fan of Genre and Literature and the amazing things that happen when they come together.

  3. Dear Genre,

    Last email. I promise. It’s just – I gave everything to you and you never returned my phone calls. Well, yeah, now I know why. You know, everyone kept warning me about you, but I still can’t help myself – I will always love you and will want to be with you. I think we’d be perfect together, in ways you’ll never know. There’s more to me than the parts you pick and obsess over. I’m so much deeper than that. I mean, I don’t know why you insist we have to be so separate, so apart – why it’s just SF/F and not SF/F/H, like it was meant to be, like I know it will be WHEN THE STARS ARE RIGHT…

    But, hey, I totally understand. I’m cool. 

    Good luck with Literature. I’m sure she’s everything you deserve.







  4. Beautifully argued, Daniel – no one could ever mistake you for a genre hack 😉

  5. Hey Genre,

    I know you didn’t think I had Internet access out here, but that’s just one more thing you don’t understand about us and what we do. 

    So, yeah. The guys showed me this. They debated it for a long time, but in the end, first sergeant decided it was better for me not to wrap up my tour and come home to a nasty surprise. XO offered to take me off rotation for a day to “talk to someone,” but I’ve never gone off to see the wizard and I’m not about to start now.

    Anyway, good luck with him. What’s his name? Literature? Whatever. I’m going to get my head back in the fight.

    Sure, it stings. But so do bullets, and I’ve got a lot more of them to worry about in the coming months.

    Just do me a favor and don’t tell dad. I’ll break it to him when I get back. I don’t know why, but that old coot was more crazy about you than I ever was.

    Good luck,

    Military SF/F

  6. I always thought Horror was genre. 

  7. Brilliant!

    Unfortunately, I suspect that the result would be what Elvis Presley sang — Return to Sender.

  8. Dear Genre,

    I have not avoided you, you’ve avoided me. Well, maybe it’s your publishers. They know the kiss of death is to stamp the word “literary” on your front cover. And by the way you’re not missing much by not hanging out in the cabal. We only do it because we’re lonely and alcoholic.

    And while you’re here, if you really want to be considered literary, stop using the fabulous genre marketing machine to sell your stuff. You’re just confusing your true readers who wouldn’t be caught dead reading spec fic.



  9. erin&alvin // December 9, 2011 at 11:22 am //

    Don’t you mean roth’s _PLOT against america_?

  10. @Erin: I should have caught that — fixed now. Thanks!

  11. Love your work!

  12. Terri Wells // December 9, 2011 at 3:55 pm //

    Dear Genre,

    I’m disappointed in you. Yes, YOU! Why do you keep trying to go back to Literature when I love you as no one else ever will? Oh sure, I have my foibles, but some of the best of your writers started with me. How can you expect Literature to embrace you when you walk by ME half the time with your nose in the air? I don’t claim everything I do is wonderful, but some of my best sings as true and brilliantly as any of your best…even if you have to work a bit to find it. So tell me, who is too sophisticated for who, huh? I think you’ve just let what all your friends say about me blind you to my true qualities. Give me a chance; you just might never give Literature a second look.



  13. “You skim away my cream and mock me for being only milk.”  *sigh*  so lovely.

  14. Non-Fiction // December 9, 2011 at 6:49 pm //

    Hey Genre and Mainstream…


    The differences between you are just…imaginary.

  15. Sorry, Genre, but a small nitpit, which of course you fans are infamous for doing. It’s Gorilla Grodd with 2 ds, not “Gorilla Grod”.

  16. Ack! Another one I should have caught. I was an avid reader of Flash comics when I was younger.

  17. Nick Mamatas // December 10, 2011 at 10:37 am //

    The blog Jezebel has a series called “Crap Email from a Dude” and frankly this reads like just one of those.

  18. This letter sounds like a “I’m a nice guy!” stalker about to transition into Marc Lépine.

  19. Michael O. // December 12, 2011 at 3:33 pm //

    This is awesome.  I have been planning to read one of your books, and this is just the kick in the pants I need.

  20. Dear Literature:

    (Specifically, the itchiest kind of literature … Canadian literature)

    Come to the Sunny Grove Trailer Park tonight at 9:00 PM. It’s time for you to go slumming with me. Bring your rubber boots …



    PS – there is truth and meaning between the pages of Harlequin Nocturne. Just sayin’

  21. Last paragraph “Come tome tonight”

    Otherwise very nice =)

  22. This is a complete non-issue.

  23. To explain: It’s a non-issue because, what would the proposed reconcilation look like? Quality genre fiction being studied and taught in universities? Already happens. Literary writers writing genresque texts? Already happens. Genre writers writing realistic texts? Already happens. What exactly needs changing? 

    The important distinction among books is well-written and poorly-written. Dick et al. have been adopted into the wider canon because they can write well.

  24. Hogwash.  You see more contempt and sneering from the genre people than the reverse.  Just subscribe to a mystery raders’ listserv and see how you can stir up the anthill with the “Literature” stick.

  25. Dear Genre, 

    Why, oh why, do you look the other way when you see me approach? I know I’m not pretty, but it’s so hard when you walk past me like I don’t even exist. When I was younger, I was crushed by the way Literature dismissed me as formula fiction, but I always thought that with you, I was in good company. I’m not asking for much. I’m just tired of being treated like I’m invisible. 



  26. Literary novels are like any others – there are good, bad and indifferent. And literature is itself a genre, which is only the French word for type. If it’s easily recognisable as a type, it IS a genre.

    Like Daniel, I go for the good books, whatever their type – er, sorry, I mean genre.


  27. Fabulous.  Who could resist a love letter like this one?

  28. I am sometimes loud. I am often gaudy. I am sentimental, and I embarrass you in public. I apologize for none of it.”

    You’re a fantastic writer, because this seriously made me think twice about my reservations on genre for genre’s sake. However, all I had to do was think back to last time anything gaudy or sentimental every really touched on anything human and relevant. Nope, it always feels cheap, self-interested, and escapist.  Happiness and joy will always be most pervasive when it has been earned, not tear jerked in two paragraphs.

    Genre is a wonderful tool because it has been a part of culture for so long now. It helps reveal things about our societal mind when analyzing pieces and innovating on conventions in order to further the medium and explore our assumptions.  However, loving genre itself is kind of ridiculous because, well, it doesn’t exist. Subjective categories that we use to sometimes loosely categorize things so complacent people can find things suited to their tastes.

    Better time would be spent talking with the physical authors then developing relationships with the imaginary category they’ve used in writing their book.

  29. Dear Literature,

    After reading an email from Horror I realized that my last letter to you engaged in passive-aggressiveness – and I am anything but passive-aggressive.

    I’ve changed my mind.  I don’t want you. 

    I don’t think I ever wanted you, something I should have realized the last time we got together.  You laid there like a landed mackarel, gasping for air and flopping about, a parody of passion. In reality you are scaly and cold, pale, thin-lipped and goggle-eyed. 

    I’ve finally realized why it never worked between us and never can work.  YOU are a serial-monogamist, while I am a polyamorist.  (Though in truth I suspect that your interest in relationships is merely a cover for your addiction to masturbation.)  You want confinement, I want to explore.  Your concept of kink is to point a finger, laugh and wonder why. I want to find out ‘why’.

    I also find that I can no longer remain silent about your kleptomania.  I’ve tolerated it for ages, but no more.  I thought you’d grow tired of it with time, but I can see that your passion for it has grown rather than diminished.  You and I both know you will never find satisfaction there and yet you persist.  Fair warning: the next time I see you at Wal*Mart, I’ll be dropping a dime to store security.  Which is about what you’re worth.  Maybe. Adjustment for inflation and all that.

    Don’t bother to write back, I wont’ waste my exploration time reading or responding.  Have fun playing with yourself.





    Dear Horror,

    Why don’t you give Military SF a call and see if they’re free tonight.  I thought it might be fun for us all to get together and’see what happens’….




  30. Brilliant. Well said.


    I write both genre fiction and literary fiction. It’s sometimes hard having both inside the same skull. There I’ll be, with a man brought to the edge of despair by the price he’s paid for his life’s successes, and BOOM, out pops an alien time traveler.



  31. So beautiful. So brilliant. So, so funny.
    Thank you.

  32. Lmarquisv // January 25, 2012 at 4:18 pm //

    Dear Literary and Genre,

    Stop whining, because neither of you two keep it real like I do. How bout dem apples?



  33. I have some French translation copies of ” Daughter of the Black Sun” [La Fille du Soleil Noir], sent to Daniel Abraham but mailed in error to my address here in Canada. Apparently we have the same French publisher. Six copies here. Where would you like me to send them?

    Jack Whyte

  34. I hate it when Mom and Dad fight.


  35. As an unrepresented novelist seeking an agent for the first time, I feel the pain of this brutal love affair. I try to query agents based on the genres it seems they prefer, and I try to best describe my story in a way that makes them want to grasp it full-on, but I just haven’t gotten the knack of doing so quite yet, I suppose. I didn’t limit my writing to one genre, and now I guess I’m paying the price. But this post was brilliant. Science fiction can enclose romance and human drama and coming of age and theoretical exploration and not be the lesser for any of it, just as high-concept literature can enclose science fiction and not be the lesser for it. I truly ache when I read about an agent who represents all of the things my book seems to be striving for EXCEPT science fiction, as if science fiction cannot have all of those other things. Grrr.

  36. Genre, Literature, Military SF/F, Horror, Nonfic, and everybody else,

    Let’s totally forget our differences and have a party at my place.


    PS Somebody can bring Fanfic, but keep him AWAY from Copyright this time. We don’t want another “incident.”

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