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So. Recently, Justin Allen (Year of the Horse) contacted me to let me know about his coming 3-part essay titled “A Manifesto of Imaginitive Literature: Or for the Love of Pete, Don’t Mix Your Genres…or the New York Times Book Review Hates You, but I Didn’t…or Why Where Your Book Gets Shelved Determines Your Intelligence, Work-Ethic, and Value to Society.” (It’s the Energizer title–it keeps going and going…)
Well, that essay went live today, and here it is:
I have some thoughts about this essay which I would like to share, but writing them up will take some time, plus I have a very, very busy night ahead of me. But expect me to return around midnight with my own comments on this very interesting essay. (You’re all waiting with baited breath, I know!)
Behold! My promised thoughts!
This essay is an interesting piece of writing because it touches on topics which are familiar to many of us, while shedding new light on them, probbing deeper into the issues. A couple things especially stood out to me.
When I was in kindergarten, these two girls in my class said I wasn’t allowed to be their friend because my favorite colors weren’t pink and purple. It was a childish, petty thing, something you’d never expect to see out of an adult. And yet that’s what literature snobs do. In this essay, Justin Allen tackles this phenomenon. Literary writers who sniff disdainfully at genre writers. Genre writers who scorn literary writers. Writers from one genre who shun writers from another. This essay doesn’t say that it’s wrong to have a favorite genre, just that it’s wrong to look down your nose at those with a different favorite. Doing that is just like deciding you don’t like me because my favorite color is green.
And just as green isn’t the only color in the crayon box, your favorite genre isn’t the only genre in the bookstore. This essay challenges you to see the beauty in other colors. Imagine if I only wore green clothes. If I never bought anything that wasn’t green. I think that’s what Justin Allen is getting at in this essay. Categorizing books by genre in the bookstore is useful as a starting point. But we can’t allow ourselves to believe that nothing on any other shelf save the one devoted to fantasy will be worth our time. To do so is to close our minds to new ideas. After all, we weren’t just born reading fantasy books. At some point in our lives, we picked up that first one and realized that we really liked it. We gave it a chance. Isn’t variety the spice of life? I mean, I love green, but I can go for other colors, too. In case you hadn’t noticed, this website is blue. Each genre, just like each color, can be beautiful. Have your favorite, but don’t sneer at those whose favorite is different from yours. And don’t be afraid to color with a new crayon, or to read a different kind of book.
And that leads to the mixing genres issue. Justin Allen knows a little something about mixing genres. His novel Year of the Horse is a fantasy, a western, a mystery, and a YA book. I loved it. Last year, two of my favorite books were The Magicians and Mrs. Quent and The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. Both were a blend of genres. In fact, Leanna Renee Hieber had a heck of a time selling Strangely Beautiful for that very reason. Nobody knew what to call it. But what fantastic books these are! I know mixing genres is risky (though I have a theory about how to make it a little more foolproof–come back next week for that), but what if these authors had stuck to just one genre? Sometimes a story fits perfectly into a genre category, and some cars look better painted red. But if a story needs a touch of mystery and romance in its fantasy plot, then genre boundaries will only hold it back. And some cars look better with a little blue mixed in with that red paint. (Yes, that’s right. First the Energizer title, now the color metaphor that keeps going and going…)
So, to recap: Author Justin Allen wrote this insightful essay about his views on some publishing issues. It’s got some good points, and I think it’s worth your time to read.