Monday, September 13, 2010

Fact or Fantasy...


I have talked before about the questions a writer gets when she sells her first book. How did you get an agent? How long did it take you to write the book? What will the cover look like? One of the questions I most often get is…what kind of book is it? This raises the issue of genre. Let’s use this picture to discuss genre and literary fiction.

Perhaps this picture represents YA—young adult—fiction. Obviously Protagonist is a “young adult.” Simple enough. She is playing her arch rival for top spot on the Riverdale Middle School tennis team.

Maybe, based on this picture, we are going to read fantasy. The young female protagonist, living in an imaginary realm where elves and fairies frolic in magical forests, has been pitted against an unlikely opponent—6’9” John Isner—and her very life depends on the match’s outcome.

Consider instead, that we are looking at the beginning of a horror novel. Protagonist is trapped inside a never-ending match with no tiebreakers. No one can break serve and the match lasts well into the night and into the next day and maybe blood and guts and other gore seep onto the court with every passing game. Okay…that’s not a good plot. I don’t write horror.

There is mystery—in this flashback, Protagonist is sparing against the very person she will investigate for murder some twenty years later. If this were chick lit, we might again be seeing a flashback, but this time, Protagonist is sparing with the girl who will grow up to be a New York city mayoral candidate and steal Protagonist's fiancĂ© two days before the wedding. Science Fiction—every time Protagonist hits the ball it disappears as it crosses the net, lost in a black hole. When the ball returns hours later, it has lost all of its yellow fuzz and is dripping green slime. (Again, I’m no good with sci-fi either.)

And then there’s literary fiction. Protagonist isn’t playing an opponent, but is instead hitting the ball against a wall. Effectively, she is playing herself, battling her inner demons, struggling to realize her own true identity.

So when people ask me what kind of book I have written, I always start my explanation with… “It’s a story about the Scott family.” First and foremost, it’s a story. No green slimy goo, no mayoral candidates, no brick walls or never-ending sets. A story. And I hope a good one.

And as for Protagonist, what may have seemed like fantasy or science fiction, is in fact a young girl on the receiving end of a serve delivered by the great John Isner. All in fun, of course.

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