Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Fantasy Writer's Rant

Random pic of some of our books, because I couldn't find a more relevant photo for this post.
So you're all probably at least vaguely aware that I'm a writer, and I've written the first draft and most of the second draft of a novel, and that I wrote it for my MA program which was in London, and that I've been banging on about my dissertation results on social media for a couple weeks now. Well. At last, at long last, the results arrived last Friday. I was so excited upon finding it all mangled in the mailbox that I ran up the 3 flights of stairs to our apartment and yelled at my mom and Greg to Pay Attention while I opened it and read the results.

And then.


Let's just say the results weren't exactly what I wanted. They weren't even what I expected. They were worse. And I, the horrible drama queen that I am, ran into the bedroom and laid prone on the bed, the manuscript tucked under me, and tried not to cry. Then Greg came in and poked me or said "calm the hell down" or something like that, and I proceeded to throw my hat, my glasses, my phone, and the manuscript itself violently across the room while screaming that I may as well give up and that I was a horrible writer and that everyone else got an A* and I hated everything and wanted to die.

I overreact to things. On a regular basis. I really shouldn't have this time, as I got a B overall. A B really isn't that bad? I think? And Matt, my tutor, said nice things but was pretty clear that my novel needs to go through at least another draft before it's ready for publishing. He did say it could find a publisher, though, and that a lot of my writing was remarkable for an MA student. So thanks, Matt!

However. My second marker, who I shall call simply "B" did not quite agree with Matt. In fact she disagreed with him. Very markedly. She gave me a C overall, and said basically that she expected more from an MA student, and that if my style of writing was typical of the fantasy or YA genre, that this was a weakness.

This is what frustrates me so much about writing programs. The people who grade you are going to base pretty much their entire assessment of your work on how they feel about it. They aren't going to be objective. I guarantee it. They will say, "Hmm, do I like this? Is it what I like to read? Is it what I consider 'good writing'? Is it what I consider a quality genre of fiction? Am I in a bad mood or a good mood right now? Am I PMSing? Does my horrible neighbor whose dogs take shits in my yard look just like you? These are all factors that I must take into consideration when grading your work!" Seriously, it's awful.

That's what I really liked about Matt, was that he seemed pretty open to any genre, and seemed to realize that not everybody writes the same way, and that some styles of writing work better with certain stories and genres, etc. B, from the first day I met her, pissed me off because of her close-mindedness. So I shouldn't have been surprised that she gave me a C. In fact I blatantly disregarded some of her suggestions for "improving" my writing in the Planning A Novel module. Not because I'm a brat (I am), but because I didn't feel that her preferred very literary style of writing fit the story I wanted to tell. So I wrote the way I wanted to, and the way that I believed was right for my story and characters, and she still gave me a C. Because she simply believes in a more literary style of writing. This wasn't a literary novel-writing course, it was a novel-writing course in any genre.  Right from the start she wanted me to write magical realism so that I could fit into a more literary genre. NO! That is not what I want! I want to write fantasy, comedy, light-hearted romantic adventures. She straight-up did not get that. And it really, really frustrates me.

This opens up the broader subject of: why don't academic people take fantasy literature seriously? And why do academic people, like B, think they can brush off the fantasy genre when they have not even read any of it? She said, first day of class, that she "doesn't read fantasy." And then she criticizes me for not reading a broader spectrum of genres and books. No. Does not compute. If I were to read one of her prose poems (ugh why do these exist), even if I were to read every single one of her books, I would not be inspired; I would not be influenced. This isn't to say her books are horrible, as they are likely very well written and insightful and moving and whatever else books can be. But they have nothing to do with what I write, and so why would I list books as inspiration and influence when they haven't actually done so? I got graded down for being honest? I don't actually understand.

And the fact that she said, if my style is indicative of the greater fantasy and YA genre (my book is not YA, just to be clear), she considers it a weakness -- just makes my blood boil. A weakness of the entire genre? Does she not realize she is being extremely judgmental, prejudiced (coming from a woman who "does not read fantasy"), and worst of all -- pretentious as hell?

I'm so, so tired of these ~writers~ being so condescending about genre fiction. What's the problem? Is it too entertaining? Too popular? Too easy and fun to read? I mean, I suppose it can be fun to play the elitist hipster douchebag to a point, but... really? To criticize an entire genre just because it's not the same as ~literary fiction~, the land of prose poems (god help us), is just plain ignorant.

I was feeling really depressed and mopey about the whole thing, but after a few days and a think, I've realized -- it doesn't matter what B says about my novel. She may absolutely despise every word of it. And that's okay! Because you know what? I'm not writing it for her. I'm not writing it for anyone who reads the kind of book that she reads. I'm writing it for the geeks, the fantasy fans, the girls who want to read a fun romance. I'm writing it for the people who will buy it. And most of all, I'm writing it for me. I still love my characters, and my story, and the world I created. I love all of it. It needs a lot of work, but I'm so happy to put in that work to make a better book. And ultimately, I can't wait -- I cannot wait -- to sell a buttload more copies of my book than B will ever sell of hers, because I'm writing popular fiction, it's what I want to write, and it's what makes me happy. So there.

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