Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Coming Full Circle (Confessions of a Former Literary Snob)

Confession time.

Yes, I’ll admit it. I was one of those literary snobs who turned up my nose at genre (or commercial) fiction.

It didn’t start out that way. During my middle school years, I devoured mysteries, fantasies, horror, and thrillers. When I first starting writing (again, in middle school), I wrote a horror anthology called “Tales of Terror.” There were three issues, composed of short horror stories penned on notebook paper and stapled together. On the back page of every “anthology” was a place for feedback. During that time I also wrote three YA mystery/thriller novellas.

High school found me writing stories about 1920s gangsters and poetry. Encouraged by my English teachers, I enrolled in college with the intention of graduating with a degree in English.

Around that time I also had the lofty (if delusional) idea of writing literary fiction. But not just any literary fiction. Pulitzer Prize quality literary fiction. (Yeah, told you it was a delusional idea.)

I continued writing poetry and a few short stories. A writer friend tried to persuade me screenplays were the new American novel but I wasn’t as yet convinced. I think I tried my hand at writing some awful plays. I also served as editor of the literary magazine (one issue) and the college newspaper. (It’s not as impressive as it sounds.)

Now journalism occupied my time, particularly the alternative press. Another friend loaned me copies of In These Times and Sojourners. Instead of the current pop favorites, my musical tastes ran to political bands like Midnight Oil, Johnny Clegg and Savuka, Billy Bragg, XTC, Peter Gabriel, etc.

My goal was to now write Pulitzer Prize winning articles. I even planned to go to graduate school for journalism, Columbia being my first choice.

I graduated from college with a B.A. in English and a minor in creative writing. I never pursued my Masters. Nearly 13 years would pass before I started to write again. Why? Because every time I started a project, my inner critic silenced me. Not only was I not writing literary quality work, I wasn’t writing creatively at all. (I was, however, working as a freelance writer for a couple of local magazines.)

In 2003, I decided to write a novel. The catch? I didn’t allow myself to edit until the first draft was complete. And I did finish it, a 50k YA horror. The following year I participated in my first NaNoWriMo.

Since then, I’ve written one novel, three short novels and one novella. I also have three short novels in progress and several ideas for future books. Guess what? They’re all genre fiction: horror, mystery, paranormal, urban fantasy, etc. Well, you get the idea. The point is I’ve written more since I returned to my writing roots.  

Maybe I should’ve stuck with genre writing and not been a literary snob.

Lesson learned.

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