By Nicole Disney
When I was in high school, I was struggling with the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction. Today, I know it is a distinction even the pros can sometimes find difficult to define. A teacher of mine told me that genre fiction is intended to entertainment, while literary fiction should challenge your views and perceptions of the world. And your vocabulary. And let’s face it, your attention span. The same teacher told me that the classics are literary fiction, that Pulitzer Prize winners are literary fiction, that anything you might ever be proud to proclaim you’ve read, is literary fiction.
Taking myself a little too seriously, I knew that was what I wanted to write. My goal has always been to write something that readers will someday say changed their lives. I wanted to tell truths never told and sculpt sentences so beautiful and full of meaning students would dissect them long after I’m gone. That those words would be so pure they would immortalize me. Ego, anyone?
It didn’t take long for me to discover the fantasy genre and fall in love with it. There were no limits, no rules, no reasons things couldn’t function the way they should, no reasons heroes would fail or love would fade. I had the power to make a world that rewarded bravery, loyalty, and sacrifice. Once my first novel was complete, I allowed my best friend to read it. I was proud and confident that she would agree it was a masterpiece. I had all but forgotten my teacher’s warning that it was, in fact, literary fiction that was intellectually valuable. My friend was quick to laugh at my dreams of Pulitzers and Nobel Prizes. But she didn’t cite the many faults of my manuscript as the reason it was impossible, only the genre.
I later moved into literary fiction. I admit I did feel I was creating something deeper, something more valuable. The setting was urban, the voice was gritty, the conflict dark, the ending tragic, and somehow that made it more respectable to my peers. I finally felt like the writer who was going to become famous after I die. The peaks of my mountainous writer’s self esteem were restored.
I recently began a new manuscript. It’s literary and even more depressing than my last story. It’s been causing me to crave a bit of carefree writing. I’ve found myself saying things like, “I just want to write something mindless and fun.” At last it dawned on me that this kind of thinking is simply unfair and disrespectful to genre writing. As a lover of fantasy, myself, how could I be so cruel to my own writing? Did my fantasy stories not handle conflict? Did my characters not face choices, fear, loss, love, even death? Did they not have something to say? Something of value to share?
Just as every person has something to offer, every story has something to give. Stories are teachers by their very nature. As long as we give them everything we have, nurture them like children, and love them from our souls, they will give us back truth and beauty.
Nicole Disney is the debut author of the contemporary lesbian fiction novel, Dissonance in A Minor. She lives in Denver, Colorado where she continues to write dark, edgy novels. She is also a martial arts instructor and teaches Krav Maga, Muay Thai, and Karate. For more about Nicole, please visit her website. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.