Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The quality of literature is strained

So that was fairly painful. I've never had to revise an article so many times and all to include keywords and links and keyword phrases. How do I avoid using the same phrases too many times when the article is about punctuation and quotation marks. It's not like I can use a euphemism or marks of quotations to make my point and avoid being snuffed by the web-bots that grade key word and phrases. This whole Suite 101 idea may not be a good one. I can't be personal and I can't use the words you, I, we, they, them or your, so all my cute titles are out the door. Definitely need to rethink this. All I wanted was a wider forum and not a job writing keywords and phrases. And I have to search out and upload clip art for each article. Yeah, that's really possible for punctuation and grammar. Could it get more complex? Wait. Forget I asked because as sure as I ask, it will get more complicated.

I finished my urban alien story and submitted it for the Apex Halloween Contest. I've considered sending it in for the annual Writer's Digest short shorts fiction contest, but I have to cut about 400 words first. I have time since I don't have to submit the story to WD until December and the Apex contest will be decided before then.

There are a few more stories kicking around in my head begging to be let out to run and play amongst the other fiction floating out in cyberspace and in print and I at last feel like I have a fairly good handle on the fiction for a change. I do believe I've broken the fiction barrier that kept my work from being published. My romance novel helped, but having two more lining up to be published made me feel a lot better about writing fiction.

Nonfiction has always come easily, as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of words that I've regurgitated onto these cyberpages over the past seven or eight years, but fiction was more difficult. I don't know if it's because I tried to hard or because I spent too much time getting into the characters' ways by being literary. From what I've read recently, it's not an uncommon problem and one that has the science fiction community in an uproar.

Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaiden's Tale and Oryx and Crake, undoubtedly science fiction novels by everyone but Ms. Atwood, says that science fiction is "fiction in which things happen that are not possible today". Ursula K. LeGuin calls the definition "...arbitrarily restrictive definition . . .designed to protect [Atwood's] novels from being relegated to a genre still shunned by hidebound readers, reviewers and prize-awarders. In short, if it looks like science fiction, acts like science fiction, and happens to be good, it's not science fiction, but something higher and more elevated. It must be Literature.

Before having thoroughly alienated and tweaked the noses of the science fiction community, Atwood said science fiction is needed, although she called it speculative fiction. Of course that was in 2005 and this is four years later when the term science fiction is guaranteed to keep good literature from being awarded prizes and lauded, and that is the point -- getting awards.

By the current definition, H. G. Wells and Jules Verne were not a writers of science fiction. In their day it was called scientific romance, but words change and so do the meanings. Invaders from Mars and submarines powered by atomic energy are not science fiction, at least in modern day terminology.

According to Princeton's web site, science fiction is literary fantasy involving the imagined impact of science on society.. Notice the use of the word literary, as in literature.

I was taught, and most publishers agree, that a story in which the science does not play an integral part is not science fiction. For instance, take the atomic sub out of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and everything falls apart, and the same happens to beings that turn blue when they are sexually aroused, as in Oryx and Crake, not to mention the whole genetic engineering that lies at the very heart of the story and makes it all possible. Take away Victor Frankenstein's experimentation with electricity and animating dead flesh and there is no story. Even in The Handmaiden's Tale, a dystopian story that is definitely science fiction, if there had been no nuclear war, there would be no need for the handmaidens, and thus the whole story falls apart. No, it's not science fiction, it's Literature.

What myopic idiots people have become, throwing away perfectly wonderful books and refusing to acknowledge them because they belong to that niche called popular and commercial fiction. Anyone who has read Stephen King's The Stand can immediately bring to mind the images of the "sweet treat" and Larry's personality like "biting tin foil." That, my friends, is literature, not because it's popular or sells millions of books, because it's unforgettable.

Literature doesn't have to be tortured prose stylings and stories that have no easily understandable context or meaning. Literature can be enjoyable and clear. Literature doesn't need to feature convoluted plots that jump forward and backward and sideways until the reader's not sure exactly what happens when. Literature can simply be good. That's what makes it popular.

I've enjoyed Margaret Atwood's stories, but sometimes come away with a feeling of having been through a mental ringer. Given a choice, I'd rather read Andre Norton or Brian Aldiss or Frank Herbert or Ursula K. LeGuin or Robert A. Heinlein. Give me a great story with memorable characters and good writing and to me that is Literature, and the judges who give out awards be damned. Come to that, give me any writer in any genre (even romance) who does all that, and that is Literature.

As a reviewer, I have had to review Booker and Pulitzer prize winners and I have to say I wasn't always impressed. If I didn't have to read the whole book to review it, I would've stopped after the first chapter or two. It's a good thing I didn't have to eat it as well or I'd have been sick for a few days. That's not to say I haven't enjoyed some award winning authors, like Salman Rushdie, who has a thing for the movie The Wizard of Oz; rainbow imagery and sometimes the movie feature in several of his books. He tells a good tale and I admire the way he writes.

When it comes right down to it, according to the definition in Wikipedia, which goes on at some length, In broad terms, literary fiction focuses more on style, psychological depth, and character, whereas mainstream commercial fiction (the page-turner) focuses more on narrative and plot. ...The term literary fiction is considered hard to define very precisely but is commonly associated with the criteria used in literary awards and marketing of certain kinds of novels, since literary prizes usually concern themselves with literary fiction, and their short lists can give a working definition.

In short, the term literary novel is not a concrete term because there are numerous books of commercial fiction that focus just as much on "style, psychological depth, and character" as the award winners. You don't get much more descriptive, stylistic or deep than a person who is like "biting tin foil" or the loneliness of a girl far from home who eases the loneliness by writing poems on leaves and casting them to the winds (Andre Norton, Imperial lady. We need a better term, but I doubt it will come from the literary novel judges who hand out awards, so it must come from the people. You know, the people who actually buy the books and read them, not buy them and stick them on a shelf to impress friends and visitors. A good book is one that is read and reread and, like the velveteen rabbit, loved to pieces.

That is all. Disperse.

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