Thursday, March 08, 2007
Q & A 97-103
How do you define your novel in a query letter if it is not genre fiction?
Mainstream? Literary? Humorous, tragic, political, quirky, historical, uncatagorizable or some other adjective? Depends.
For instance, wouldn’t it be a little presumptuous to say that you have written a work of literary fiction?
Not as presumptuous as saying, I have written a work of literature.
How the hell do you know you’ve accomplished this feat?
Your characters are all miserable until the very end, when they die.
What if you’re simply a pitifully unaware dolt who wrote a rambling piece of plotless crap?
Whether you tell the agent it's literary fiction or a rambling piece of plotless crap, you'll get the same reply. But at least if you call it a rambling piece of plotless crap, you won't look clueless.
Commercial fiction, as I understand it, is seen to be more plot-driven while literary fiction is more character-driven. But what if you’ve written something with a plot that you also think has accurate and thoughtful character development?
Try to arrange for one of your more thoughtful characters to be eaten by a shark.
But I’ve also read agents’ websites that mention they are interested in commercial fiction with literary leanings. I read that to mean “well-written”; I thought it was a given that everything you submit had better be “well-written.”
An excellent policy. Of course, there's well-written and then there's well-written. Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe and Lewis Carroll are known for romance, horror and fantasy, but also for writing that has stood the test of time. Genre writing can be "literary." But "literary fiction" has a general meaning to agents and editors. As Potter Stewart said, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it." Granted, Justice Stewart was talking about hard-core pornography, but . . .
Why can’t you (or can you) simply say…I’ve written a novel?