Let me preface this by saying I have absolutely nothing against literary fiction (except, perhaps, the term itself; I believe all fiction is “literary”). I have read many fantastic stories in that category (The Silver Linings Playbook, The History of Love, The Hours, just to name a few), but genre fiction is what has always resonated with me.
There is a simple answer: because I like magic and monsters.
There is also a longer answer, and for me it is the escape from our world, the ability to re-imagine our world, and the introduction to the impossible.
When I was in college, majoring in English, a good percentage of the books and short stories I had to read were all contemporary literary fiction. While well-written (most of them, anyway), I didn’t necessarily feel a connection to any of them. Simply stated, they bored the absolute hell out of me. I didn’t do as well on my papers and exams for these classes as I should have, and it was because I didn’t necessarily feel compelled to read the books. I would read enough to get by with a B average, but…it wasn’t fun.
And then I took a horror fiction class my senior year (2012-13) and excelled. I passed with an A; I participated very actively in class discussions; I was enthusiastic about my assignments; and I even won a fiction writing contest. I read about serial killers, I devoured the Cthulhu Mythos, and I wrote a paper that compared Lovecraft’s The Outsider with Thomas Ligotti’s The Greater Festival of Masks (though I can’t remember what my argument was).
That horror fiction class inspired me to write short stories, to resume something that I hadn’t done in nearly three years. In doing so, I had my first short story (Pretty Things) published that December 2012 in issue 4 of Sanitarium Magazine.
But let me dial back further than my college years, all the way to third grade and my introduction to The Magic Tree House series and the Harry Potter books. Even now, while writing this, I feel excited as I reminisce about those books. I wasn’t a truly avid reader until probably my high school years, but the aforementioned series were the seeds that sowed my interest.
The Magic Tree house books, to this day, are something I am very fond of. They’re imaginative and engaging, teaching children history through fiction (which, ironically, is what the company I work for does. I suppose things came full circle). Harry Potter (and to a lesser extent, The Chronicles of Narnia) took me by the hand and led me into fantasy and magic. I credit Harry Potter as the reason that I started writing, and firmly believe that only genre fiction had that power (at least for me, anyway. I don’t recall ever reading Gone With the Wind and saying, ‘Holy shit! I need to do this!).
Education aside, genre fiction helped me develop and a very enjoyable love/hate relationship with my hometown of Tujunga, CA. I bear no ill will toward the people of that town, let me be clear.
But sometimes people act a certain way, buildings look a little drab, and you are made aware of the fact that one in every five firetrucks you see blaring down the street is heading toward a meth lab, and you can’t help but let that influence the voice of your cynical 17-year old protagonist whose hometown has just been invaded by a flood of corpses from the local cemetery.
*Note: the Verdugo Hills Pioneer Cemetery did, in fact, flood in 1978. People awoke the next morning to find caskets and corpses in their yards; an event which influenced my novel, Disinterred, greatly.
For me, as beautiful as Tujunga, CA is, it’s always been a boring town, save that cemetery flooding and the Station fire in the summer of 2009. And it was because of this, as well as my love for horror and fantasy, that my novel grew into something darkly humorous and—to me, at least—engaging. I suppose, then, that I credit genre fiction for inspiring me to write, to learn about the history of my town.
I mentioned several paragraphs ago that genre fiction was important to me because of the escapism it provides. Reality can often times feel mundane and repetitive, especially after a long week at school or at work. And as you settle into bed for the night, with a pounding headache and eyes sore from staring at a computer screen all day, you just want something else: you want to be somewhere else, and this is what genre fiction provides me, provides us as readers.
Reading is important. No one will ever doubt that. But genre fiction, to me, is what really helps ignite a lifelong passion, fuels curiosity, and sometimes, inspires one to write a story of their own.
–The Stormlight Archive, Brandon Sanderson
–Fablehaven, Brandon Mull
–Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
–Mystic, Jason Denzel
–Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling
–I Am Not a Serial Killer, Dan Wells
–The Obsidian Trilogy, Mercedes Lackey
–Best Served Cold, Joe Abercrombie
–The Wee Freemen, Terry Pratchett