Friday, March 19, 2010

A Genre Unto Himself

So the other day I saw this interview of Nicholas Sparks about his latest moneymaker, The Last Song. In it, he kind of slams on all other living authors, compares himself to Shakespeare, Hemingway and Sophocles and then when "Asked what he likes in his own genre, Sparks replies: 'There are no authors in my genre. No one is doing what I do.'"

It kinda makes me wonder if the interviewer had an anti-Sparks bias, or if The Great Man just handed him a juicy scoop about the Biggest Ego on the Eastern Seaboard on a silver platter. I don't know. I've never met Sparks.

The weird thing is, this isn't even the first time I've heard some Huge Author talking about how he/she is a genre unto him/herself. A couple years ago, right around the time The Other Boleyn Girl was coming out in theatres, I was in Manhattan, on my way up to the Met to see Carmen (soooo kickass awesome!) and my friend and I stopped off at the Borders by Columbus Circle. We just so happened to get there just as Phillipa Gregory began a reading/signing/talk thing, so I talked my friend into hanging about to listen for a bit. At the time, I wasn't published, but I still wanted to see what those newfangled signing things were all about (so I would be prepared when I was skyrocketed to fame and fortune, of course).

Ms. Gregory was chatting about her books and how she researched them when she made a statement I found gobsmackingly bizarre. She said no one wrote in her genre. She said she was the only author out there writing "fictionalized histories" and everyone else was writing historical fiction. Behold, my jaw hitting the floor.

Now the situation isn't entirely the same. Ms. Gregory was drawing lines in the sandbox between her play area and everyone else's (and I'm not historian enough to contradict her definition). Sparks is just ignoring that there is anyone else in the vicinity of his sandbox. Like, say, the entire "women's fiction" genre.

One of the things that bugs me about this is that these big, influential authors are essentially saying that theirs are the only books worth buying. They are ignoring all of the incredible books being written by other people in their genre. Authors on whose shoulders they are standing. Those other books may not have the widespread popularity of Sparks or Gregory, but I, for one, am much more likely to buy a Sparks book if he is the person who turned me onto that amazing novel by John Doe I loved so much.

That is one thing I love about the romance writing community - the prevailing attitude welcomes new talent. There is a category in the Romance Writers of America RITA competition for the Best First Book. You'll hear many established authors gabbing about great new authors they discovered. There is no sense that a sale for another author is a sale lost for you.

One of the first bits of advice my mentor gave me (back in the day) was that writers are readers. I think you lose something in your writing if you ever lose the hunger for reading. The sense of wonder that comes with being exposed to a new concept, a new image, or a quick laugh at an unexpected turn of phrase - they are necessary elements so we can keep our own writing fresh, challenging ourselves to live up to the best of the books we read.

So if you ask me to recommend a book, I may quaver and quail a bit because I worry our tastes won't align and the book that rocked my socks right off might not be your cup of tea... but I will never tell you my books are better than everything else out there (LOL, can't even write that with a straight face). A genre unto myself, ha.

And, for the record, if I ever say I am a genre unto myself and no one can live up to my rockstarness, you have my permission to bludgeon me with my gargantuan ego until I come to my senses. Thank you.

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