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Genre fiction or popular fiction – Armchair BEA

This entry is part 5 of 17 in the series Armchair BEA 2013 - 2014
Genre fiction appeals to popular culture and readers crowd to see their favorite author. Genre fiction populates most bookstore shelves, and the books are often referred to as commercial fiction as opposed to the more literary fiction. While many think the division between the two is firm, I’m not so sure. Let’s make the rounds:

Popular genre fiction or writing for the masses

Charles Dickens wrote for the populace; he was a popular writer before he became a literary one. Some writers with a more literary bent, like Nicholas Sparks, have managed to sidle over to the commercial side and achieved success. Yet the idea of commercial fiction being the stepchild of the literary remains. (Some today might even consider “literary” fiction a genre.)

The romance genre fiction

Having spent years with many, many commercial romance writers, including those who today rank at the top of the bestseller lists, I’m pretty certain they are among the most misunderstood of all the genre writers. Most, like Susan Wiggs and Jennifer Cruisie are hardworking and deeply care about their craft, yet they get a lot of grief.

The bodice-ripper syndrome

Romance books are often referred to as “bodice rippers;” their stories are considered too simple with happy-ending conclusions; they’re accused of eating chocolates while dictating their novels with nary a thought to doing any research.

A genre by women and for women

The majority of commercial writers are women. Most are prolific, often considered a curse and the mark of a less than serious writer, and the majority do a lot of research. They like what they do; they love their genre. Traditionally, the romance genre accounts for the majority of book sales and the writers probably make more money than most other writers. While they dislike the fact that their books are often dismissed, they console themselves by making more deposit trips to the bank.

The science genre fiction
Science genre fiction god Isaac Asimov on throne - great science fiction writer

Isaac Asimov on Throne

Science fiction often falls into two camps. The hard sci-fi where the focus is more on technology and the softer kind that is culture, people, and world oriented. I cut my reading teeth on these books. My dad worked for NASA and every table had a stack of books by the famous and great sci fi authors. Many were of the hard type but my mom was fascinated with the softer style so we had both.

Science fiction certainly had its heydey in the 50s and 60s with some of the best writers coming out of that period. The writers can be somewhat elusive. You won’t find them populating a lot of writers groups or events unless its specific to their genre. They are passionate about what they write and are major players in the “what if” category.

Best book on writing is by Ray Bradbury - Zen and the Art of WritingI loved Asimov and was so taken with his prodigious output. The Foundation series captured my attention right away. The Lensmen series by Doc Smith was another of my favorites. Ray Bradbury’s writing style and use of language remains legendary. His book Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity

should be read by every writer.

They mystery genre fiction

Mysteries are another stable in the commercial fiction arena. They have devoted fans, many who love puzzles whether crime or people. Over the last twenty years the genre has been granted a halo of sorts and is gaining recognition for the literary efforts of many of its writers. Today this genre tends to populate the top of the bestseller lists with books by Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, and others.

Combining the best of two worlds: literary and genre

Dennis Lehane, who came out of an MFA program, quickly capitalized on his ability to combine the pillars of the mystery genre with the intricasies of the literary style and quickly rose to the top of the field. Many other crime writers are achieving the same results and the genre is often examined in today’s colleges.

The horror genre fiction

Horror genre fiction giant Edgar Alan Poe (photograph Library of Congress)

Edgar A Poe

I love horror. Been a fan since I met one of my favorite authors through the pages of his horrific stories like The Tell-Tale Heart. Yes, I’m a Poe girl. Edgar Allan Poe remains my favorite author in this genre. Today Stephen King has become the grand literary master of the genre and rightly so. He has managed to take it to a whole other level and writers would do well to study his work. His book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is another must-read for writers.

I’m a fan of the quiet horror story, the ones that probes the psychological depths but that is not the only style of horror available today. If you like to be scared, this is the genre for you.

The fantasy genre fiction

Fantasy writers are the great make-it-up artists of writing. They make up everything. Their readers delve deeply into the worlds created and are among the loyalest of fans. I was swept into the realm of The Lord of the Rings a long time ago and thought that was about the best it gets . . . until I was adult and J.K. Rowling came along. Amazing stuff, she wrote. You have only to look at the impact her Harry Potter series had on a generation of kids who grew up with Harry.

Young Adult genre fiction

The biggest growth in readership has to be in the Young Adult genre. Ten or fifteen years ago this genre wasn’t even close to the amount of titles available today. Today’s young adult reader is not only those who range in the traditional ages of 13 – 16 years but is often targeted towards readers who are 18-25 years with more edgy content. New sub-genres are appearing all the time. Check out the work by John Green and Veronica Roth.

That’s it for our round-up. No way we’re tackling the sub-genres today. Tell me what you think. Have fun and if you’re an Armchair BEA particpant, have a great time.


  • IMAGES & AFFILIATE CREDITS: book covers and titles via affiliate program; Images: Asimov on Throne By Rowena Morrill [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons; Crowd By Ramos Keith, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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