25 Reasons I Fucking Love Genre Fiction

What follows below is the presentation speech I gave at this year’s GenreCon in Brisbane, Australia. I had originally thought to do a 25 list devoted to what I see as problems in genre fiction from the authorial perspective — but I was taken by the sheer love of All Things Genre at the conference and decided instead to be a fountain, not a drain, and talk about all the things that genre fiction does well.

It seemed to go over well in the room — then again, the room featured alcohol, so I probably could’ve slurred my way through a Neil Diamond song and done all right. Just the same, here’s the list of 25 — edited just slightly in places to make it more blog-palatable.

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So, here’s the thing — I got to Australia on Thursday after 24 total hours of travel, including one 16-hour direct flight from Dallas to Brisbane — and then, ignoring every caveat and whispered warning I got drunk last night and ended up doing karaoke with a cabal of you fine upstanding citizens. And yet, I’m feeling pretty good? I think maybe my hangover and my jet lag had a fight this morning inside my soul and obliterated one another? Whatever.

Just the same, it’s worth mentioning that at any point I could fall asleep right here during my speech and if I do, I’ll politely ask that you just quietly go on with your banquet and leave me be. It’s also possible that I’m so mentally broken right now that I’m up in my room giving this speech to an audience of half-eaten biscuits and crumpled tissues.

I should also make note that this speech will contain words that are considered by many to be quite vulgar — so, if that bothers you, please be advised that the safe word is KOOKABURRA.

Now — I’m told that many folks were hoping I’d do a list of 25 things as I do quite frequently at my blog, terribleminds — but I’ll have you know I won’t be pinned down by your fascist expectations of me OKAY THANK YOU.

Now! I’ve prepared for you this evening a very special list of…

Ahem, 25 things…

SHUT UP QUIT LOOKING AT ME.

So now I give you:

25 REASONS I FUCKING LOVE GENRE FICTION

(Which is not the same thing as 25 REASONS I LOVE FUCKING GENRE FICTION, as that paints a rather unsavory picture.)

1. VAMPIRES

Mean vampires! Sweet vampires! Surly vampires! Vampires who glitter. Vampires who only glitter when they’ve killed and eaten a stripper. Romancey vampires. Vampires that look like Willem Dafoe on chemotherapy. Vampires who hate werewolves. Vampires who fuck werewolves. Vampires who hatefuck werewolves! Any flavor of vampire you want: genre fiction can accommodate.

2. ROBOTS

Do I even need to say more than just “robots?” WELL WHO CARES ‘CAUSE I’M GONNA. Robots that look like people! Robots that love people. Robots that want to eradicate the fleshy meat-sacks called “people.” Robots that are artificially intelligent! Hive-mind robots! Robots trained to kill. Robots that empty litter boxes. Sad robots. Happy robots. Space robots. Domo arigato, Mister Roboto.

3. SEX

Sexy sex! Unsexy sex. Awkward sex. Weird sex. Kinky sex! Bondage. Spanking. Riding crops. Kissy kissy. Touchie touchie. Turgid and tumescent! Okay, maybe not so much that last one. Point is: genre isn’t afraid of love! Of romance! Of all the sex that comes with it!

4. ALL OF THE ABOVE, AND THEN SOME

What I’m trying to say is, with genre, you can have it all. Robots making sweet love to vampires? Done and done! And it doesn’t have to stop there. Ladle in a couple unicorns, a spaceship or three, a handful of Greek Gods, a crime scene photographer, a serial killer, a dominatrix, a steampunk wombat, AND BY GOLLY YOU’VE GOT YOURSELF A STORY.

5. GO ANYWHERE, DO ANYTHING

Genre fiction takes us to places and lets us experience things that are built out of — to borrow a phrase from Willy Wonka — “pure imagination.” We can ride on the backs of dragons, solve a squicky homicide with a grumpy detective, navigate the moaning, shambling corpse-stench apocalypse of zombies, partake in the pleasures of a lunar brothel (be sure to get checked for MOON SYPHILIS because for reals that’s a bad one). Genre fiction ensures that no realm or time period is closed to us.

6. IT TAKES US AWAY FROM OUR ORDINARY LIVES

Genre fiction lets us buy the ticket and take a ride away from our own lives. Hey, listen, sometimes? Life will punch you right in the Chicken Twisties — it’ll kick you square in the Tim-Tams. See? Local references, Australia! Now I am one of you! Ahem. What was I saying? Ah, yes. Jobs and laundry and paying bills and commuting to work and all the mundane rigors of an average life can be mitigated by opening the magical mystery box that is a book of genre fiction.

7. WHAT I MEAN IS, IT AIN’T LITERARY FICTION

Oh, I’m not knocking literary fiction — stories across the whole range of human experience have value. But sometimes you want to read fewer books about intellectual ennui and MORE books about SEXY STEAMPUNK WOMBATS.

8. BUT IT CAN DAMN SURE BE AS LITERARY AS WE WANT IT TO BE

Uh, hello, China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Connie Willis? Genre fiction can bring the literary cred. Our work can resonate with powerful themes, with lyricism and rhythm, with complex characters, and have just as much Narcissistic navel-gazing as those other guys, goddamnit.

9. THE TRUTH ABOUT LITERARY FICTION AND GENRE FICTION

Oh, hey, dirty publishing secret: that literary book that won all the awards? Yeah, it probably didn’t sell that many copies, and was paid for on the backs of all the genre releases that came before it. That’s right — literary fiction is subsidized by the strong sales of, drum roll please, genre releases. BOOM. I think this is where I’m supposed to drop the mic, but I don’t actually have a mic, because this is a blog post translating a speech where I did have a mic, but it was totally attached to the podium. Making this all very awkward.

10. GENRE CAN BE THE OPPOSITE OF ESCAPIST, TOO

We think that genre is taking us away — to far-flung castles and distant nebulae — but often it’s really taking us home. These books of great imagination are the elaborate shadows cast on the walls by the lives and the people and the things we already know.

11. BECAUSE GENRE FICTION OFFERS FANTASTIC LIES THAT SPEAK COMMON TRUTHS

All fiction is of course a lie — but genre fiction turns up the volume on those lies all the way to 11. But those lies are themselves a lie — the fiction itself a fiction, because all these crazy things we’re making up are here to deliver ideas and arguments and themes that speak to real things. The troubles of galactic colonists are really our troubles. The love triangles of star-crossed characters really speak to our own fears and desires about love. Genre traps the real inside the unreal, like a mosquito trapped in beautiful amber, or like a unicorn inside of a piano crate that I will sell to poachers for its delicious unicorn meat to feed my family DON’T JUDGE ME MY TODDLER NEEDS DIAPERS AND DADDY NEEDS WHISKEY.

12. GENRE FICTION CAN SAY THINGS ABOUT OUR WORLD

The Hunger Games is really telling us about what war does to children. Some say that Dune shows us an allegory about the Middle East. My own book, Under the Empyrean Sky, delivers an adventure story in a dystopian cornpunk future ravaged by bloodthirsty corn, climate change, and rampant wealth disparity — oh, what you didn’t think I wasn’t going to plug my own books, did you? Pssh. Whatever. I blackened my shame sensors with the heel of a boot a long time ago (as I think many writers have). So get used to it.

13. GENRE FICTION CAN SAY THINGS ABOUT US

Zombie apocalypse stories present a cynical view of man as his own worst enemy; stories of sex and romance telegraph our secretmost desires and fantasies; crime fiction often shines a light into the darkest corners of our own souls. Genre fiction is a circus funhouse mirror — we look and we see the warped vision of vengeful angels and roguish pirates, of cyborg brides and seductive steampunk wombats — but what we’re really seeing is ourselves looking back, clad as cosplayers and costumers wearing outfits that do not hide who we are but rather, accentuate and reveal. (The night of this speech, by the way, I masqueraded as someone who was not a writer — meaning, I wore pants.)

14. SUBVERSIVE SOCIAL POWER

Do not neglect to embrace the subversive social power of genre fiction — books of various genres can carry powerful messages about women, about people of color, about the unfortunate supremacy of heteronormative white dudes living on Heteronormative White Dude Mountain. I might suggest that as a cultural object, some genre works are best when they take the form of a big-ass hammer to destroy those walls and barriers that hold us back as human beings.

15. GENRE CAN HELP CHANGE THE WORLD

Lev Grossman calls genre fiction “disruptive technology” — and that makes sense. I mean, jeez. Scientists actually read science-fiction! Here’s a brief story — my writing partner and I had a short film called PANDEMIC out at Sundance in 2011, and we crafted around that a rather large transmedia experience that simulated this supernatural pandemic day by day throughout the festival. And we had scientists from around the world make use of the data that came out of that experience in order to help show how pandemics — real ones, not ones with monsters running around — spread.

16. BECAUSE GENRE CAN HELP CHANGE US

I feel changed every time I read a great genre novel. I feel challenged and energized like I’ve just had a hard hit of creative and intellectual caffeine — genre fiction forces us to take a long look at some really big ideas, man: love and sex, the past and the future, life and death, something-something steampunk wombats. Man, you guys, can we just talk about how adorable wombats are? Like, for real? As an American, I assume all Australians just have wombats hanging around their houses and I am so angry they won’t let me have one.

17. BECAUSE GENRE FICTION MADE ME WANT TO BE A WRITER

I remember reading the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander while sitting on the beach and being transported away from the sand and the sea to this fantastical place and I was so moved by moments within those mythic stories that I have since wanted to be a writer — a fierce need only increased by the great authors I read and love: Robin Hobb, Robert McCammon, Joe Lansdale, Bradley Denton — and since then I’ve been rejecting the beach and the sea and the sand and the sun to hide in my penmonkey cave ever since. (Which probably explains why we’re I’m butt-white and pasty. But hey, I got color in Australia! The kind of color where my forehead looked like a boiled lobster and has been shedding its flesh for the last two days. CURSE YOU OZZIE DAYSTAR. This is why I stay inside and read books and stuff.)

18. BECAUSE GENRE FICTION HAS TAUGHT ME THINGS

Every time I read or write a book I learn so many new things! I learn new words and new ideas. I learn about the insidiousness of corn. I learn about the Sandhogs of Manhattan and how these unsung union men keep the whole of the city running by working in the labyrinths beneath the city. I learn about death and dinosaurs and guns and girl-gangs. Fuck write-what-you-know — genre fiction proves we can always know more.

19. BECAUSE THERE EXIST RULES FOR WHEN YOU NEED ‘EM…

Genre has conventions. Rules. Tropes! To keep our plots and characters straight. To weave our stories into shared tapestries. But…

20. THOSE RULES CAN FUCK RIGHT OFF WHEN THEY GET IN THE WAY

Hey, don’t like those rules? We can toss ‘em out in the motherfucking cold. We write the rules: never forget that.

21. ALL THE LITTLE TINY ITTY BITTY BABY SUBGENRES

So many adorable little subgenres! Dystopian science-fiction! Time-travel romance! Zombie apocalypse! Steampunk! Dieselpunk! Cyberpunk! Cipherpunk! Bugpunk! Cornpunk! Punkpunk! BDSM New Adult Vampire Psychological Apocalyptic Space Opera Eroticapunk! They’re like Pokemon: I want to collect them all and trade them with my friends.

22. SO EASY TO READ BEYOND YOUR COMFORT ZONE

As writers, we don’t want to get trapped in that human centipede of genre regurgitation — where we continue to ingest and crap out the same stories again and again, gulping down throatfuls of the same genres by the same authors. Genre fiction is best when it’s a series of rabbit holes we keep falling down — from fantasy to dark fantasy to paranormal romance to horror, and on and on, across books and authors and into those little subgenres I was just talking about — a veritable buffet table of influences and ideas. (It occurs to me now that referencing human centipede crap-guzzling and then ending with buffet table does not make for appetizing idea-making, but it’s too late now why didn’t anyone stop me?)

23. GENRE DOESN’T OWN US; WE OWN GENRE

For some authors, genre is a brand the way that the flesh-charred marking on a cow’s hide is a brand — it’s a symbol of ownership, thought to keep the herd mooing in their bovine enclosures. But genre is no mere marketing category. Not to us. Genre is possibility — the chance to invent and explore, the opportunity to imagine and destroy. Genre isn’t our brand — our voice is our brand. Our ideas and our arguments are our brand. Stephen King isn’t a horror writer. He’s fucking Stephen King! J.K. Rowling isn’t a writer of children’s fiction: Harry Potter is only a portion of who she is. Genre for us is a world without borders. Genre is not the prison; genre is the key to the prison door.

24. BECAUSE GENRE WRITERS TEND TO BE VERY LOVELY PEOPLE

Seriously! You are! I don’t know what it is, but I think you all vent your spleens and purge your toxins in all these crazy books you write, because genre writers are frequently the kindest, most generous, most welcoming community I’ve ever had the pleasure of engaging with. Oh, and did I mention the SEXIEST, TOO? HEYYYYYYY. *bats eyelashes, makes kissy noises* (Yes, yes, I know a certain subset of the genre world is full of puerile prejudiced fuckhats, but I’m going to cleave toward optimism and suggest that those jerknuts are a very loud and cranky minority, not representative of the larger whole.)

25. BECAUSE GENRE WRITERS ARE *MY* PEOPLE

You are my people and I was incredibly thankful to be invited to Australia to give this speech, where all the fine feathered folks made me feel like the luckiest writer-boy in the whole wide world. And thanks too to all you readers here at terribleminds who share your love of writing and genre fiction with me on the daily. You guys rock. Now let’s make out.

*lurches toward you, mouth open*

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32 comments

    • Haha, my “accent.” Haven’t you heard? Americans don’t have an accent! Particularly Americans who live exactly where I live, in the MidAtlantic region. In my house in particular. NO ACCENT IN THIS HOUSE.

      Well. One of the dogs has an accent. Just the one.

      ;)

      — c.

  • This has so many wonderful soundbites I can use whenever someone asks why I don’t write “something else.” And I will NOT give them a safe word. Thanks for sharing the speech! You can keep the jet lag and the karaoke.

  • Thank you Chuck. You made me love being a genre writer again. And wombats. (My son has a triop – interesting, but not even close to a wombat in terms of cuteness.)

    You have inspired me to get down to some serious graft on my w-i-p again (as opposed to just re-outlining and re-researching and re-stalling actually re-WRITING any of the damn thing.) I am in your debt. And so… IN YOUR FACE, WRITER’S BLOCK, ‘COS I’M COMIN’ TO GET YA!!

  • In a writing forum I’m on, in the middle of a discussion that was “making fun” of genre fiction, I came right out and said “I write genre fiction, I like to read it and I will make no apologies for it”. Us genre fiction writers are made to feel like the bottom feeders of writing, that it’s somehow less because it’s so mass produced. Well, it’s mass produced for a reason. More people like to read it. So there.

  • This has quickly become on of my favourite websites for inhaling some wicked writing encouragement! Thank you for sharing your passion for genre fiction. It’s contagious! And much needed as I prep for NaNoWrimo. Imagination unleashed. Rabid like an outbreak wombat. Time to claw at the keyboard.

  • October 22, 2013 at 9:23 AM // Reply

    Thank you Chuck. You’ve started my day with a smile, not the most straightforward of tasks. Now where’s my wombat?

  • This is great news since I am polishing thirty pages of my paranormal thriller for an agent. It gives me hope even if its just a tiny glimmer…You’re right. I’ve learned a ton and even went to France to make sure my story’s setting made sense.
    But Chuck, I would try to take a nap since I think you meant to use exclamation points instead of question marks in your intro.
    Can’t wait to hear you speak at Pike’s Peak!

  • Wombat poop is cubed
    I just thought you should know
    (I mean I could gush about how much I like this post, how much it made me laugh and how I am currently in a genre pokebattle with my friend but you know that! How could you not? ALL HAIL CHUCK THE GREAT WRITER GOD! Now I think there’s a class or something I’m supposed to be paying attention to)

  • Now I feel bad that I didn’t remind you to read (re-read?) “On The Beach” before you headed Down Under. One the best ever genre/science fiction novels ever. Or is it OzPunk?

    Anyway – great stuff, Chuck.

  • You are honestly one of my favourite writers/people/carbon life forms on this sluggishly spinning mudball of a planet. I’m aiming to be a writer when I get older and am on my way to go and order your brilliant books. Love you, bye! *grabs hat and coat in 50s television-like manner in sepia tones*

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