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A Genre Hack?

I must confess, I’m a so-called genre hack.

Definition of GENRE
1: a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular STYLE, form, or content

A lot of writers–probably many more than readers!–look down their noses at genre endeavors. “It’s all the same,” they’ll say. “They don’t challenge me intellectually.” “Only hacks write genre; literary fiction is so much more formidable, and takes real talent.”

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Back in my senior year of high school, I finally moved to a town where creative writing was on the syllabus. I’d already tried my hand at writing by then, and knew this was something I wanted to pursue. But the high school I went to in Ohio (Copley High School, for those who must know) didn’t have such offerings. The closest thing they had as a journalism class, which I took and enjoyed, but it did very little for me creatively. So I was thrilled to finally land in a school that had writing classes, real writing classes, where we the student body could write our own stuff, as opposed to reading the anointed “classics” and the like.

I took two classes, one in the fall semester, the second in the spring semester. The first class was run by Joe Ball, the sort of late 1970s teacher who favored corderouy jackets with the elbow patches, jeans, casual shoes, and of course, the always scholarly accoutrement in those non-PC days, a pipe. Joe would sit behind his desk at the front of the class, behind his pipe and behind his mustache, and would listen to us as we read our stories aloud. (Think you’ve written a real winner? Take it from me, when you read it out loud in a room full of strangers, it will invariably suck.) Not only did reading the pieces aloud go toward making the stories better if they were ever rewritten, it was a great way to get a sense of how good your “competition” was. And as I say this, I am trying to contain my ego: there was only one person in that class who was a better at writing than I was.

And this person wrote “literary” fiction. Joe Ball adored literary fiction. I was referred to as “science fiction corner” because, yep, I was riding the SF wave back then. Joe didn’t outright deride my chosen genre, but he absolutely favored the offerings of lesser-capable students, lauding them for “daring to take risks” and the like. He noted that my output was polished; yet the momentary elation was dashed when he added, “If you ever get published, I’ll certainly read a free copy.”

The second teacher was another Joe, Joe Lieberman. This Joe was a middle-aged denizen of New York City, a fellow who commuted from the Big Apple to Connecticut every day. Lieberman was an odd cat, eccentric to a degree, but much more approachable than his counterpart, Mr. Ball. But Lieberman hated genre offerings as well, especially science fiction. “It’s all the same, with ray guns and space ships!”

But Lieberman did rate my work quite well, at the end of the year; “as professional as the professionals,” he wrote on my final. And unlike his peer earlier in the year, he didn’t qualify that assessment. So I’ll consider that a win for the genre camp.

But really. The most famous authors today are genre guys. Stephen King. Dean Koontz. John Grisham. Stephanie Meyer. J.K. Rowling. Even (dare I write his name, as writers across the world revile him so) James Patterson is a genre guy, and without a doubt one of the most successful.

But if you don’t write the next Kite Runner or Memoirs of a Geisha, both of which were amazing books, then its almost like you’re… what? A failure? A pretender? An also-ran?

A hack?

Well then. A hack I am, and damned proud of it.

Categories: Writing
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