Friday, February 05, 2016

Genre Fiction

When I was a folksinger, I read that Woody Guthrie had written 3,000 songs, and I remember not being that impressed.  I was writing about a song a week at that point, sometimes three or four, and I figured that if I weren't going to school and were just riding around and singing here and there, plus hanging out with other folksingers who would give me ideas, and multiplying that over forty years, no big deal.  Because there's a knack, and it didn't seem to me to be a high skill.  Most of the songs wouldn't be that good, but they might be acceptable, and a few would be memorable.

I thought same applied to commercial folk-rock and to country music.  There was just this knack, and it took a while to get into it clearly, but then you could just crank them out, much as Tin Pan Alley, or the 60's pop writers like Carole King and Neil Sedaka had done. (Fun trivia: "Everybody Loves a Clown" was written by Leon Russell.) In retrospect, I think I might have manged it with folk-rock, though I now doubt even that.  My few attempts at country songs illustrate that I did not really understand that genre, only the stereotype of the genre. My stars, those songs are terrible, and there is only one I can bear to listen to even a part of now.*

The problem was, I was trying to elevate the genres I aspired to, not work within them.  That seldom works. You must have love for a genre that you expect to crank out a career from.  You might eventually hate that genre and yourself, but you have to love it first.

My children grew up on Bible or other Sunday School skits that my wife and I had written.  Not great literature, but there's a knack, and really, we could have churned them out like candy if we had to make our living by it somehow.  We did mean to elevate the genre - Lord knows it needs elevating - but no so far as to remake it, to write the One Great Bible Skit that transformed.  We just wanted them to get the point across clearly, borrowing from the techniques we knew from much reading.  Perhaps we should have done more.

I aspired to be a writer of fiction in those years as well, but even though I loved 2.5 genres - mystery, fantasy, and sci-fi/speculative - I considered myself above mere genre fiction writing.  I now wonder if it is truer that I could not rise to that level.  I thought of myself as a true descendant of Tolkien, Lewis, and Alexander; or Chesterton, Christie, Sayers, expected to put up something at least vaguely comparable, though I might not hope to match them.  A career of half-a-dozen sword and sorcery potboilers that were out of print a few years later was not for one such as I.

Without changing my attitude about that, it is doubtful I could have done it, even with practice.  I wonder now whether that would have been a better choice, if I could have remade myself well enough to write like that. The timing would have been right, as I would have been developing my craft just as the market was growing to its peak.

I still can churn out a song or a skit if you need it. Though neither of my sons engage in that, I'm betting they could do so as well, because it was in the air of their whole childhood, far more than mine.  Genre fiction would quite possibly be in their grasp as well.

Yet perhaps not. There needs to be not only skill, but personality type, desire, and love of the genre.

*The chorus of "Shot a Lawman Down," which long predated "I Shot The Sheriff," wasn't half bad. Sort of an Eagles/Pure Prairie League thing.  Early country-rock.


james said...

To love is to understand?

james said...

(although not necessarily approve)