The case for genre
BY ADRIANA BARKER
Hello everyone! I have to admit something: this was the first Opus blog post where I had no idea what I was going to write about. My earlier posts are soapboxes I was already fired up about and knew I was going to write, but after I exhausted my main topics, I didn’t know what to say. So I did what any college student with a deadline would reasonably do—I procrastinated. But in my procrastination, I remembered something small that had been discussed at a few Opus meetings. Genre.
The old genre fiction vs. literary fiction debate. You merely have to type “genre fiction vs. literary fiction” into your Google search and hit enter to find dozens of articles praising one over the other, or telling you stories of two authors battling it out in the pages of different magazines as they argued for the superior category (Arthur Krystal vs. Lev Grossman, for example). After you read through the articles explaining this battle, you will come to understand that genre fiction is typically seen as entertaining but without significance and meaning; literary fiction is called pretentious and boring by its detractors. After you feel you have a good understanding of the battle, you will then find the many articles telling you why the two really aren’t that different after all, and the two should learn lessons from each other. If you were preparing to write a blog post defending one over the other, you might read these articles and feel a little silly about your original idea. Hm. That’s me.
So maybe the topic is a little more complicated than either-or, which is why I will take the stance of a creative writing major, stuck in classes learning about literary fiction, who just wants to steal all of the good stuff she loves from genre fiction and put it in the “literary fiction” she writes for class. Because here’s my deal: I love horror novels. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I found it comforting to read stories about people whose lives were at least a hundred times worse than mine. Sure, I got sent home from a school I love. But am I living in fear of a giant clown who hates me and is trying to kill me and my friends? No? Amazing! Sure, I don’t get to see my grandparents or my friends, or really anyone other than my immediate family. But am I currently living by myself on a spaceship with monsters that can kill me with sound? No! Thank goodness!
My love for horror novels inspired me to do something I had never really seen before: horror poetry. This is where the mixing of genre becomes my new favorite thing. I want to see the tropes of genre worked into “literary” forms in cool ways. I want to write horror poetry (and I have; my poem “phobia pantoum” made it into this semester’s Opus), but I also want to see people writing incredibly creative genre-blended work. Can you distill what is best about a whodunit novel into a poem or flash-fiction piece? A sci-fi short story that still gets across a poignant message and teaches us something more about what it means to be human? I would fall over if we had someone submit a short story or poem that took elements of a Western. Or combine genres! A thriller with romance elements as a short story? A dystopian mystery? I would cry!
While some people speak critically about Opus submissions that lean heavily into genre work, I can’t get enough. There is so much power in being able to harness the creativity and entertainment of genre fiction while also wrestling with the typical literary fiction questions of humanity and purpose. I would encourage everyone to dabble in combining their favorite elements of genre fiction with their “serious” creative writing work. I can’t wait to see it as an Opus submission!
Because I can’t help myself, here are a few of my favorite horror novels. Please try one and tell me what you thought!
HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (More emotional than blood-chillingly scary, this book made me cry. 5/10 scary, 10/10 sad)
Feed by Mira Grant (This book is classified as horror, but it’s not horrifying in a blood-and-guts way but a “corruption is everywhere” kind of way. 3/10 scary, 10/10 suspenseful)
Salvation Day by Kali Wallace (Yes, this one’s about a virus, but it takes place in outer space, which ramps up the tension but also makes it less like the world we’re living in. 6/10 scary)
Pitch Dark by Courtney Alameda (Space, again, but this time with monsters that kill with sound. 6/10 scary)
And finally, #MurderTrending by Gretchen McNeil (This is one of the goriest books I have ever read. No kidding. It is shocking. But it is campy in the most amazing way. 10/10 blood-and-guts, 5/10 scary, 10/10 costume design).
About the Author
Hi! I’m Adriana. I am a junior creative writing and communication double major. My hometown is Fort Worth, Texas, so yes, I throw around the words “y’all” and “howdy” like nobody else in the Midwest. I love photography and poetry, and have published both in Opus. Particular interests include abstract painting, horror poetry, and all forms of creative work related to horses.
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