Monday, October 12, 2009

Widening horizons

Advance warning: this post may make no sense, and may ramble. But it's something I've been thinking about lately, so I'm giving it a go.

When I was younger, I lived and breathed fantasy. Of the epic sort, mainly, but also the Redwall series, because of the animals as main characters. Pretty much everything I write in high school (and younger) was epic fantasy or had animal main characters (although the animal thing kinda faded after middle school). Now, there's nothing wrong with that. I knew what I liked, and that's what I read.

But somewhere along the line, I convinced myself that I didn't like contemporary all that much. There are a lot of things that caused this, everything from how boring I found Sweet Valley High to the creative writing class I took in high school, which happened to be populated by all the...let's say offbeat kids. It was like a competition to see who could write the thing that made the least sense, and had the most drug use, sex, and suicide/depression references possible. And I was not (and still am not) into edgy for the sake of being edgy. So this is the image I had of contemporary, and it stuck with me.
For a long.

But then I slowly started to feel like I was limiting myself, only reading fantasy (and a bit of sci fi...and the odd historical fiction). I felt sort of like I was running out of options (which is ridiculous, because I'm still finding great fantasy all the time, like The Shifter which I just finished and LOVED) and I started to feel like I was missing out.

So I started branching out. I took recommendations not just from my Harry Potter loving friends, but from the ones who would die of boredom reading it, too. The first contemporary novel I recall reading and enjoying after that fateful creative writing class cemented my dislike at age sixteen was I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe, recommended by a close friend my junior year of college. The thing we both enjoyed most about it was the fact that it took place at a fictional Ivy League university, and we could picture it being ours.

And since then, especially recently, I've gotten much more open minded about my reading choices, and much better at finding great things to read on my own. (And of course, by recommendation from wise people like my lovely moosers). Most notably, I'd always thought of literary writing as this scary thing that would be too fancy and go over my head or bore me. But then one fateful day (this post is so much more fun if I write it as though it's a tense and exciting story...) I noticed that the super awesome Kirsten Hubbard wanted beta readers, and even though I didn't know her very well at the time, I thought she seemed nice and Like Mandarin sounded interesting, so I volunteered.
And it was literary.
And it was beautiful.
And it didn't go over my head or bore me.

And there went the last of the genres I *feared*. And it's led me to read some pretty spectacular books in the few months since then. I know, it took me pathetically long to figure out that literary wasn't scary. I think I just needed to understand what it was. Because I have to say, once I realized what literary was, I discovered I'd already read it. (I Am Charlotte Simmons, now that I think about it, is definitely very literary. But see, at the time, I just thought the writing was the way it was because the author is an old dude. Which makes me sound ignorant. But this post is basically a giant confession, so there it is. I was kind of ignorant.)

And here's the whole point of all that: although I don't think I'm ready to tackle anything literary myself, having seen the way some of my fellow writers (again, I have to credit my moosers with this) use their words to create the most amazing, vivid images, it's made me more aware of my own word choice. I'm definitely still a work in progress, but I think even in genre fiction, there's absolutely a place for beautiful images (um, beautiful, unpurple images, that is!) and it took me a painfully long time, but I am so aware of it now, and my writing is much better for it.

So, in the moral of this enormous post, branch out. Don't ever limit yourself with ridiculous generalizations about entire genres, and for the love of God, don't let it take you as long as it took me to figure out how much they all can help you, even if you really only write one.

And since I mentioned literary YA...there's an awesome interview with Melina Marchetta, author of Jellicoe Road, posted on YA Highway. Not to mention other awesome posts by amazing ladies who inspire me just as much as (more than?) anyone currently they all will be one day soon.

Just to end what I hope is not too boring and nonsensical of a post on a sentimental and loving note.


Michelle Schusterman said...

Yes, yes, and yes. I feel the same way, honestly. I was pretty limited in what I read in elementary school too. The book that brought me out of Nancy Drew and BSC was Dolores Claiborne, by Stephen King. Changed EVERYTHING.

The most recent book that's had an effect on my writing was Jellicoe. I can't say how exactly, but something has changed since I read that book. For the better. :)

Kirsten Hubbard said...

So unbelievably glad you volunteered on that fateful day :) :) :)
three cheers for for reading diversity, careful crafting, and top-shelf writing buddies.
cheers! *clink*

Kristin Miller said...

This is great. It seems like a happy blog posting day all around. <3 my moosers. I'm so glad we all read LM and buddied up! And I love that you're expanding what you read. There's so much good advice here for readers who limit themselves - and so much good literature out there in all genres. *clink2*

Amanda Hannah said...

Yes! I think becoming more familiar with all genres lately has definitely helped me. What a great post :)