In Defense of Genre Fiction

Dee Richards
5 min readFeb 6, 2024

“I believe in the power of fiction…” was how I started my 2022–2023 MFA statements of purpose. There was really no follow-up, so even if anyone had gotten to my SOPs, it would have turned out pretty bad anyway. What I mean to say, though, is that I believe in the power of fiction to reach the unreachable. bell hooks said, in “Theory As Liberatory Practice” that “any theory that cannot be shared in everyday conversation cannot be used to educate the public.” When I read this phrase, I exclaimed (maybe aloud, maybe in my mind): “You explained my thinking to me!” The true power of genre fiction lies is not only for the interested to build bridges to the marginalized, but, more importantly, to create a bridge where one would otherwise not exist.

My application materials last application cycle, I quipped with my partner, were not for the male gaze. To be fair, my aggressively crude, surreal, feminist themes tend to be a little unpalatable to those who are still enmeshed in patriarchal, neurotypical, and/or otherwise colonized mindsets. In Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses the argument is made that “(We) are regularly told to know the rules before (we) can break them. (We) are rarely told that these rules are more than just craft… (or) that rules are always cultural. The spread of craft starts to feel and work like colonization.” I love that point! However, many are not ready for it. My work not being for the male gaze means that I had not yet, at that time, colonized my thinking enough to adequately share the value of my ideas through writing within the standard. I’m working on it, but boy does it suck.

Imagine, if you would, a place where I write like Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway — a true fever dream of consciousness at all moments. I might say, in my authorial voice, “I cupped his skull in my hand, examining the eye socket. I wondered if a golf ball would fit in it. When I realized it wouldn’t, I thought a snake would suffice.” I know, because of my education, that this would be poo-pooed in workshop. Why am I holding a man’s skull? What about the eye socket? What symbolism is the golf ball and how is it reinforced in other parts of the text? Isn’t a snake a little obvious? I’ve been in many a workshop. But the point, for me, isn’t describing these things or their relevance because, to me, they seem fairly obvious and multi-layered at the same time. The trick of learning to write isn’t about learning to do it at all, it is about what Salesses describes as “colonizing the writer’s mind” to make the writing standardized for a white, neurotypical, cisgender, straight male. Or, in my case, my feminist references must be white, neurotypical, cisgender feminism that tips its hat to lesbianism. That won’t do for me, thanks.

Literary fiction relies HEAVILY on these standards and is, unfortunately, the most respected form of fiction in the literary world. Genre fiction writers tend to feel a little underappreciated in the serious writing community. Literary fiction is what drives many (if not most) MFA programs. I wrote a story about a bisexual magic flower murder-orgy that I really love, but I did not include in a single MFA submission because it is 100% magical surrealism. Sadly, being neurodiverse, I actually can’t write literary fiction in the way that makes sense to a standard since my “standard” is already naturally in defiance of those lauded by the literary community. As a gender-queer, neurodiverse bisexual, where do I fit into a colonized writing craft standard? (I’ll let you know if I get into any programs)

I’ve heard many people refer to YA as a place for the divergent among us. I do not write YA, but I love that idea. It is very difficult to be queer when writing in an implied heterosexual tradition, neurodiverse in an implied neurotypical tradition. Doing so takes a lot of work and a very large amount of feeling inadequate — hence my shying away from writing for 20 years. As we often do out of necessity, the non-standard people found a place to call their own: YA and, to a different degree, fan fic. I can think of no MFA program that specifies a preference toward YA or fan fic, and it is for the reasons described above. Much of current genre fiction also finds its way into the non-standard model. Think about the Hunger Games series, the Divergent series, and the (cringe) Harry Potter series. All of these are genre fiction, and all are listed as YA. Sure, there are genre series that are not YA, but if you really look you’ll probably see that the majority of writers in these series tend to already be of the standard, and much more likely to write within it. All of the YA series I’ve mentioned are written by women.

Genre fiction holds the true power of fiction. Largely, it is the exception to the standards, not part of them. Thus, the writers of genre fiction have already been marginalized in some way, if by nothing more than what they write. Still, all aforementioned series have garnered fans in the millions. Why? Hunger Games is about challenging systems of oppression. Divergent deals with being outside of understood definitions of societal expectation. Harry Potter is, largely, about queer care structures (despite the absolutely batshit anti-LGBTQ+ jargon spewed by its corrupted writer). These genre fictions are challenging the very things which hold the standard together. They are made exciting. Genre fiction’s unrelatability is the exact reason that it connects people. The power of genre fiction is to welcome everyone. I don’t just mean people like me (progressive, queer, neurodiverse, gender differing, etc.). I mean literally everyone can have access to these characters, which is something that the subjective cultural experience in literary fiction does not have. You can have an everyday conversation across political divides when you’re talking about (for example) Lord Angrec of the Face Battalion and his corruption of the Filler Hoards. Like Rowling, you don’t even know what or who you’re communicating with, or how it’s being perceived and interpreted. So, you’ve fooled yourself into accepting things outside of your imposed norm. THAT is the power of genre fiction.

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Dee Richards

Dee is a neurodiverse writer from San Diego, with 3 awards in CNF & 9 short-form pubs. Subjects: feminism, identity theory, surrealism, horror, media analysis.