I read a lot. A. Lot. Back before Goodreads, I used to have a list of every book I owned. It was single spaced, and it was over 60 pages long. The list was saved on my computer, and I updated it religiously. The books were arranged by category: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, literary criticism, history, etc. However, it was not categorized by genre. Mostly because, at the time, I was in college, and I was an English major, and (if I am being totally honest) I was a total book snob. I didn’t really own any books that didn’t fit into the literary canon (whatever that has come to mean). Yep, I was one of those people.
Flash forward about twenty years, and everything has changed. Well, most everything. I no longer have my wonderful list (I miss it at times, but seriously–I have three kids. Who has the time–or energy–to maintain it?!). In the intervening years, my library has swelled and, faced with several moves over the years, then it was pruned. (The horror!)
Speaking of horror. Apparently I write it. Well, that and Southern Gothic. I didn’t really give up on the idea of the Great American Novel…I just grew to realize that I liked telling a good story. It may never end up in the classics section at Barnes & Nobel, but the stories are mine; they are stories that speak to me and which will hopefully speak to others.
My collection of books reflect the changes I have undergone in the past twenty years. I have made room for dystopian/YA (hello, Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth!), for fantasy (J.K. Rowling), and for some books that can’t be easily classified (Neil Gaiman and Ransom Riggs). I have grown as a reader.
Don’t get me wrong–I still like poetry and the classics. In fact, I was fortunate enough to read a wonderful submission by a writer named Eleanor Fogolin. You might not have heard of her yet…but you will. She submitted a poem to Drunken Muse Press, which I co-edit. The poem is quiet and haunting and makes you sit up and take notice.
I had a writing professor once, Teresa Miller. She once wrote at the top of a story of mine that it had passed her “Envy Test.” Apparently she knew that writing was “good” when she read something and immediately wished she had written it. Eleanor’s poem passes my Envy Test. It is called Eve Eats an Apple in the Byward Market. You should check it out. Pass it on to a friend. Print it for your “inspiration board.”
Stumbling across her poem made me happy. I like it when I find writing that speaks to me. It helps me want to write better, to find my own voice, to share my own stories. It makes the genre shame sting a little less. It makes me want to own up to what I write.
When someone asks me what I write, I should simply tell them, “Hopefully I write good stories that make people think” and leave it at that. Because a story, no matter what category you try to squash it into, really just needs to be, well, good.