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A trip to the bookstore and blatherings about genre

Saturday afternoon I bounded from my car and to my local Borders with my $5 Borders Bucks print-out folded semi-neatly in my purse. I always have a sense of when joy purchasing a new mass market paperback for a total of $2–3 and change.

A sign in the window drew my attention just as I was about to pass through the entryway: Bargain Books $1.

Well, thought I, I’m not likely to find anything I’d want for just $1, but it never hurts to lo– Zadie Smith! On Beauty! In hardback! SCORE!

There were several copies remaining, so I snagged one with death grip–no one, but no one, would wrest my copy of On Beauty from me should they be overcome with the awesomeness of the $1 price, so much so that they were unwilling to head over to the entryway to procure their own copy from the remaining five or so. Which would surely depart the shelves quickly, because it’s Zadie Smith for $1. One freaking dollar.

As a prepublished writer, perhaps I should have winced a bit at poor Zadie losing out quite a bit on her royalties, but honestly it never occurred to me. Clearly I’ll have to reorganize my reader vs. writer priorities.

Nevertheless, I headed into the store and back toward the SF/Fantasy section with a certain bounce in my step. The soundtrack of my life, if anyone could hear it but me, would have been playing a jouncy tune à la a 1960s comedy starring Doris Day.

I think. It’s been awhile since I watched AMC.

Anyway, I navigated myself to the A’s of SF/Fantasy. I did think I wanted to get that book about werewolves and/or vampires in WWII England, but it never hurt to browse, did it, just in case I changed my mind.

I glanced at Kelley Armstrong and Keri Arthur, neither of whom I’ve yet read. After scanning a couple of their books, I realized I’d forgotten my tradition of heading over to the H’s to see where my book will be placed upon publication, which is what I’ve taken to doing every time I head into a brick and mortar bookstore. Positive mental conditioning, you know. So I strolled over to the H’s, pausing to note how Charlaine Harris took up a whole case plus a shelf and a half, found my spot snug between Hendee and someone whose name now escapes me, and glanced at Faith Hunter’s books. Oh yeah, been meaning to try her, too.

But after some dithering, I still went for the vampires in WWII England.

Then, still clutching my $1 Zadie and my going-to-be$2-and-change-with-my-Borders-Bucks vamps in England, I set out for the cash registers, pausing to look at the various display tables.

“That’s a wonderful price on the Zadie Smith, isn’t it?” I looked up from my book browsing to see a Borders employee with a shaved head smiling at me. I smiled back.

“Oh yes, it is!”

“I was kind of upset to see the price go down like that–I mean, I could’ve gotten it pretty cheap if I’d waited!” Chuckle, chuckle.

“Mm-hmm.”

But I also wondered if I was being judged for purchasing my vampires in WWII England book as well. And I wondered that again when my cashier also commented on my fabulous Zadie Smith deal.

I like Zadie Smith. I’ve read The Autograph Man and White Teeth. She’s a funny writer with a deft, and I mean deft, hand for characterization. She’s good. And I was an English major; I do appreciate good literature. I just also happen to think that urban fantasy can be good, too.

Which brings me, more than 600 words into this post (maybe I should work on shortening my anecdotes) to the reason of why I don’t write stuff that will be shelved in the Fiction & Literature section of my local borders. Why it’s Charlaine Harris I pass when seeing who my book neighbors will be, rather than Thomas Hardy or Alex Haley.

And I don’t know. I can say that escapism is part of it, and it is, I suppose. Or maybe it’s because I thrived on fairy tales and myths when growing up. My bedroom sported unicorn wallpaper, for the love of God. And I don’t know where my mom found them, but for a couple of years my calendars unicorn calendars. Not drawings, mind you, but photographs of white horses that had had horns attached to their heads. These calendars engendered talks with my mom about how “unicorns aren’t really real, you know. Someone just glued horns to those horses’ heads.”

Yes, I knew. But I loved those calendars all the same. And the first story I clearly remember writing featured a unicorn. I don’t write about unicorns now, but maybe fantasy is just ingrained in me.

Others more eloquent than I have written on fantasy’s worth, and I don’t feel compelled to defend the genre, as it were. I will say that character is paramount for me. If I can’t get on the character’s side or believe the character’s actions, then I’m done. And since much of genre literature (forgetting for the moment that “fiction and literature” is itself a genre) is plot-based, it’s perhaps not uncommon for characterization to fall by the wayside.

But I also don’t go for pretty language at the expense of character. And that’s where much “literary fiction” loses my interest.

I don’t have much point with this post, other than to note I don’t like that I still cringe a little at not going the literary erudite route. But what does it matter, really? I like to write. I like to tell stories. And every story, I think, is an escape from something.

So yes. I am an escapist.

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