Kath here. Please welcome Kim Wright to WU today. Kim has been writing about travel, food, and wine for more than 25 years and is a two-time recipient of the Lowell Thomas Award. Her debut novel, LOVE IN MID AIR, has recieved critical praise. It also blends genres in a way that is becoming increasing common in today’s publishing scene. We were intrigued by Kim’s experiences navigating the divide between commerical and literary fiction, and we invited her to share her experiences with our community. Take it away, Kim!
About four decades ago, I was in an eighth grade talent show and decided – for reasons which memory does not render entirely clear – to favor the crowd with my rendition of the Cher classic “Half-Breed.” The song was an eerily accurate prediction of my future career as a writer. Because now, all grown up and having somehow managed to have passed Cher in age, I find myself straddling the divide between literary and commercial writing.
My first novel, Love in Mid Air, was presented as a literary book with commercial elements. Perfect for book clubs. Lotsa sex. Readable. Kind of “literary lite.” The book I’m working now is also a bit of a hybrid, this time predominantly commercial with literary elements. It’s a mystery about Jack the Ripper, the formation of the first forensics team at Scotland Yard, and – theme alert! – the split between the Victorian and modern mind.
Navigating the space between genres is always tricky because people in publishing believe that the market wants clearly-defined books, all niched out and aimed at a specific demographic. When you tell them your book is both literary and commercial they look at you funny, as if you’ve just publically confessed that it’s neither. And if you can’t be quickly categorized, you may pay the price. Last week I was hit with a double whammy – I narrowly missed being on a recommended book club list because Love in Mid Air was criticized for “forcing the reader to think, perhaps too much. “ Two days later I got news I didn’t make it off the short list an arts council grant because one of the judges deemed the same book to be “almost chick lit.”
As Cher so aptly put it, sometimes it seems like both sides were against me from the day I was born.
So why do I continue to blend genre? Two reasons. I like these kind of books, like not having to make that ridiculous choice between plot- and character-driven prose. And also….I think this is where the future of writing is headed.
It’s no secret that publishing, to put it in the most polite possible terms, is in transition and no one knows what the ultimate shakeout will be. Literary fiction was a tough sell even in kinder markets and in these unkind times has fallen almost completely off the grid. Writers and agents who want to survive are turning to more commercial projects. And commercial writers are moving out of the narrowly-defined halls of genre to create works that transcend easy definition. The lines have already blurred, it’s just that the system hasn’t yet caught up with the fact. And it’s likely that some of these books will have the hearty resiliency of all half-breeds, showing both the thoughtfulness of literature and muscular energy of commercial writing.
Want to check out how Kim fuses the two genres? Love in Mid Air is available now at all retail outlets.