I write juvenile books.
No, not “young adult” or any such respectable label – I mean that I write books with a a kind of immature, callow sensibility.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
Sticking to the genre of my only published fiction novel, cyberpunk, you can see that even the canonical works are pretty juvenile books. I don’t think it’s endemic to the genre or anything – plenty of cyberpunk books have very restrained, adult sensibilities – but even Gibson thinks Neuromancer was a “young man’s” book. Not exactly surprising, since he also calls himself “immature” when he wrote it. He didn’t necessarily mean that as a bad thing, but that’s the way you hear the quote repeated when it’s bandied about by ‘sophisticated’ cyberpunk fans.
That attitude is not particular to cybernetic punks, incidentally.
There’s this strange idea among many readers that only sober and carefully constructed novels can teach us things, or be meaningful to our lives. If a book (or movie, game, album — pretty much anything) is entertaining, then it’s not important. If it’s important, then it’s not entertaining. I’m not sure where this concept of mutual exclusivity came from, but it’s out there. Iain Banks had to write under two different names (even if they were just a single letter apart) to neatly delineate his sci-fi books from his “real” books, lest his somber literary fans accidentally read about space shape-shifting alien spies and have their monocles popped painfully out of their eye sockets.
Comedy, tragedy, life lessons and action scenes aren’t compartmentalized in our daily lives, so why should they be in fiction? Why isn’t every book hilarious, heartbreaking, terrifying and entertaining at the same time? (Well, apart from that it’s really, really hard for one person to do all those things well.) Why do we sort all of our equally viable mental states into separate literary sections? That’s genre segregation. That’s emotional racism.
For example: I know I have a novel in me about a man undergoing a painful, if somewhat amicable divorce. He becomes increasingly convinced that the way to save his relationship is hidden somewhere in his subconscious, so he retreats into dreams, leaving his real relationship to atrophy.
God, isn’t that a fucking bummer?
Nicholas Sparks could write that shit. And this is coming from the guy whose first book had a character named King Big Dick?
Yes, well, hopefully I have a way to pull it off that’s interesting and worthwhile, but I’m not emotionally mature or technically skilled enough as a writer to tackle it yet. And that’s okay, because the book I’m writing right now about punk rockers fighting math monsters is just as important… to the right person. They could read every word of Subconscious Divorce up there and get nothing, but tackle one chapter of Punks Vs. Math and have a line resonate so completely that it changes their life.
Genre fiction isn’t good for just entertainment. I know that sounds obvious, spelled out like that – but so many of even the staunchest genre fans seem unwilling to make that argument. “I just like books that are entertaining,” they’ll say defensively, when the literary fiction bullies corner them in the library with their metaphorical brass knuckles and post-modernist billy clubs. The implication being that entertainment and meaning are oil and water. I don’t believe that. The ends do justify the means, and a horror book could teach somebody all the same valuable lessons that a serious literary drama teaches one of those so-called adults.
In short: You can learn about loss just as effectively from a laser gun as you can from an unsuccessful affair in Paris.
Don’t let anybody tell you different.