I believe in this.
Stories tell us who we are. They tell us who we aspire to be. Stories make us better. And I don’t just mean highfalutin literature, but I mean everything from the dime detective novel to flash fiction and genre.
Look, I tried to write a romance novel once. Dismal failure, really. I had this long, convoluted, outline, stock characters, and followed formula to a T. Really, I had the hope to make money. Lots and lots of money. Because, well, I was broke. When I finished the draft, I sent the novel to publisher after publisher. After the first thirty pages, they always wanted to see the complete novel, and I’d send them the whole enchilada, and they’d write back and tell me that, though the story was good, I hadn’t written a romance. Well, what do you mean? There was kissing and some sex scenes, and even a fight to win the honor of the woman. I mean, riveting stuff. Nobody wanted to publish it. What I didn’t understand was the nature of story. Why it mattered, and why people who read romance read romance. The romance genre is about empowerment.
I’ve tried my hand at fantasy fiction as well because I’ve always admired authors such Patricia Wrede, Ursula K. Le Guin, and I grew up on Dungeons and Dragons without my parents’ knowledge. Again though, I didn’t really understand why I was trying to write these stories about elves and dragons or why the fantasy genre was even important. Dave Robison writes on his Mythic Scribes blog that, “With a few rare exceptions, genre [fantasy/science-fiction/speculative] fiction is generally dismissed—even disdained—by ‘serious’ authors and critical reviewers alike.” Yet, many people, such as I once did, miss the point of fantasy. The genre opens to possibilities.
I could go through the entire list of genres: western, mystery, erotica, whatever. Not really my point though. My point is the power of the story, and how that power has erupted across the Western World, thanks to new technologies and cutting edge companies such as Amazon. It’s like a new Renaissance really, giving people from all walks of life the opportunity to tell their stories. The best invention since the printing press.
Self-publishing seems to get a bad rap though, especially from, well, “serious” authors and critical reviewers.
But if reading even the so-called junk—the romance, the mystery, the fantasy—if even that kind of reading works to empower with possibilities, how much more so does the actual act of writing empower possibility within the individual and society at large? Self-publishing, of course, is not a new endeavor, just the delivery method is new, easier, quicker, and more subversive to the vanguard publishers and gate-keepers. Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Deepak Chopra, Gertrude Stein, Zane Grey, Upton Sinclair, Virginia Wolff, Rudyard Kipling, Henry David Thoreau, Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman, Beatrix Potter….. those are the footsteps of far greater authors that I walk behind and into. And that’s pretty exciting. Pretty scary power.