Literary Fiction vs Genre Fiction

I have been somewhat unclear in my mind as to whether I am writing literary fiction or genre (inspirational) fiction.  In some of my early posts, I saw myself as a genre writer of thrillers, but more recently i have moved away from pure thrillers to books which are more philosophical and somewhat theological, although all the books I have written have elements of fairly intense suspense.  So where does that put me: in literary or genre?

I’ve recently found an article in the Huffington Post written by Steven Petite on the above subject.   He is a freelance writer, who, according to the Huffington Post, has appeared in Cigale Literary Magazine. His work has appeared on, Fiction Southeast, New York Game Critics Circle, Indie Game Magazine, The Rock Office, Bago Games, and Cavs Nation.  Well, we won’t hold any of that against him, because


Steven Petite

his article, for me, makes a lot of sense.  He says:

“Fiction, of course, is a work that is imagined from the mind, a different world than reality.

“An argument can be made that there are two types of fiction when it comes to novels: Genre Fiction and Literary Fiction. The former includes many subcategories such as Mystery/Thriller, Horror, Romance, Western, Fantasy, Science Fiction, etc. The latter is more difficult to classify or break apart into subcategories. To put it simply, Literary Fiction is anything that does not fit into a genre.

“There are certainly high brow literary readers who believe that genre fiction does not deserve any merit. Then there are the types who exclusively read one or two sub-types of genre fiction and automatically classify any “serious” works of literature as pretentious or boring.

“While changing opinions on reading tastes is not easily controllable, the war between Literary Fiction and Genre Fiction is one that will probably continue for years to come.

“The main reason for a person to read Genre Fiction is for entertainment, for a riveting story, an escape from reality. Literary Fiction separates itself from Genre because it is not about escaping from reality, instead, it provides a means to better understand the world and delivers real emotional responses.

“All of the most prestigious awards for fiction each year are given to works of Literary Fiction, which makes it sometimes easy to say that writers who write literary sorts of books are better writers.

“In reality, neither of the two categories of writers necessarily deserve the distinction of being better writers. Different writers is a better word choice.

“Yes, across the bestseller lists there are novels that contain poor writing, and those lists are normally dominated by Genre Fiction. That does not mean that all Genre Fiction writers cannot form competent and engaging prose. The works of Stephen King, Thomas Harris, Michael Crichton, Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, and many others are written with great prose that shows a sound grasp on the written word. Do these types of writers sweep a reader down into their fictionalized world? Yes. But do they provide a means to stay inside reality, through the trials and tribulations of every day life, and deliver a memorable experience that will stick with you emotionally for the rest of your life? In my opinion, no. The works that are well written by genre writers are the ones that provide the best form of entertainment and escapism that fiction has to offer.

“On the other hand, works by writers such as David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Haruki Murakami, Cormac McCarthy, Zadie Smith, Don DeLillo, a multitude of other modern day writers, and all of the twentieth century giants such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and Joyce, touch the reader in a different way. There is a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment from finishing a “serious” book and the most important aspect in determining if the novel was indeed a remarkable escape not from reality, but into reality, is if a reader reflects on the words after the last page is turned. With really great pieces of Literary Fiction, this reflection can last for days, weeks, months, even years, until the novel pulls you back in to experience the magic all over again.

In essence, the best Genre Fiction contains great writing, with the goal of telling a captivating story to escape from reality. Literary Fiction is comprised of the heart and soul of a writer’s being, and is experienced as an emotional journey through the symphony of words, leading to a stronger grasp of the universe and of ourselves.”

I find this discussion helpful in giving me a clearer definition of what is Literary and what is Genre.  But it doesn’t help me put a specific label on the novels I have written.  They have characteristics of both types.  The article helps be establish a clear direction in which I want to travel: into my reality in a way that fascinates and challenges my readers to explore new ideas.

Author’s Mood

In several posts, I have mentioned writer’s block.  I have said that when I have it (which is occasionally) it is usually an indication that my writing has slipped off the track, and that I should rethink my recent work, or ask myself searching questions about the direction that the novel is taking.

I will say that another important blockage for me is either being tired or in a strong mood.  If I’m tired, I can’t focus properly, and my creativity is numbed.  I don’t write when I’m tired.  If I’m in a negative mood or preoccupied with a personal  issue, I have difficulty getting  myself into the mood that the character(s) is feeling.  If I’m angry about something, I find it more difficult to feel the joy that a female character is feeling.  If I’m worried about someone, how can I fully empathize with a protagonist who is experiencing a different relationship problem?  For me, forcing myself into the mood of a character is possible only when I’m not preoccupied.


In fact, I find it difficult to write well about a character who is depressed if I’m in a low mood.  The empathy is there, but, if I’m in a low mood, it’s difficult to find just the right words to fully express the feelings of the character.  For me, it seems to work best if I’m in a ‘neutral mood’, empathize with the character, and then find to words to express what the character is feeling.

Let me give you an example from Sable Shadow & The Presence.  The central character is on a business trip to a Mexican oil refinery when his wife calls and tells him that his much-loved son – a military officer – has just been killed in the Somali area.

I was numb and senseless, but the pain was inescapable.  I could not really function.  I could walk, but my destination was unclear.  I could hear voices, but I had to turn toward the voice I heard and try to understand if it was addressing me.  My mind had great difficulty processing.  It was as if a powerful ray had struck my head and turned my brain to mush.  I knew David.  He helped me pack, and he rounded up the pilots.  He fastened my seat belt.  He gave me a glass of something cold, and sometimes he would reach across and hold my hand.

I had no sense of time.  I was drifting in a remote, timeless space.  Then I recognised the front door of my house.  Inside, there was Suzanne.  She was pale, years older, in that familiar blue quilted bathrobe.  We sat on the living room sofa, and she talked to me.  I don’t remember what she said.  She was very sad.  She led me to the bedroom and took off my clothes.  She removed her bathrobe.  In bed, she pulled the covers over us, and we wrapped our arms around each other.  We lay like that, weeping and dozing through the night.

There were dreams: of William trying to master a skateboard, of William holding up a small trout, of William wearing a muddied jersey number 24.

There was no mistaking the voice:  You loved William and he loved you.  Remember this.

What did you say?

But I knew what was said, and I knew the voice even though I had not heard it often for ten years or more.

Interview with Norm Goldman

I have had an e-interview with Norm Goldman, Publisher and Editor of Bookpleasures,com.


Norm Goldman

Norm: How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?

William:  I had taken a writing course at university, and I always enjoyed writing reports in business, but I had never considered myself a writer of fiction.  About eight years ago, I was on holiday in Sicily and I had a series of romantic dreams in which I was involved as a bystander.  I thought: it would be fun to write these down.  I began writing and by the time I got to page 70, I decided to finish it.  That was my first novel.  Since then, I’ve derived an increasing satisfaction from completing novels which are better and better.

Norm:  What do you think most characterizes your writing?

William: There is always at least one character who is facing ethical/moral dilemmas.  I try also to give the reader a strong sense that what she is reading is true and real.

Norm: What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was least useful or most destructive?

William:  What has been most useful is the feedback I have had on my writing.  I am also a fairly avid reader, and I always publish a review of the books I read.  This sharpens my critical skills which are important when I’m writing.  I really can’t think of an experience which has been destructive.

Norm: How many times in your career have you experienced rejection? How did they shape you?

William:  Countless times.  I received several dozen rejections for my first novel, and I was ready to give up on getting it published when Eloquent Books (the predecessor of my current publisher) came to me with a co-op publishing offer.  Since then I have approached about twenty literary agents and publishers for every novel I’ve written; my approaches have been universally rejected (usually politely) or ignored.  I’ve stayed with Strategic Book Publishing.  My impression is that to get a contract with a traditional, main-stream publisher, one must have a third-party intervention or recommendation.  This is an understandable symptom of risk avoidance in the publishing industry, but it also suggests a lack of independent, creative thinking in the industry.  My lack of acceptance by main stream publishers has not deterred me.  I will carry on writing better and better novels.  Someone will almost certainly notice.

Norm:  In your bio you indicated that the spiritual/religious genre is your preferred choice. Could you explain to our readers, why?

William:  I am a religious person, but not evangelical.  The romance and the three thrillers all have religious aspects.  I started writing Sable Shadow & The Presence as a kind of experiment, and I had to re-write large portions of it, but, at the end, I felt particularly good about it.  Several excellent reviews and being awarded seven minor prizes convinced me that I had found my venue.

Norm: How did you become involved with the subject or theme of Seeking Father Khaliq? As a follow up, have you ever lived in Egypt?

William:  Before I started Seeking Father Khaliq, I decided to write about one character’s search for God, but I didn’t want a typically evangelical book. It had to involve a faith other than Christianity and a venue outside the West.  Also, the book had to have more issues than a singular focus on spirituality.  I’ve never lived in Egypt, but I’ve visited the country several times.  In creating Seeking Father Khaliq, I spent as much time on research as I did on writing.

Norm: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

William: My intention was to leave a gentle message that if one wants to find God, He can be found, and that sometimes He is revealed in the midst of adversity.  I think the message is there and perhaps made a bit more interesting by Egypt, philosophy, Islam (good and bad), and the will-of-the-wisp Princess Basheera.

Norm: Do you worry about the human race?

William:  Not in the long term.  The short term can be a horrendous mess, but somehow we will muddle through.

Norm: How did you go about creating the character of Professor Kareem al-Busiri? (As a passing note,  I am married to someone born in Egypt and who lived there until the age of 18, I am familiar with the male Egyptian mindset and you seemed to have vividly captured it).

William:  My specifications for Kareem were:

  • A respected professor of philosophy at a prominent Egyptian university (I wanted to include philosophy to add richness)
  • He should be a secular Muslim: a sort of agnostic
  • He should be single to introduce a romantic element
  • He should be open-minded and a bit naïve (to believe Princess Basheera)
  • He should have adult children to add complexity

Norm:  What are some of the references that you used while researching this book? As a follow up, can you share some stories about people you met while researching this book?

William:  My principal reference was Classical Arabic Philosophy, an Anthology of Sources, by Jon McGinnis (Translation), David C. Reisman (Editor).  I spent countless hours on the internet to gather facts, opinions and experiences.  I don’t remember their names, but I enjoyed vivid personal accounts by pilgrims on the Hajj and Arba’een.

Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing this book and what did you enjoy most about writing this book?

William: The most difficult part was staying factual in detail, down to the specifications of the Russian-made weapon which killed Kalifa.  Most satisfying and enjoyable was integrating all the pieces of a complex story.

Norm:  Did you learn anything from writing the book and what was it?

William:  While I have read quite a lot about Islam, and I’ve read the Qur’an, I gained a perspective of Islamic culture, and its effect of the values of people.

Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Seeking Father Khaliq?

William: I have blog ( which has been going for six years, and which includes my opinions and experiences as a writer.  I’ll let Father Khaliq speak for himself.

Norm: What is next for William Peace?

William:  I’m writing another novel, set in East Africa, with three main young adult characters: a penniless man of traditional tribal faith; a middle class, Christian woman; and a Muslim man from a wealthy, prominent family.  All are black: there is plenty of interaction and clashes in values and beliefs.

Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.

William:  What else does your ‘day job’ consist of?  Because I write with intensity only three or four hours a day, I need ‘alternative occupations’.  These include pro bono consulting work for London charities, treasurer of a charity which provides psychotherapy, and involvement with two of our daughters and their families who live nearby.













A Real UK Threat to Freedom of the Press

For most of us it probably seems unlikely that freedom of the press could disappear in the UK – that the government will control what the press can publish, or that publishers will be afraid to run exposés of politicians and other public figures.  But that is exactly what could happen when the government’s consultation regarding the implementation of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, 2013 ends next Tuesday.


The Crime and Courts Act, 2013 is a result of the Levenson Inquiry after the phone-hacking scandal that put the News of the World out of business.  Section 40, a part of the statute that was never implemented, would require that every newspaper not signed up to regulation by Impress would pay all costs in any libel case brought against it, even if it won the case.  So, for example, if a major newspaper ran an exposé of an MP involved in a money for votes  scandal, the newspaper would have to pay all of the MP’s legal expenses, no matter the outcome.

Impress is funded by Max Mosley, a barrister and former racing driver with interests in Formula One and other automotive organisations.  He is the son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the former leader of the British Union of Fascists.  In 2008, his sexual exploits were exposed by News of the World.  He sued and won, not on the basis that the reported exploits didn’t happen, but on the basis that they were falsely described as being fascist.   Mr Mosley funds Impress to the extent of £3.8 million, and says he may continue funding for years.

Impress is the only media regulator to have won the backing of Press Regulation Panel, which has been set up with a royal charter, introducing a degree of government involvement.  About 50 media outlets have signed up to be regulated by Impress.  The other media regulator is IPSO, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, with over 2,500 members,  IPSO does not submit to the Press Regulation Panel, and is governed by the media industry.  IPSO has an Editor’s Code of Practice, they can levy fines of up to £1 million, they can force publication of corrections, there is a 24-hour anti-harassment hotline, a whistle-blower’s hotline, they can investigate complaints and require their members to submit annual reports of compliance with the Editor’s Code and how they have handled complaints.  This is a regulator with professional due process and teeth!

Mr Mosley suggests that requiring a media defendant to pay all legal expenses is an incentive to arbitrate disputes.  He is disingenuous.  A new horde of ambulance-chasing lawyers will certainly appear, attracted by the high fees to file ‘no-win-no-fee’ lawsuits.  Why would they be interested in arbitration?  He says that Impress will screen out frivolous law suits.   Really?

You may be asking why I, as a writer, am interested in this issue.  The answer is that I care greatly about the preservation of our democracy, and history has taught me that once laws are passed to regulate the press, it is not long before other freedoms of expression are regulated or discouraged.

If you agree with me, and if the government decides to put Section 40 to a vote in Parliament, please make the case for a ‘NO!’ with your MP.

Review: All that Man Is

My wife bought this book for me when I was in the hospital and needed something to read during what would have been periods of utter boredom.  I had asked her to find a book which had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

The author is David Szalay, who was born in Canada in 1974, moved to the UK, has lived in Belgium and is now based in Budapest.  He studied at Oxford University, has written dramas for the BBC and his four novels have attracted several prizes including a listing for the Booker Prize in 2016.


David Szalay

All that Man Is is nine short stories about men, away from home, in different stages of their lives, each of whom tries to come to grips with what it means to be alive.   In the final story a 73 year-old man – knighted for his services in Whitehall twenty years ago, on his own, in a small, old Italian house considers, gloomily, his mortality, and it is this story which – for me – comes closest to establishing a theme for the work.  Before this story, we have: a thoroughly bored 17 year-old university student travelling around Europe with an acquaintance; a university drop-out on a down-market holiday in Cyprus where he meets two willing fat women; a tough guy employed to protect an aloof call girl; a driver delivering a car to his disconnected girlfriend’s father; a journalist involved in a political scandal; a real estate developer who meets an attractive young woman in Switzerland; an English drifter in Croatia is stung by a local con man; a suicidal billionaire on his super yacht.

The stories are well-written except that an occasional detail about setting makes one wish for a similar detail about a character.  The characters are interesting – not least because the reader cannot help but try to understand them. There is an undertow of submerged emotion in the book.  Also,  an air of pessimism in the written tone and in the actions of the characters, so that the reader might ask: ‘what is the point of this?’  With most of the characters, one feels urged to shout: ‘Why don’t you get a grip?  Make an effort for goodness sake!  No one ever promised you a rose garden!’  Is Szalay trying to express a sort of  nihilist philosophy?

For me, this more a collection of short stories than a novel, because there is little to connect the pieces except the tone, European geography and men facing dilemmas.  In summary, this is an interesting, if slightly flawed, book