All About the Characters

Almost a year ago, I received a very nice personal rejection letter from a literary agent that I had met at Midwest Writers Workshop, and in it he described Gray Paree as “literary fiction,” which he does not really represent.  This really surprised me–I have always queried or pitched agents who represent historical fiction and mysteries, and have always considered my work to fall in these genres.  I expressed this surprise to a writer friend (who also happens to be represented by this particular agent), and she said that he was almost certainly correct.

Fast forward to May of this year.  This same friend served as a beta reader for The Jade Dragon.  Among her many awesome and insightful comments, she noted that the story reads to her as upmarket/literary historical in style, more than genre mystery.  She noted as example all of the complex character development, and the focus on the character arc more than the mystery itself.

I have long strived to write good character-driven fiction, and I love exploring the psychology of my characters, and especially how their family and/or religious backgrounds inform the way they interact with others (and themselves).  To me, that’s some of the most fun in writing fiction! For some reason, though, I just never made the connection between this as my personal style, and the label “Literary Fiction”–which carries with it both status and baggage for a writer.

Wikipedia notes that literary fiction generally focuses on:

  • “concern with social commentary, political criticism, or reflection on the human condition”–Check!
  • “a focus on introspective, in-depth character studies of interesting, complex and developed characters, whose inner stories drive the plot”–Check!
  • and “concern with the style and complexity of the writing…”–OK, not so much.

Still, two out of three should tell me something, right? It’s Pride Month, a time to be ourselves openly and honestly, so in that spirit I’m embracing it, and even celebrating it–I write upmarket/literary historical fiction! That’s me.  That’s who I am as a writer.

And that feels good.