We hate your genre—except when we write it

The news for On Spec Magazine is bad—the Canada Council for the Arts denied their grant application for 2015 because "the quality of writing remained low." As On Spec's managing editor Diane Walton explains, this is flat-out wrong and merely the rationalization the Council used to remove funding from a genre publication. Walton says the magazine is exploring alternate funding mechanisms and asking for support.

This appears to a case of bias against the speculative fiction genre (a view shared by Michal Wojcik and others). My belief in this is based not only on the fact that On Spec continually publishes high quality fiction but because I've witnessed first-hand the literary snobbery and beliefs which appears to have doomed On Spec's application.

You see, a while back I received a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship, which at the time was a very nice monetary grant awarded to individual artists (they've since discontinued the program). I won the award with a story which, while containing genre elements, easily passed for the types of stories at home in the Mississippi Review and the Beloit Fiction Journal. Since I'd published works in those exact literary magazines, and ran a literary journal called storySouth, the Arts Board judges no doubt saw me as one of their own.

I'm not merely making this assumption—I know this is truth because a few years later I ran into one of the judges who'd decided I was fellowship worthy. This person introduced herself to me, praised my writing, and asked what I was writing these days. 

When I mentioned science fiction stories, she promptly informed me that if she'd known I was going to write those types of stories she wouldn't have be voted for my fellowship.

Ouch. Burn. How dare I take their official literary imprinteur and use it to write that nasty genre stuff.

Of course, the irony is that major literary authors from Cormac McCarthy and Toni Morrison to Michael Chabon and Junot Díaz regularly dip their toes into the genre pool. But that's evidently okay with our world's self-appointed literary elite.

I now understand that the distinctions between genres—including between the so-called "literary" genre and all other types of fiction—don't matter as much as many people believe. Great fiction can exist in any genre or type of writing, just as bad writing also exists across all genres.

It's too bad the Canada Council for the Arts and many other lovers of literature don't understand this.