That's So...Literary!

Last week, I received the results of the second of two contests I entered last September, back before I had joined my critique circle and turned the first three chapters of Serenade into something readable. Two judges gave me really choice marks for my prose, with the suggestion that I need to better balance dialogue with descriptions (fair enough!), but one totally slammed me for that same reason. However, and this is the interesting bit, she based the "slams" on her impression that Serenade read as "literary fiction."

Oh, woe! Not that! Hideous thing...to be considered literary. For a romance genre contest it won me no prize, but I am not particularly messed up about that feedback.

Anyway, this got me thinking about the rather low expectations some romance readers seem to have with regard to style. Storytelling -- the connection between the hero and heroine, the believability of their romance, the happy satisfaction of all plot concerns -- trumps all. Perhaps this is why I cannot find contentment in reading only romances. Poetic language, metaphorical variety, and clever descriptions are not requirements for a good romance, but I miss them in more straight-forward fare. Make it hot. Make it emotional. But make it beautiful? That seems an afterthought, if an author considers it at all.

Two of my favorite literary authors, Ian McEwan and Helen Dunmore, write on the opposite end of the spectrum. They use language in such a way as to make me green, green, green. I savor whole paragraphs and read them again just to take in the turns of phrase and the original (to me, anyway) imagery. Granted, I have to psyche myself up for their work because they are such deep, intense reads. These are not the kind of books I can absorb in a day or two, and on occasion, my obsession with their language stands at odds with the pacing. But it all comes down to expectation.

Obviously, the woman who judged my entry went into the process with a different expectation. My hope, as I work to become a better writer, is that I can find a balance between a compelling story and lovely language. In the meantime, I keep searching for authors who have already achieved that heady combination. Any suggestions? Who weaves a really beautiful romance without skimping on beautiful prose?


Darla said...

I suppose it depends on how one defines "literary."

Beautiful romance with beautiful prose? Laura Kinsale has blown me away with the combination a few times, but I probably wouldn't call her "literary."

Jennifer Stevenson's Trash Sex Magic was more literary, I thought--it was full of metaphor and imagery. A little too much so for my taste, which runs to the more mundane. I don't read poetry, either: curse of the linear mind. Friends who are more abstract in their thinking loved it, though. It's worth checking out.

Ann(ie) said...

Laura Kinsale is the first one to pop into my head as well. The only name, actually.

Kate R said...

Judith Ivory.

That judge cracks me up.
I can imagine her moaning.
"OMIGOD These people are THINKING? The writer displays some kinda intelligence? That's so . . .so much of a turrrrrrrn offfffff."

TOday I learned something new: It turns out readers who claim romance can't show intelligence and be legit are just as annoying as the writers who claim that the crowds hate their fiction because it's too intellectual for the hoi polloi.

I had run across the anti-brain-in-romance thing but as a matter of personal taste. And okay, I can imagine a reader thinking "I'm not up for something that has anything about any culture but my own. I'm not interested in learning shit. I want so skim familiar phrases so I don't have to think." That's a reflection of preference.

To slam a writer? IN a contest? Whoa, now that's an Abomination. I'd contact the coordinator. Tell her that the Famous Author Kat Othwell (as featured in the Hartford Advocate) claims the judge is a clueless goober.

carrie_lofty said...

OMG -- big giggles, Kate. Can Famous Author Kat Othwell write me a blurb?

(It's a name! You're right -- how hard is that?? That dillweed needed to check his facts!)

Kate R said...

and you need to read Judith Ivory if you haven't but I bet you have.

carrie_lofty said...

I haven't, because I'm a hermit. Recs?

Ann(ie) said...

I like the stuff she put out as Judy Cuevas more. Try Dance and Bliss. They're beautiful and so intense. Also have unusual settings, you'll love them.