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My wife and I were talking about my writing the other day, which surprisingly doesn’t really happen that often. I think she’s afraid how I might take some of her comments, (which is silly because if she says anything nice I’m just going to not believe her anyway.) But, in this particular instance, it came up because the local job market is horrible and she was suggesting that I rely more on writing to fill in the missing income.

This is something I would truly love to do. It sounds great, but there’s a couple problems with that, the main ones being that I then need to write more, more often and get it to sell a lot. Surely, this is the goal, as it is for many, but it’s not all that easy to accomplish. There are things to consider like reader base and fan base.  My wife’s suggested solution was that I should start writing romance novels. According to her romance novel fans will buy anything and don’t really care who wrote it until they get hooked on an author and then they are as loyal as soccer fans.

It sounded like a decent idea, I guess, and I’ll admit I laughed a little at the idea of writing sex scenes for a living, but then I shook it off. First of all, I could never willingly admit to my family that I wrote romance novels for a living. (My mother was all too much a fan of trashy romance and enjoyed making fun of them as much as the rest of us so they’ve become something of a joke in my family.) But mainly my objection was that there’s no substance, they’re all fluff, just a joke, a barely detectable story stringing one absurd sex scene into another.

That’s when she did it. That’s when my wife dropped the bomb that shattered my childhood. (and that’s why I’m about to ruin yours as well.)

She heard my objections about fluff and lack of plot and shrugged. “They’ve probably got about as much plot as most pulp horror novels, or those crappy war books you tried to get me to read.”

My jaw dropped. How Dare She!?!?

But it settled. It sank in. She was right…

Those Horror novels that fly off the shelves often have zero plot and pretty much boil down to “run from the monster”. The War books she scoffed at don’t even need a plot: “soldiers go where they’re told and shoot stuff.” Think about it. It’s terrible. Pick a Genre:
Paranormal romance: “Run from/fight some monsters-have sex with other monster.”
Cop Suspense: “Detective so and so hunts bad guy” (film at 11)

Everything is ruined. All those great stories from my youth. All my childhood. Was the old ‘Delta Force’ series just the War genre’s equivalent of the trashy romance? How many horror novels have I read that had the same amount of plot as a car commercial?

The difference between Commercial Fiction and Literary Fiction has never been more clear to me. With the raging popularity of E-books and self-publishing options we have access to more new works and new authors than ever before and with that expansion the lines are becoming more clear cut: Good Novels vs. Cheap Paperbacks, Plot vs. Story, Good books vs. Time fillers, Fluff vs. Substance. The books you recommend and the ones you say ‘Eh, it was alright’ when someone asks.

Every genre has it’s fluff, it’s time killers, the books you’ll find on the paperback stand at the airport gift shop when they announce the delay. And those are the same books that we read, we enjoy, and we toss in the used book bin before boarding our flights. (Also, more airport gift shops should have a free used book bin. That’s a great idea.)

They are what make up the bulk of the modern publishing industry and on a lot of different levels they’re really kinda bad. They’re guilty pleasures of the book world, whether its a swaggering cop with nothing to lose, or a damsel on the verge of being ravished they are the bulk of what we read and just because they’re bad doesn’t mean they can’t be fun.

My childhood may not really be ruined (a little tarnished maybe) but, looking back, the vast majority of books I loved were largely really enjoyable crap; a few great scenes, some great lines that stick with me, but the majority simply aren’t worth keeping in my memory. They’re like amusement rides: great fun, but I don’t have to memorize the whole experience.

I don’t know if I’m going to start doing any paycheck writing anytime soon, (and if it’s romance novels it will be under a pen name so my family will never find out), but I can at least respect the commercial fluff a bit more now. We all try to write or even just read the next great novel, but I think it’s good to have a little fun along the way.