EJ Runyon doesn’t believe she could write genre fiction even if she tried. She has read and admired several authors of genre fiction but knows unequivocably that she is a writer of literary fiction.
She believes the most impactful parts of people’s lives, as written, are conveyed via literary fiction and, at least the way she writes, she believes that writing from the heart rather than from some carefully orchestrated outline or planning perspective, provides the writer the opportunity to find a great theme hidden in the story and bring it to life.
She also happens to be a sensory writer, taking issue with my question about images as the starting point of a story. “Any sense memory can include something you see, as well as something heard or a smell, or something tasted,” she explains.
EJ believes, finally, that literary fiction can be just as accessible as genre fiction, as she alludes to interviews she has conducted with two other blogs.
Let’s hear what else Ms. Runyon has to say.
1. What novel (or piece of writing) did you author that inspired you to fill out my survey? Include a link so readers can check it out.
You contacted me asking about my debut novel, A House of Light & Stone, saying that another author, Anne R. Allen, had recommended me to you. It was my debut novel-length work although I do have two other books, published before that. We exchanged emails to be sure that I was the type of author you were looking for and here I am.
Here are two links speaking about the book, rather than an Amazon link. I think you’d get just as much to ‘check out from’ these:
2. Was the seed of your story an idea or an image? Are you a visual or a conceptual writer, in other words?
It was a phrase I heard in my head, the paraphrasing of a prayer for something much more mundane but equally as spiritual. I gave that phrase to the main character. It was close to the very last thing that was said in the entire novel. And from there I wrote backwards leading up to that one point. I think you would call me visual if visual includes anything that is sensory. Any sense memory can include something you see, as well as something heard or a smell, or something tasted. Subtext early. Yes, I do deal with concepts. But as far as delivery goes I’m very much the sensory writer in my output on the page.
3. Keeping with one survey question, you identified a great theme for your literary work. Did that theme exist at the beginning of the writing, or did it emerge only through the telling of your story?
If you write from the heart and less from–how should I put it–an outlined concept, then, by default, a theme exists from the very beginning. But not as something listed and quantified. I believe the deeper writers dwell on something until it becomes recognizable and can translate it within the arc of the story. This theme is always there but it doesn’t show to the light until we sprinkle something on it; that happens to be within the actual plot or outcomes of the characters we’re writing about. Those actions are the light we shine on the inner concepts we want to address.
4. Did your perspective on this theme change as you wrote the story? Did you find yourself less in control of your narrative than you expected? Or did you find that you knew all along, based on your convictions, how the story would emerge? Were you, in other words, the “alpha” in the emerging narrative?
I can honestly say I am never the alpha in my writing. The one thing I know I was in charge of was making the story span one full year in the life of this little girl.
I can come up with an excellent idea only to find my mind slips in things while I write that are so beyond describing as planned, that the word “excellent” itself pales in its use.
In the case of this story, I had started it and gotten a good eight chapters into it when I lost the entire file. It was while reconstructing it that a major plot point popped up, unbidden. But undeniably perfect for the lives I was writing about.
5. There are as many definitions of “literary fiction” as there are self-identified literary writers. What is your definition of literary fiction?
To quote from one of the interviews I linked above:
‘… I wanted my work to not be categorized. How I wanted it to stand as literary, over genre. I haven’t changed. And I will argue, we don’t need to if our literary fiction works are, at the same time, accessible as genre work is to the reader. Sure there are themes here in Duffy’s story of Childhood: growing up, abusive relationships, innocence, and love and friendship.
…I wrote this as a single little girl’s story, using my finest storytelling abilities I could bring to this. And perhaps those themes are only list-able, now in retrospection of what I’ve created. Not because I planned or built them in there. Perhaps my novel won’t be another hard sell to readers, because of that storytelling tact.’
That pretty much is how I feel about literary fiction.
6. Within the scope of that definition, how did you hope to impress the reader? Did you hope to evoke emotion with a story about some element of life the reader would connect with? Or was your mission to challenge and thereby expand a reader’s perspective on a subject most others would feel is already “known”?
If you come at it the way I do, what is delivered to the reader are recognizable echoes of real life. If you present those echoes in ways that can touch any reader at any level because of the prose–some folks have said of my work ‘It’s easy and gentle, and yet the cut it leaves stings after the words have gone’–then you’ve gone for the accessible via the route of literary writing. There for the taking for those who can pick it up because they feel it, but not required to be recognizable, cited, quantified. Or pointed to as proof of being literary. That’s where my intention to impress grows from.
7. Do you consider yourself a writer of literary fiction? Or a writer of other genre fiction that carries literary elements? Please provide an explanation for your answer.
Yes, I do, only because I don’t see myself as a genre writer. Every genre writer I’ve read, and admired, makes me feel that I don’t have the chops for doing that type of work. So calling myself a literary fiction author, in my eyes, is saying to my audiences, “This is the best I can do.”
8. How would you discuss your book in context of its genre? If you consider it literary, why? If your book falls more closely within another genre, what elements would you say make it literary?
Because I also coach writers and do story editing for clients, when it comes to discussing my book’s issues (or even my poetry), I discuss them in the context of being literary. I want to discuss what it is, that I’m practicing literary-wise. That’s what I preach. Everyone’s story, no matter its genre, requires story elements (that yes, are found in literary fiction the most). And that does exist anywhere. And elevated prose involves the conscious use of, for instance, word choices to create effect.
9. Is the literary community a closed community? Or are there inroads for writers of literary fiction to reach readers other than those reading literary fiction now?
Well, I have gotten my degree in creative writing, I don’t feel right in addressing communities within genre. I write my fiction. It being literary is something I must pin on it for marketing purposes or categorization. But I can only speak for myself in terms of any writing community, literary or not, open or closed: there are inroads for writers of any genre if they choose to make them for themselves in order to reach the readers they want.
10. Is it realistic that the Kindle Store will one day feature more independent writers of literary fiction? Or will that category always reflect traditionally published writers with traditional marketing budgets? (This question relates to #9, I suppose.)
Every one of my books, short stories, novellas, the novel, and my writing guide, have all been in the Kindle Store. And while they were newly published they each did well there for a span of time. I believe this is only a question that comes out for people who have not tried placing themselves where they wanted to be, genre-wise. The space is— well— as wide as the Amazon. The only thing an independent writer must attend to is the fact that they are not working with traditional marketing budgets. The work they do takes longer, and may appear to happen slower because of resources or know-how. There are no literary fiction police weighing each release to say, this belongs, this must go, ‘You there, off of our list’.
Comment: Questions or observations for EJ Runyon can be left in the comments section below. If you’re an author who wishes to join the ranks of other writers of literary fiction who have participated in the LitFic survey, click here.
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EJ Runyon writes and coaches others via her website, Bridge to Story. She’s been writing seriously since 1992, worked with writers since 1997, and began participating in National Novel Writing Month events in 2001.
In 2006 she quit Software, sold her house, and went back to university. Now it’s writing and coaching daily. It’s her life and she loves it. Writing in all its forms has been a vocation that set her on the path to personal nirvana. In 2012, six short stories pulled from various NaNo novels became part of Claiming One, from Inspired Quill (UK). Then, in 2013, her ‘08 NaNo became ‘Tell Me (How to Write) A Story’ a writer’s guide. The following year, ’03’s NaNo became a debut novel, A House of Light & Stone. In 2015 it was Your Little Red Book, & in 2017 another novella will be out, Good People.
At the moment her WIP is a meditation on writing, spaces, & building a roving writers workshop (TinyHouse) to take Bridge to Story online onto being ‘Bridge to Story/learn’ –a mobile version of her life’s work. This new project will bring her teaching to home schools, community centers, libraries, shelters, senior centers, indie book shops, and US communities in the lower 48 states.