Last Saturday, I attended a literary festival called the Saturation Fest and Thursday we had our first reading at Cal. State San Bernardino to celebrate and promote it's lit mag of which I was one of the editors this year. I have to say that this is a whole new world for me coming from the commercial fiction world.
Readings I have personally done or have attended at bookstores are well attended depending on the popularity of the author. Celebrity authors or those with books on the best seller list, usually have a line of people at their signings and readings. Those in attendance are mostly readers, though occasionally, someone from the audience will come up to the author and admit they are writers or have a deeply buried desire to write some day. Mostly, though the focus is the author and the books she or he has produced, and the reason people attend the reading is to either meet the author, or to purchase an autographed copy of the book.
The literary/college reading, because there are a variety of short stories and poems in the magazine, does not focus on one author but on literature itself. The audience that attends has a stake in literature. They love the written word and are there because they are instructors, students, lit majors, or writers. Our reading Thursday night on campus was packed with people. And there was a very cool buzz in the room. The Saturation Fest was bit more bizarre and seemed to attract only a small fringe group.
I started to think about the differences between literary and commercial fiction and reading a bit about it on the net. Lit. fiction always seems to be described at "good" fiction while commercial fiction as less valuable. One site described commerical fiction as "designed to be read quickly, easily, without needing to think too much. It is built on the reader’s reactions to the words and the emotional impact those words illicit. Grammar, structure, and ideals take a back seat to the emotional impact of the stories words." Wow, really?
I think I know what she means -- sort of. Commercial fiction is designed to entertain so there aren't obscure topics that will require the reader to sit back when they are finished reading and ask themselves "what did that really mean?" And as far as grammar, structure, and ideals, I disagree if she means authors don't pay attention to writing conventions . When I first started writing, I took a workshop where the instructor told me to forget all I'd learned in college, and to stop reading literary novels and non-fiction books. That I should not worry about writing perfect sentences. Fragments were okay. And that I should write the way I talk (scary). I took her advice, but soon learned that I actually paid even more attention to structure and grammar. Every sentence fragment, every sentence not written properly was planned and designed that way for impact. So, yes, emotional impact is very important, but so is grammar and structure.
One blogger that I found who offered a good way to look at literary vs commercial was Tamim, a writer from San Francisco. He argues that the difference lies mainly in the experience you are expecting to have and I agree. To me, those that make the judgment calls on lit fiction being superior to popular commercial fiction need to reevaluate what they are basing their opinions on. I've seen great and poor examples on both sides. And I believe there are more points in common than not.
Wednesday, June 10th we're holding our second reading for Cal. State's literary magazine, Pacific Review/Ghost Town at Division 9 Gallery 3850 Lemon St., Riverside, 92501 at 6pm. The venue may change and I'll post an update if it does. Come out and see me and some of the other great readers!