Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Quill Awards

I’ve allowed the Lair to get a little goofy this month with Frank’s “Beach Blast,” but I’m going to get serious with this entry. AOL’s Book Maven put out the word today about the nominations for the 2006 Quill Awards. The concept for these awards definitely holds some merit. The awards are designed to highlight and award more of the popular reads out there. That’s not to say these nominees aren’t worthy literary reads, too, but the nominees and winners are drawn more from what’s really selling in bookstores.

My interest in the Quill Awards is a bit tepid, I guess, even though I’m a fan of the concept. If I was invited to attend the big awards gala in October or nominated in a future Quill Awards, I’d probably feel differently. Still, I’m not without a certain passionate gripe. The Quill Awards offer some specific categories such as Children’s Illustrated Book, Poetry and Romance… but then we’re given ridiculously broad categories such as Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror and Mystery/Suspense/Thriller. For those of us who love genre fiction, we once again feel like we’re getting the shaft.

Let’s take a look at this year’s nominees for the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror category:

A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
Cell by Stephen King
A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

I suspect some of the die hard fantasy fans, like myself, might find it insulting to see Diana Gabaldon’s book in this group, and I honestly don’t mean this as a slight against her or her “Outlander” series. Is her book fantasy? Well, yeah… but then why do we almost always see it shoved into the romance sections of bookstores? The answer: because it’s more romance than fantasy. That’s one slot in this category wasted.

Then there’s our lone horror nominee Cell. I’m still a bit baffled at horror getting lumped in with Science Fiction and Fantasy. I’m not a big horror fan, but I’ll also grant you that it’s a very separate beast. I think the publishing industry has long ago established that horror is a well-defined genre. I don’t even really care for horror books, but I think horror fans are getting short-changed here, too. And since I’m mentioning Cell, would someone please explain to Stephen King how the concept of “retirement” works?

So what’s the deal? Why does genre fiction have to take it on the chin… yet again? The frustrating truth is that the Quill Awards are probably staying true to their concept. They’re focusing on what’s truly popular with readers… with what sells. When I worked at a Barnes & Noble five years ago, I was stunned to discover what a pitiful amount of the store’s revenue came from science fiction and fantasy. Just how little are we talking? Somewhere in the neighborhood of five percent, give or take.

I love my fantasy books, it’s why I’m writing one, but I also realize that we aren’t really the backbone of the industry either. We fantasy fans just tend to be a bit, shall we say, louder than the average book lover. So on an intellectual level, I understand why the Quill Awards are grouping things as they are, but as a passionate fan of fantasy, it just irritates me.


Sandra Ruttan said...

I'm totally baffled by lumping horror with fantasy and sci fi as well. And here I was, thinking I was just missing something. Thank goodness I'm not alone. When I was trying to place The Butcher, people kept telling me it needed a sci fi edge because they considered it borderline horror (it's written in a similar vein as What Every Guy Wants) but I finally placed it without any concessions like that. I just didn't get it.

Bill, the Wildcat said...

I'm always baffled by the "genre stigma." So-called literary writers bend over backwards to deny when they're writing fantasy or science fiction. Even funnier is how the readers play along with this denial game. Diana Gabaldon's series is a perfect example of this. My wife pointed out that it's actually placed in general fiction these days, but that's also bizarre to me. I could go on forever with this topic, but best I pace myself! haha

I'm glad to see you've stuck to your creative wishes. For my part, I'm grateful to have "I am Sam" being published in "Spinetingler Magazine" for about the same reasons. It's a hard to story to categorize.

Patrick said...

The main reason I attended Ravencon last spring was because they grouped horror in with science fiction and fantasy. Horror is my preferred genre, although my current work-in-progress, no doubt like everyone else's, has elements of more than one genre.

But even though they marketed to in horror writers and fans by including that genre, it still felt like an odd mix.

The focus was still clearly on science fiction and fantasy. There's nothing wrong with that, but when you add the third genre, then claim that because they're "working the Poe angle," they are "mystery-friendly" as well, you begin to wonder why they wouldn't just stop worrying about genres and try to bring in everyone.

Still, I attended some interesting sessions, so I'm not going to complain too much. I just think that if they're going to try to be all things to all people, why try to be genre-specific at the same time?