As I began composing my first query letters last year, I was forced to think long and hard about what I write, my genre, I mean. I mulled and did research and eventually settled on the phrase “literary fiction with commercial appeal.” By this I meant well-written books, but books that readers can understand: no streams of consciousness, no insertions of poems in the shape of vulvas, no dancing goats.
If talking in person about my genre, though, I will not say that I write literary fiction: I’ll cut to the heart of the matter and say that I write WASP-Gothic. This always gets a laugh and is usually met with, “I haven’t heard that before,” which doesn’t surprise me, because I hadn’t heard it before I first said it.
(This doesn’t mean it’s not out there somewhere already, but I’ve never stumbled upon it, so I’m claiming it as my own. Consider it coined!)
What is WASP-Gothic? It’s not a far cry from actual Gothic literature: people in large moldering houses purchased decades earlier with ill-gotten piles of money; things concealed and unspoken; the keeping up of appearances; the dining room as a primary battlefield. WASP-Gothic is also similar to Southern Gothic, since it revolves around family and community relations and tends to focus on one character’s navigating the abundant, yet highly specific, craziness therein.
Two other necessary elements of WASP-Gothic are a subtlety in the storytelling and a spareness in the writing. That’s what puts the “WASP” in the genre. When I presented a story for critique recently, one person suggested that my main character have a shamanic experience. I could see where the suggestion was coming from – this person writes beautiful, magical Southern fiction. My reply, though: “WASPs don’t do shamanic.”
Which we don’t. We are a cold, controlled people, and out of body/mind experiences just aren’t part of our repertoire, either lived or written. To end with what could be the WASP mantra: It. Just. Isn’t. Done.