A common complaint among Gen-X is that we are an ignored generation. We are a generation of quietly innovative, successful, edgy, creative folks trying to pay off student debt while buying houses and putting our depressed kids through college….not that anyone cares.
(voice dripping with bitter gen-x sarcasm) There used to be something called simply “a novel.” It brought no expectation of sexy vampires, space wars, or wizards. It was not written for middle-schoolers about high-school girls with latent super powers (although Stephen King does come to mind…but please don’t let your sixth-grader read Carrie). It was about real people (mainly adult) in real life who were not perfect portrayals of 2021 values and strictly enforced codes of conduct. Novels still exist and still dominate mainstream sales. On Amazon, you will find it under “Literature and Fiction.” They are also called contemporary fiction, literary fiction, non-genre fiction, fiction realism–so that it is clear that they will not contain anything as interesting as a troll with a complicated backstory or a futuristic teenage dystopian survival game. (can you hear the Gen-X edge coming out?)
I grew up on John Irving, Pat Conroy, Anne Tyler, Larry McMurtry, and the like–all masters of the novel…all Baby Boomers and above. Today, we have some amazing examples of novelists in my generation, including Pulitzer Prize winners like Donna Tartt (The Goldfinch) and Anthony Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See), but the literary novel seems to be giving way to the genre (fantasy, sci-fi, horror, romance) and to the younger generations of writers. I love all kinds of books, but is America bored with reality?
But where is Gen-X in all this? We are readers, big time! We read all kinds of books. I googled Baby Boomer writers and millenial writers…lots of lists and articles. But when I googled Gen-X writers….not so much. A couple of articles about books my generation likes to read, but only a few of the books were actually written by Gen-Xers. Who are we? What is our voice? And more importantly, what is MY voice?
At first, I followed the styles of my favorite older male writers where men ribbed each other mercilessly and women were defined more by their narrative function than their humanity. Where there was endless nostalgia about the 50s and 60s. Where our heroes were white men who were thought well of because they had a black or gay friend.
But who is Gen-X? TV shows that come to mind are Stranger Things (80s nostalgia) and Loudermilk (edgy, grumpy, alcoholic, with an obsession for 90s alt rock). Modern Family, Parenthood, and American Mom is Gen-X parenting. Most of the awesome things we associate with Gen-X culture (hair metal, rap, punk, video games, Friends, Star Wars, Goonies, The Breakfast Club) were all started or created by Boomers. What did we give the world (besides Google, YouTube, Tupac, and Nirvana)?
But what is our literary voice? A few things come to mind–greater diversity, children of narcissistic, divorced parents, 70s/80s/90s nostalgia, untold stories (particularly African American). And although our language for the world gets us in trouble with the youngins sometimes, it’s a far cry from generations preceding us. We’re doing our best just as those ahead of us did–but who’s paying attention to us anyway?
I’m still exploring my own voice. A Whiff of Life and Death is generationally enigmatic—timeless? Bay City Runaway has elements of both my Boomer literary idols and my own emerging Gen-X voice. It has key elements–90s college backstory, 2000s 30-something experience, substance abuse, depression, apathy, edgy characters, edgy humor, and a solid callout to Biggie Smalls.
I have a novel in progress, and although I love it and think it has lots of potential, it does kind of read like a Boomer novel….if there really is such a thing. I mean, to a degree, middle-age is middle-age. We all get a little grumpy, preachy, wise, and nostalgic. Maybe it doesn’t matter a lick. A good story is a good story, but it does have me thinking. Is there anything distinctly Gen-X in my writing? I’m not sure if anyone could really say.
My other current work in progress is something entirely different. E-Vatar, a musical, explores issues hitting Millennials and Gen Zs a little harder–gender and sexual fluidity and neutrality, social technology, bleak career future, dating technology, and pandemic life….none of which are foreign to me, especially being a long-time LGBTQ ally and advocate. The project was brought to me, but I’ve embraced it.
Today, I posed a question on a very popular fiction writing Facebook Group. I asked if any other Gen-X literary writers (particularly men) are feeling alone in the writing world? What was the reply from the 128k followers? Zilch, zero, crickets…not that anyone cares.