Admittedly, the question of what makes literature “good” comes to mind more often when I write than when I read. Until very recently, I had not allowed myself to question what publishers deemed “good” literature–if it was on a shelf, in a magazine, or had its own url–I believed that someone, somewhere had already put that piece of literature through the “is this good” test. However, I am starting to realize that a large percentage of my feelings toward what makes a book “good” come from marketing–I really do judge books by their covers or by how they were presented to me by high school English teachers. In reality, I haven’t read that many books in my life. Maybe 100. I only read what I like, and as it turns out, I don’t like very many books.
In a Platonic sense, I do believe there is a “form” for literature, that is to say there is an essence of “literature” and when new books are created they fall somewhere on a spectrum between “good” or “bad” representations of this form. However, it goes without saying that this form is entirely subjective. The things I admire in literature by no means have the power to make something “cannon” or “classic”. Simply put, we like what we like, and there’s no point in asserting that my criteria for good literature are better than anyone else’s.
Some of the criteria I have for good literature are: clarity, specificity, and innovation. To me, literature is about communicating new ideas. There are two important aspects to this definition: audience and relevance. Whether literature is addressing a culture, a specific person, or the author themselves, what makes literature “good” is how effectively it communicates to its intended audience. Secondly, and just as important, is relevance. Good literature should not be reiterating the ideas that have come before it, but instead building upon those ideas, adding in new questions and new perspectives. Good literature should be queering our reality, challenging the things we think we know.
Much of my writing is based around characters and cultures that have been erased or misrepresented throughout history. In my writing, my primary goal is to challenge representations of gender identity, sexuality, racial and ethnic identities, ability status, age, and so on. To make an elevator pitch out of my writing, I usually call it “queer historical fiction”. This results in my writing often being called political, but I don’t see my writing as political, just as I don’t see my own identities as political. There is no question as to whether or not queer people existed throughout history–we did and do exist–but we need to write ourselves back into the history books that have erased us.
The reason that I focus so much on writing with a historical lens is because I believe history shapes the validity of our identities. I hear so many people call queer identities a “phase” or a “trend”, but looking back into the histories of the Greeks, the Chinese, the Egyptians, we have documentation of same sex couples, transgender and intersex people, polyamorous relationships, and various other forms of queerness that have existed and in some places flourished. I want to use my literature to rebuild our identities from the ground up and show that queer themes and relationships have always held a place in society.