Although I have been writing quite a bit of fantasy — around half my output — I read rather a small amount of it these days. That would be true of science fiction, too, of ‘speculative fiction’ in general. When I do, it is likely to be a reread of a classic, not something new.
Most of what is out there, new or old, fantasy or mainstream, isn’t particularly good. Mediocre and forgettable would be the words I’d use. Entertaining? Maybe, but more so if you are young and haven’t been exposed to the stuff that is actually good.
There are fantasy novels that can fall into the ‘great’ (or at least very good) category. Tolkien, of course — despite its flaws, ‘Lord of the Rings’ stands as a major novel. Who else? I could name favorites from Adams to Zelazny, and some are certainly worth reading. But so are quite a few mainstream writers. It is definitely a mistake to read only one or two genres and ignore everything else!
I don’t particularly like the ‘genre’ label anyway. That exists for sales promotion. I try to write ‘good’ novels, with worthwhile characters. Admittedly, one could expunge the fantasy elements and they would stand as literary novels, for the most part. I consider that an important test of any novel, that it could still exist as a good story stripped of any ‘genre’ elements.
If it depends on those elements, rather than the plot and characters, it may be an interesting idea but it will not be a great book. A fair amount of science fiction depends on ‘concept,’ to its detriment. In fact, many readers expect it — one reason I have never written SF (though I do have some ideas to explore one day).
My two Cully Beach novels could be called ‘mysteries’ or ‘crime novels’ — and were marketed as such — but the crime element is just there to give structure (a la Raymond Chandler). They are not so much about crime or solving a mystery as they are about the characters, their interactions, their growth. Needless to say, those expecting something typical of the ‘genre’ might be a bit disappointed. Indeed, they have seen some disparagement as ‘chick lit.’
That sort of thing is a little less obvious in the fantasies, where there is more action and less introspection. But really, if I wasn’t trying to say something worthwhile, I wouldn’t bother to write. I’d disconnect and go surf every day. Hey, I don’t even like to write (just as I hate to paint). It’s more like a compulsion to create.
I do have stories to tell, so I’ll keep turning out books. Fiction, nonfiction, genre, mainstream, poetry, whatever. People will read them or they won’t.
Just as I read something new on occasion.