Wait a minute. I'm supposed to be writing mainstream fiction, which in its loosest definition means it will match the reading tastes of most people. Along with literary fiction, mainstream is the kind I prefer to read. But I've been wondering: do I represent mainstream anything? Are my reading/viewing/lifestyle preferences like those of most people? Er, no?
The people I vote for seldom win. I subscribe to The Atlantic and Wired magazines and faithfully watch Fareed Zakaria, not exactly mainstream media. I live in rural West Virginia, prefer classical music, and don't know popular actors and musicians. I don't even find a lot of fiction that I want to read past the first paragraph, though it simply may be that writing is more fun.
So why do I think anything I write would resonate in the main stream?
In general use, mainstream means the main current, where the action is, with the greatest number of readers, viewers, listeners, players, and religious or political followers. We may easily become part of a mainstream audience, but affecting it is something else. Imagine a current rushing along with boats of all description, and you trying to get your paper sailboat in there. It's big and busy. It's also a fluid place (pardon the obvious), impossible to describe at any point in time.
Tagging a work as "mainstream fiction" announces that it is not written for a special interest audience, such as romance, mystery, western, horror. The writer hopes it will be acceptable to the reading preferences of most readers. Most readers of fiction, that is, because more nonfiction is sold than fiction. The work will never appeal to most people--most people don't read anything. Wiki.answers claims that 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
Many of us have a love/hate relationship with mainstream culture--we see its importance, maybe dislike it, and would like to guide it along to our tastes and preferences. Music lovers seem to be most passionate about this. The following definition of mainstream music from urbandictionary.com acknowledges shifts in popular taste:
"Music that's usually on the radio, Top 40 and is well known to the general public. Usually criticized by fans of the previous mainstream generations, and people who prefer bands and/or genres that aren't apart of the mainstream popularity of the time."
Here's another from the urban dictionary:
"The worst music out there. It is usually for people that have low IQ's, are conformist, and are afraid to explore other music out there.
It is always on the radio, Top 40, MTV, and everywhere you go! All of it is crappy music created for people with no idea what good music is."
Even if we don't feel connected to mainstream culture, we probably would like to influence it. Is that possible? I think so, if we reach beyond what is natural and comfortable. Cross over, speak out, meet in the middle, join hands. Be not afraid.
Genre fiction (romance, mystery, science fiction, etc.) often goes beyond its special interest fans to earn the respect of a broader, mainstream audience. In those crossovers, readers have a sense of learning something about people and places, the nature of conflict, love, and truth, while enjoying a good story.
The success of crossover works in all art proves there are places where great numbers of us can meet and agree, despite our differences. Those places should happen more frequently.
For definitions of mainstream and genre fiction, check these sites: