Following The Green

August 10th, 2004 · 1 Comment
by Booksquare

Sarah’s holding a discussion about literary authors looking over at the crime genre and thinking “I’m gonna get me some of that.” Sort of like all those people who say to romance authors, “I can do that. You just plug Tab A into Tab B” (for some reason, non-authors think romance is the easy way into publishing, though we suspect mystery authors get the same types of comments: “All you need is a body, huh?”). We think about this a lot — why do we write what we write?

Our answer (of course we have one) is that we just do. We’re drawn to a style, a story type, a concept, something. Certain story concepts resonate with us. Though we don’t write straight romance (please see previous re: abject failure), we remain fascinated by the concept of relationships — romantic, friendly, and otherwise — and how they start, stop, build, die. In the end, what we are exploring is the idea of family, whatever form it may take at the moment. Perhaps it’s because of our particular friendships, but we tend to look at this concept from the perspective of people who don’t start on the inside. That’s not to say our friends are a little different, but, well, they are. It’s something you come to appreciate as you get older.

We once met a woman who wrote feminist nature fiction. We’re not entirely sure what that is (even after hearing her explanation, but that may have had something to do with the mai tai’s), but it’s what she writes. She’s not going to be comfortable writing taut, page turning thrillers. We’re not saying that literary authors don’t make fine crime fiction authors, or that crossing genres shouldn’t happen. It quite clearly does, all the time (in fact, we often think genre labels are more of a convenience than an accurate barometer, but that’s another subject entirely). It’s simply that what seems easy (and lucrative) from the outside is far more complex from the inside. If you’re doing it for the money, you’re doing it all wrong to begin with.

Genre fiction requires both adherence to format (hint: if you don’t solve the mystery, save the world, or get the guy at the end, you’re breaking faith with your readers — a veritable genre fiction death knell) and breaking the format. Picasso could draw the human figure with technical brilliance; it was only after he mastered his craft that he developed his own style. If you are unfamiliar with the rules, setting out to break them is a sure way to disaster. There’s a reason genre fiction has such a devoted following: on one level, it speaks to basic human needs, much like mythology from various parts of the world explains nature. You have to, at the very least, acknowledge this aspect of the genre before you spin it around because you know better.

That being said, follow the link and read what others are saying. We recall that they actually stuck to the topic…

File Under: Square Pegs

1 response so far ↓

  • Lorra // Aug 11, 2004 at 7:09 am

    When I settle down for my nightly, read-myself-to-sleep session, the last thing I want is to challenge my brain. (I prefer thrillers with unpredictable twists, preferably in paperback so I don’t put out one of my eyes when I fall asleep with the thing dangling over my face.)

    The husband, on the other hand, prefers mind-scrambling, beautifully crafted short stories in “The New Yorker.” Problem: he constantly asks me if I ever heard of so-and-so word – at least half the time I haven’t – before consulting the dictionary he keeps on his nightstand.

    Where’s the fun in that?

    But it does seem that one gravitates toward one or the other of these types of fiction – whether as a writer or a reader – remaining immovable after settling in.

    A few years ago, at a writers’ conference, I had the misfortune of being seated between an agent who represented literary fiction and a woman who wrote it. I thought he was going to backhand me when I admitted that the last “good book” I had read was by Grisham. Instead, he dismissed me with a sniff, pretending I had gone invisible (I even tried passing my hand through my mid-section to be sure I hadn’t) as he proceeded to talk across me and pass his business card through my vaporous self to his version of a “real” writer.

    A pox on his house!. Only good thing is: he had on the rattiest looking jacket I have seen on a person who, purportedly, had a roof over their head.