Do you write candy?
Or something—you hope—more filling?
Do you hope the next book you write is everyone’s guilty pleasure?
Or do you want readers to stop and admire your prose stylings like a rare orchid?
Do you want your readers to enjoy the experience as if they were going to an amusement park?
Or a museum?
Do you want to give Lee Child a run for his money?
Or Karl Ove Knausgaard?
Or can you do both?
I’m fascinated by the line between “genre” and “literary.”
It’s an old fight. The Maginot Line has shifted over time, but not the arguments. There have always been literary snobs who look down their snouts at drivel from the “genre” hacks (who make millions).
And there have always been “genre” hacks who spurn dense tomes of navel-gazing as ponderous pieces of self-indulgence.
Can’t we all get along?
Is it possible to “upgrade” your techniques so you can reach audiences who yearn for some literary flair? Is it worth it? Necessary? A good idea?
Who says you need to upgrade and by the way, who decided it was an “upgrade”?
Should you just write your damn story and not care or worry about symbols, metaphors, alliteration or other literary devices?
Jack Kerouac said: “It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.
”Elmore Leonard said: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.”
Vladimir Nabokov said: “It seems to me that a good formula to test the quality of a novel is, in the long run, a merging of the precision of poetry and the intuition of science. In order to bask in that magic a wise reader reads the book of genius not with his heart, not so much with his brain, but with his spine. It is there that occurs the telltale tingle even though we must keep a little aloof, a little detached when reading. Then with a pleasure which is both sensual and intellectual we shall watch the artist build his castle of cards and watch the castle of cards become a castle of beautiful steel and glass.”
Tom Clancy said: “I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.”
Donald Barthelme said: “The combinatory agility of words, the exponential generation of meaning once they’re allowed to go to bed together, allows the writer to surprise himself, makes art possible, reveals how much of Being we haven’t yet encountered.”
P.D. James said: “The modern detective story has moved away from the earlier crudities and simplicities. Crime writers are as concerned as are other novelists with psychological truth and the moral ambiguities of human action.”
My pal Barry Wightman (Pepperland, a 1970’s rock n’ roll novel written with a savvy artfulness) will join me in wading into the chasm of this dispute during a workshop at Colorado Gold.
The workshop is called “From Pulp to Meta” (3:00 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 11).
Where do you fit on the spectrum?
Where do you want to fit?