Between scenes in Lawful Evil, I enjoy taking breaths on the page, respites from the tension that I have built and I look to avoid taking away from that entirely. It also allows me to show the changes in the characters as the story has continued. If your characters have not fundamentally changed by the end of whatever you are writing, then you have problems that require fixing before it goes out. In truth, it’s unlikely to go out because any editor or publisher will struggle to see how such a work can find an audience.
They do, though, especially literary fiction. Genre fiction is seen as the dishevelled relative, the kind who shows up at Christmas without a present and eats all the stuffing, but in truth, there’s a robustness, a pragmatism to genre fiction that shows up some of the literary fiction, that is seen as superior. I say that, as someone who enjoys both, and has developed a passion for nuance and ambiguity in the reading that I enjoy.
Genre fiction has it’s flaws too, but to dismay it as merely entertainment in comparison to literature denies it’s power. Entertainment is tough work, I’ve read a lot of literature and a lot of genre fiction, and the genre fiction moves because it has to. Some genre fiction has little more to distinguish it than a strong conceit, or a steroidal macguffin but it can pass a train journey. Literary fiction, can be beautiful but empty and afterwards, you’re left dismayed. It’s also prone to plotholes and characterisation that have led me to want to throw the book across the room. I love ambiguity in endings, but god when it’s done poorly, it’s really irritating. Susan Choi’s My Education was a perfect example of that. It also has a tendency to communicate elitism and disdain without offering a more substantial alternative.
Genre fiction has a bit of a self-esteem problem, self conscious at times because it may feature orcs, elves, vampires, werehamsters and robots made of cheese. Yet, remember that it is as entirely fictional as middle aged professor facing a midlife crisis and his waning libido. Real life, there is the latter but on the page, all bets are off. If you come to the page, do not do so lightly. The best work I’ve read combines literary and genre elements – Red Moon by Benjamin Percy, The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin combine elements of both, Gun Machine and Normal by Warren Ellis all combine fantastical and political/socio-economic elements into dizzying displays of fury.
You could class Gabriel Garcia Marquez as genre fiction, festooned as it is with beautiful language. There is good and bad, and that depends on your preference and point of view. So long as you are reading, and mindful about it, like what you like.
As Shaky Kane, the cartoonist said, don’t be cool, like everything.
I can read Austen then pick up Stephen King and feel the same rush of pleasure. I can move from King to Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Franzen. I don’t bring my politics to the page, in that I am ruthlessly egalitarian. A good book is a good book and sometimes a bad book can be entertaining in the way a bad movie can be, but the time invested in a bad movie can be collaborative joy whereas we seldom read together, unless it’s to our children. Or a book club but that’s in retrospect.
So, at the moment I have finished My Sister, My Love by Joyce Carol Oates which was stunning and biting in it’s pain and satire, a fictionalised account of the JonBenet Ramsay case, which has come to attention after the recent documentary. It combines different textures, ramps the unreliable narrator volume up to full and ends on a note of hopeful redemption that unmanned me a little bit but you read at 0400, you deal with what hits you. I’ve now started Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong, who’s been a genre author that has a snappy, smart style that amuses and entertains me.
In other news, editing on Until She Sings is going well, it’s humbling to see where you were and where you are on the page. Much like going through a photo album and seeing that the light in your eyes hasn’t changed all that much.
Thank you for reading.