Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Amusing The Genre To Death

“We’ve Become A Herd Of Cows Mooing Niceties At Each Other”

That quote from Jeff Vandermeer’s response to an article called I Like Writing But Hate Being a Writer by Richard Bowes.

Stuff every writer should read.

In this discussion thread, Brian Lindenmuth elaborates on the article, and what he refers to Charlie Stella calling “the authorial circle jerk”. To quote:

”The mystery/crime fiction genre, in part, is being gutted from the inside out, and like an untreated infection it doesn't show any signs of slowing. We need to be honest in our assessment of the fiction being produced, putting aside all of the political bullshit, examining it from all sides, so that we can just simply say, in a defendable position, that it isn't good. Not all books are going to be good and even less are going to be great. That's not ever going to change. More importantly that's how it should be. An author should swing for the fences every time they tell a story. Even if they fall short the effort always shines through. If they don't, then they aren't worth my time.

“If the talking heads continue to foster this cult of personality then the genre is doomed to irrelevancy, or worse, oblivion. We need to stop amusing the genre to death.”

What a novel concept. Working harder, pushing the boundaries, making the effort to take risks and produce captivating, original work…

Instead of coasting off your approval rating by other authors. I raise a glass to Brian, for a passionate plea to let the genre be about more than popularity contests and cliques where recommending a work is based off liking the author, instead of great writing. Not saying there’s anything wrong with liking an author. But when we review, when we endorse with blurbs, when we recommend, may it be out of sincerity and not out of the ass-kissing that is so common. May we give some credibility back to our genre by not endorsing the most popular person but the best work.

And for something completely different, the funniest thing I've seen in a while.


John McFetridge said...

yeah, that's fucking funny all right.

Okay, so here's the thing - before we were writers we were fans. If you're old like me you remember a lot of years were there just wasn't much in crime fiction - Robert B. Parker and Spenser and I never really liked that. The 70's had some great movies, all that Vanishing Point and the Conversation, and yeah, The Godfather (which is actually a lot better than the book) and more obscure stuff like Short Eyes and Scarecrow but not much in the way of books. Charles Willeford and Elmore Leonard holding the fort.

So now does kind of feel like a bit of an explosion of good crime fiction. I can think of ten writers off hand, whose new book I want to read. Ten years ago, twenty years ago (I can even go back thirty) there was just no way I could have come up with five (whose NEXT book I'd want to read). If there were good books being written they weren't published by big houses so they were hard to find. (this is part of the whole fringes becoming the mainstream - what used to be B-movies have become the big-budget A movies, what used to be pulp has become mainstream literature)

But yeah, there's a circle jerk atmosphere to it all, sure. SPY magazine used to run a feature where they showed how often writers blurbed and reviewed each other positively -- funny, I don't remember anybody worrying that literature was in any danger.

You know, I prefer crime fiction that isn't about cops and where the 'bad guys' don't always get caught in the end. I like books that aren't always about solving murders - cause there are other crimes. For a long, long time those kinds of books were hard for me to find (It could be I wasn't very good at finding them) but I find quite a few of them now.

I would probably like to see the word "formulaic" and "cliche" in more reviews - especially of books about detectives with problems in their personal lives who still solve important cases in which life and death of innocents hangs in the balance! But you know, what if other than that they aren't cliche?

Sandra Ruttan said...

I can't speak for 'literature'.

Fundamentally, what I believe is a book gets the review it deserves. Now, some of that will be tempered by the preferences of the reviewer...

But if a book is a 100% cliche it should get called out for it. I think the hardest thing is what I've heard on panels myself, from editors with big publishers - they don't want something totally different, they want something familiar with a bit of difference so they can carry readers over the bridge to it. Face it, we're all told, query editors and agents who handle work similar to yours.

That doesn't entirely bother me. The trick for me as an author is to push the boundaries a bit at a time, to work within that and still find ways to be original.

A few weeks ago when I talked about the reviewing dilemma, people outright urged me - both here and in private email - to stop reviewing because it would hurt my career. People confessed in the comments here they don't give any value to author blurbs or reviews.

We've done that damage to ourselves. The difference between crime fiction and literature is that we seem to always be coming up from a bloody nose, saying we should be taken seriously. And it's pretty hard to convince anyone else to take us seriously when people within the genre disregard the recommendations being made.

I'm almost at the point where I'll refuse to read any major hype book. There were a handful of major hype books I failed to finish, or finished and was underwhelmed by last year, and for someone finishing around 30 books in the average year, that's a high percentage. Simply, I used to rely on author referrals to discover new authors.

Now I take most with a grain of salt.

As review space dwindles "literature" will still be reviewed. Crime fiction will suffer. And if we can't take the referrals from within our community seriously, what then?

I ultimately don't care to comment on any other genre, because this is the one I know, but we're hurting ourselves in the long run.

Or let me put it this way: people know I will go out publicly and negatively review a very popular book by a popular author if I feel the review is justified based on my experience with the book. What I hope that means is that when I give a book a positive review - or in the case of your book, John, one of the few I've blurbed - people will trust the recommendation as being a genuine endorsement, not just an ass-kissing favour-exchange gesture.

Anonymous said...

I died watching that clip. That was so freaking funny. (PS Notice how I'm training myself to use freaking instead of fucking. This is the tough gig of being an young adult writer. I so need to get into crime fiction.)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Freaking right you do, Amra. ;)

Yeah, that clip cracked me up. Sometimes you just need something totally off the wall like that. And thank goodness, some people have a sense of humour!

Austin Carr said...

I understand Jimmy did NOT think this was so funny.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Who cares about Jimmy? I thought it was pretty funny.

Austin Carr said...

Hey, Ms. S. You're learning. Let Jimmy drink Drano, eh?

Sandra Ruttan said...

"Let Jimmy drink Drano, eh?"

I'd say get it on a t-shirt, but that looks like a distinctly Canadian version of the sentiment... or a tribute to the Fonz that's not quite pulling it off. ;)