Sunday, October 01, 2006

The shitters

The following is a comment I left of Ed Champion's blog in response to his encounter with some people a Bouchercon who dismiss literary fiction. This is not a new phenomenon, but one is more apt to find a lit fic person being the dismissive one. He commented on the reaction of his question on whether or not there were other mystery writers, besides James Ellroy, who have used experimental prose in their work.

I have to admit that one of my pet peeves is “lit fic” folks who shit on genre - drives me up a wall. (As a mystery writer in a MFA program, I encountered this a lot. A lot.) But I have met pop fic people who shit on lit fic, which I find completely idiotic. There are varying degrees within each story that pushes them toward different genre walls, including the mystery/literary divide. I say divide, but I guess what I really mean is a gray neutral zone where many books stand - Pete Dexter’s “Train” or Daniel Woodrell’s “The Death of Sweet Mister” are just two examples. But the thing one has to admit is that there are far more lit fic shitters than pop fic shitters, and that will create an anomisity among many people who will go to the mat to forward the progression of genre. Those in the extreme of both sides of this issue can be compared to the extremists in the political divide; people with blinders on who can only see one point of view, and will dismiss the opinions of others to the detriment of the entire cause of literature. What one has to remember isthat the extremists may have the loudest voices, but they do not represent the majority.
As for others within the mystery field who have tried an experimental style, I think you will find that there isn’t a large place for it at this time. A major reason Ellroy was able to execute the style of “White Jazz” was because he was already successful - and the novel worked. But if you had a mystery genre equivalent of John Barth, I don’t know if that writer would find an audience. Personally, I would love to see a new section of the mystery genre emerge in the same way that Slipstream has invigorated the Sci-fi genre. Will that ever happen? I guess that depends on how many people embrace the gray zones of genre.

I've enjoyed Ed's posts on Bouchercon, as much as I've enjoyed the updates of everyone else I've had a pleasure to read while I take care of a very colicky six-week-old. I think in all the pediatrician journals, colic is defined as "can't do shit about it."

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