Every once and awhile I get kinda bored with crime fiction. It usually happens after I finish a mediocre, or worse, absolutely horrible, crime fiction novel. It seems that all the good books are unique, but the mediocre ones are all the same. While I'm sure it won't take me long to get out of this funk, this latest crisis of faith (OK, that's a bit exaggerated, but you get the idea) has taken me to the point where I'm tired of defending the lowest common denominator in our genre so that the best writers get a little bit of respect.
I come from an MFA background. Rather than starting from scratch by myself, I went to school to learn how to write - if anyone can really learn how to write, but I digress. Being a genre writer in an MFA program is fucking hard because you need to constantly defend genre writing. You can't let on that you think there is plenty of horrible shit sitting on the mystery and speculative fiction (or alternative fiction) shelves because that will only give these nimrod idiots grounds to prove their prejudices. Well, if you think it's crap, why should I even care? I think this is where I should mention that most of the literary fiction MFA students out there are complete dolts who are so lacking in their reading knowledge that it isn't funny. They can be quite ignorant.
Now you're saying to yourself, but Steve didn't you come from the only MFA program in the country with a popular fiction track? Why yes I did, in fact The Atlantic even pointed out the uniqueness of this particular program; but just because one of the leading magazines in the country managed to focus on this characteristic doesn't necessarily mean that the majority of students from the other genres, some of the faculty or the administration understands and appreciates this.
So why am I in this funk? Two reasons that happened to intersect over the past couple of days. The first was reading, well not a bad book, but a plainly average one. It had all the elements of good mystery/crime/thriller books from the past, but it just didn't do it for me. I finally sped read through the last third of the book to finish it. After I put it back on the shelf, I went to find another book, but I didn't want to discover another average book. (I finally read through the first 30 pages of Don Delillo's Underworld, which had been sitting on the shelf since it was published 10 years ago.)
This reading misadventure came on top of the perennial pop fiction student push to hire useful faculty for the MFA program I attended. Now you're thinking, why must the pop fic student body continually suggest and push for appropriate faculty while the other genres are taken care of? Good question. They shouldn't. That should be up to the people who actually run the damn thing, because that's their fucking job. The task of finding faculty and recruiting them has constantly been deferred to the pop fic students and the pop fic faculty. Truthfully, if any influence outside of the administration whose responsibilty it is to suggest and push for pop fic faculty it is the alumni, of which I am apart of, however almost all the popfic alumni have been so burned by the administration while we were students doing exactly the same thing current students are doing, that there is a part of us that doesn't really give a fuck. Well, that's not entirely true - we care about the current students getting a good education, we care that the faculty may be rundown by the struggle and we care about the reputation of the program, if only as a selfish consideration of the worth of our degrees.
It's no secret that I'm not a fan of the current director of the program (however, I am a fan of most of the faculty who do an incredible job), but it's not because I'm an asshole, despite what other alums have called me because of my vocal criticism (this is usually from the ones dangling out of the director's ass anyway). This reason for my displeasure is that I can see what this program can become. It is the only pop fiction MFA out there. Can you imagine what it would be under the right guidence? This could be the place where genre fiction scholars and teachers could congregate and push popular fiction into an incredible new direction. Imagine a truly academic pursuit of genre writing. But that's being squandered, actually it's being completely ignored. After The Atlantic pointed out that this was the only pop fic program in the country, and was what made our MFA program standout from the rest, do you know how many references the administrations made to the article? How many ads were created to promote this? How many e-mails went out to students and alumni and donators? ZERO. None. Nil.
So, instead of continually fighting the unwinable fight of proving that genre writing is worthy of study by defending all genre writing, I'm going to revert to a much higher ground. Instead of saying that all genre writing is deserving (it's not), I'm going to call a spade a spade. I'm going to promote my idea of good genre writing and stop letting others push me into deferring to the lowest sludge when I talk about it. There are some in genre writing who will disagree with me, and that's OK, but I can't stop myself from saying what is good, what is bad and what isn't deserving of academic or artistic respect.
I have no idea if what I wrote makes any sense, and I'm too busy taking care of a semi-sick kid to go back and review it; but I hope you get my meaning.
Here endith the rant.