When people ask what kind of fiction I write, I find the question rather difficult to answer. For one thing, what does any writer scribble about? In my stories, I like to think I am writing about the psychological development or deterioration of a certain set of characters. Most of my stories deal with the notion of self-identity versus prescribed identity. And more often than not, somewhere in my stories social norms are placed in an interrogation room.
However, if I tell someone the aforementioned when they ask about my writing, they will mostly likely fall dead from immense boredom. Take Excluded for example. When I created the novel some four years ago, the notion of change was in my mind and not because of any certain democrat's campaign. I wanted to call forth the notion of change and whether human being were capable of accomplishing it. In my scenario, I felt the need to use extremes to make change apparent, if and when it occurred. But if I tried to interest people by telling them that, what would be the result? Would they really understand what takes place in the book?
No. Six individuals+change= any number of possibilities. In order to encourage people to read my book along with others, usually I describe things in terms of the set-up, premise, or an example scene. So there are six people in the house with a fear of dying. They are lost, and time is irrelevant. On the other hand, the past is crucial, for none of them knows how long they've been at the house. Now to survive, each of them has to change (sure all stories require change or no change, but I don't want to spoil anything) in some dramatic way relevant to their character.
Locked in a house. Six people. Survival. "Does anyone die?" Yes, some people die. "So it's a horror novel."
And I cringe, although I really shouldn't. Somehow slapping a genre label on any piece of literature is a sort of disclaimer: This is genre fiction, which is meant for entertainment purposes, rather than intellectual ones. Don't believe me, Google it.
Genre fiction is often called "popular fiction", which is a fairly strange phrase, because in the land of academia, what is often deemed popular is often to the contrary. For some reason, the popularity of the genre form makes it less credible. What I find interesting, though, is that there is no true separation between genre and literary works. The argument is that writing should somehow mirror real-life--that is, the content should be plausible and able to happen in real life. Genre fiction, on the other hand, sometimes dips until the unlikely and unrealistic. While some may argue there are several other reasons, I believe the somewhat unrealistic nature of genre pieces is exactly what makes them possible.
But like I said, most of the lines are blurred. Flannery O'Conner's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is undoubtedly a literary work. But if you think about the scenario at hand, it is largely fear-based, which is a convention of horror fiction. Also, the final scene uses a few more horror conventions. Conventions, sure, but does that make O'Conner a horror fiction writer? No, it's still literary.
For another example, check out 1984, a paramount work by Bret Easton Ellis. 1984 is arguably a science fiction novel. Genre. Yet, overtime the novel has grown to become a favorite amongst the masses as well as a classic in the literary world. In this case, time erased the lines separating genre and literary, or at least, stabbed the stigma (genre is not as serious) to death.
And, of course, before you are completely bored, I need to address the giant elephant standing in bookstores across the world and everywhere on the Interwebs. Stephen King. A horror novelist once shunned for simply being a genre writer. However, over time King, like Ellis, has become recognizable by the literary world. While we may classify him as a horror writer because of Carrie, The Shining, The Stand, and so on, it's worth noting that his other works include The Green Mile, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, etc.
(To be continued . . . )
I read this fantastic interview with Andrea Vachss (pronounced fax) on The Cult and you should read it too. Seriously.
What I found most interesting about the review, other than the dissection of Amazon's recent controversy , regarded the notion of experimental fiction and how books today should be read. For the most part, "what they teach you in art school", is that your pen should flow so smoothly on the pages, surrounded by metaphor and the finest of word choices. However, more and more people now are suggesting that they despise "flowery" works of fiction. As for myself, I agree to some extent.
I'll admit that I am an escapist of sorts. In other words, I would rather indulge in a good story which makes me forget that I am reading at all. It's like a good theatrical performance, really. When I worked with the Putnam County Playhouse and the Hendricks County Civic Theatre, one of the goals repeated in the dressing room was "make them forget they are looking at actors on a stage". Likewise, I believe a good book is one that allows the reader to forget they are merely holding ink and paper in their hands (or text on a screen, as the case may now be).
RH: Why do you think the story needed to be told like that, with a mixture of art and prose?
AV: I can't say it needed to be told like that. It's a new genre that Frank and I have been experimenting with before, with these triptych haikus, and they really worked, insanely well. I didn't want to write a comic book. I didn't want word balloons in the book. I didn't even want the same font used throughout, in regards to who was speaking. The best word is, I wanted to have the person who has this book experience the book, not read it.
In The Cult's interview with Vachss, the author mentions he wanted his most recent release to be, not only different and new, but something the reader could fully explore--a story that didn't read like a story. This ideology is one with which I have often agreed. I tend to dislike most stories that read too much like writing. Coming from a writer, the aforementioned notion sounds ludicrous, but I have faith other readers, if not writer's as well, agree.
In summary, my hope here is to encourage writers to create stories that readers read, not only other writers. Writing is a highway for storytelling and should capture a reader's imagination as well as their more rational thoughts the way a movie can completely engross a viewer. From time to time, perhaps we should consider ourselves as entertainers as well as artists and craftsmen.
(For the record, I understand Vachss' publisher, Dark Horse, releases, in large, comics and graphic novels. However, Vachss' book is more of a novel than anything else and his ideas towards reading still remain relevant.)
Maybe this isn't the most blog-worthy thing right now, but I cannot get it off of my mind: The Discovery Channel was going to air a reenactment of Michael Jackson's autopsy. The article posted above spends a great deal discussing how the decision for the show was overturned and how legal troubles may be part of the reasoning. However, I'm sitting here in awe, not because the show is not going to happen, but because someone decided it was a good idea in the first place. Seriously, could you imagine seeing any other person on such a show?
What if it was just some hobo from one of the back alleys in American Psycho? I wonder what killed this man. My guess: drugs, alcohol, unbearable living conditions, being stabbed to death. A celebrity? Stress, high anxiety, prescription medications, illness, unbearable traveling schedule. What did The Discovery Channel really hope to explore--that one of those fetuses from Aliens was growing inside of the pits of the Prince of Pop?
Maybe what this all boils down to, is that when I was a child, I loved television. Then everything became reality television, but that simply was not enough. We need things more watered-down as far as content, yet more interesting that real-life, like autopsy shows without a medical purpose.
Above is a story I find very, very interesting. It also leaves me speechless.
Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.