by Rob Gregory Browne
"You're a terrific stylist," she said. "How long do you see yourself writing this kind of stuff?"
The woman, who is an acquaintance, was referring to my latest book, WHISPER IN THE DARK
(which comes out in a week — eehaa), and there was an emphasis on the word "stuff" that made it sound as if she'd just bit into something quite sour and maybe a little moldy.
I don't have a lot of practice with people praising and insulting me simultaneously — it's usually just the insults — so I stammered a bit and said, "Uh, as long as I can."
But because she'd been raised on "serious" fiction and had studied it in high school and college, this poor woman couldn't fathom why I would ever want to write what I write or why anyone else would want to read it.
If I were to suggest that what she normally reads is really no different than what I write — characters trying to get themselves out of sticky situations — she would have looked at me as if I were completely out of my mind.
To her, the subject matter I cover is clearly the stuff of tabloids and B movies and is not something to take seriously. And because I'm such a "terrific stylist," surely I'll one day graduate to writing real books.
We've talked about literary snobbery here at Murderati, probably more than once. But its a subject that doesn't seem to want to leave me in peace. Not because I feel any kind of guilt about what I write, but because I can't for the life of me understand how someone could categorize thrillers as somehow less important than any other type of book.
If you don't like thrillers, fine. You don't like them. But to avoid reading them because they're "beneath" you, tells me a lot more about you than I probably want to know.
The truth is, I love what I write. I wouldn't be writing it if I didn't. Thrillers are not a stepping stone to literary greatness. There are enough thriller writers both past and present who have already achieved that greatness and I don't see them rushing out to write something more suitable to their talents — whatever that might mean. If I should ever manage to join their ranks, it won't be because I decided to alter my subject matter.
In his bio of Raymond Chandler — one our greatest American writers — Tim Hiney tells us that when Chandler wrote The Big Sleep, most critics not only refused to review it, but those who did thought it was too "seedy" to be taken seriously. I doubt that those critics, if they're still alive, would say the same thing today. And if they did, I'd have to label them complete idiots.
Some of the Gold Medal paperback "potboilers" that were written in the fifties and sixties were truly great works of fiction. And anyone chased away by the lurid covers and subject matter can be forgiven if that's simply not the type of book they want to read, but they're just plain crazy if they think those books are any less worthy than what their "serious" literary heroes were writing at the time.
Great writing is great writing because of the author's voice and point of view, not the stories he or she chooses to tell. Even the label "genre" fiction is insulting, because it tries to set the work to one side, as if it's somehow different than any other story being told. As if a certain set of qualifications make it a lesser work that shouldn't or can't be compared favorably to the more literary work.
One "genre" that always seems to get the worst of this kind of prejudice is the romance field, where so many are so quick to lump it all together and call it trite and inconsequential. But the truth is, there's a lot of great work being done in that field as well and those who discount it are, in my humble opinion, fools.
But then I guess that's what all this boils down to, isn't it? Opinion. And I'm certainly not short on those when it comes to popular music or politics or the clothes my neighbor is wearing.
But at least I don't walk up to that neighbor and say, gee, you're a good looking woman, how long do you think you'll be dressing like a circus performer?
Tell me I'm wrong about this. I dare you. :)
For those of you interested, I'll be making a number of appearances here in California next month, so I invite you to go to my website
and click on the events link. Hope to see you!