Tuesday, August 02, 2011
A genre writer accepts himself by Will Lavender
A genre writer accepts himself
How one novelist with literary ambitions learned to stop worrying and love the thriller
BY WILL LAVENDER
I used to think genre fiction was for the slow-minded. Page turners, potboilers, pulp -- none of that interested me. That was for folks who liked their novels rubber-banded and soft-backed, who finished two books a year and read everything aloud.
There is a war against popularity in many MFA programs in America, and in my 20s, I was on the front lines. I wrote literary fiction, the only work serious and relevant enough to be worth my time. I cut my blue jeans off at the knees and called everything ironic. I read John Banville's "The Sea" by an actual sea. I wrote the kinds of hard-bitten, muscular novelettes young men are supposed to become famous for writing.
For a short time I morphed into John Ashbery; at 25, I was sort of a Michael Chabon lite. All the while I was tunneling outward across the sediment of recent American letters, digging hard for something worthwhile to say in my own stale fiction. Being original -- or even, God forbid, honest -- didn't interest me in the least. Instead I tried on disguises, trying to cobble my fiction together out of different styles and contexts. Words like "urgency" and "vitality" were my catchphrases.
I flailed, hilariously, to be sure my writing could not be confused with mere entertainment. I went through an experimental phase; I grew the requisite chin beard. I wrote text upside down, scribbled counterpoint in the margins. Every story I wrote contained footnotes. I was like John Gardner's Grendel: forever posturing, transforming the world with words but changing nothing.
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