Stay with me while I set this up, because I'm really pissed off:

UT's Michener Center last night brought Denis Johnson last night to read. He's the author of a book of short stories "Jesus' Son", the novels "Resuscitation of a Hanged Man", "Angels", "The Stars at Noon", and more. He's got Faulkner Awards and National Book Club awards. He's taught at UT's MFA program which is pretty prestigious (I mean you really have to be something special to get in, there are like 6 seats and 2,000 applicants, because acceptance supplies a grant that covers the entire tuition.) Recently, Johnson's novella "Nobody Move" was serialized in four issues of Playboy and from this he read for forty minutes.

Now, I just finished editing Out of the Gutter #5: The Revenge Issue, with Matt Lewis and it is going to press in the next few days, but I couldn't hear any difference between what we or any writer on Crimespace is doing and Denis Johnson's work, but he doesn't get dismissed as a pulp/suspense/thriller writer. He gets academic approval and literature status. I've read his short stories in" Jesus' Son" and I don't understand how L.A. Weekly quoted it as "In a world of predictable fiction, Jesus' Son is a point-blank godsend."

A student after the reading asked me what I thought and I was in a daze and said, "It's just pulp fiction."

and he said, "Yeah, but it's good Pulp Fiction."

and I said, "Then don't bill it as anything else than pulp fiction otherwise he's slumming."

and he got all defensive, "Yeah, but the voice is raw and real."

and I told him to go to a soup kitchen six blocks over and steal their stories.

He turned away and the entourage of MFA's slipped off to a closed party with Denis Johnson.

So here is the question, what with Tin House and others using genre sponsored contests to exclusive writing programs, have any writers here been able to cross the line or even want to into the fiction/lit shelves of the bookstore? Have they been able to get grants or lit based awards? Or are they stuck in a genre section? Who is in charge of labeling and pigeon holing novels?

Just note, I'm not attacking Denis Johnson personally, it's just the shorts I have read of his were more like character studies and impressionistic forages into degenerate portraits, but not completed stories.

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I don't want to be a jerk about this (well, more of a jerk, I guess) but the publisher only decides what gets published.

There are plenty of people who write what they want and don't publish or self-publish. POD and online sales of e-books and things like that might someday even make it possible for them to make a few bucks.
Once a publisher makes an offer, they decide a lot of things for the book, including how best to market it. Yes, they do assign genre (title, cover, promotional blurb, and print run) without consulting the author.
Well, they did in my case and in hindsight I think they were right. Mostly. Calling my books "mysteries" got me into this community I may not have otherwise joined.

I am still sometimes disappointed that my books are rarely mentioned in literary discussions in Canada, because, I find few of the literary novels we do celebrate in Canada resonate much with the world I see around me. Very few books in Canada deal with the kinds of things that are going on everyday - big changes in our cities and so on. Toronto has become this huge multi-cultural city and the literary novels still divide it up; we have the books set in the Indo-Pakistani community or the South Asian community or the Caribbean community but very few that mix it up. I suppose that's because the reality is the people of our city very rarely mix it up. We're multi-cultural but still live parallel lives for the most part.

Then I saw a line in the newspaper when some gangs got busted, one of the cops said, "If everybody in this city could work together the way these gangs do, we'd have a lot less trouble," and I thought, yeah, this stuff can be explored through crime, it's always the front lines of society, where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. The cops were sort of forced to become multi-cultural and the gangs really don't care about ethnicity it's all about the money. So, I fictionalized all kinds of real events in my city and went into the background of the characters and the events in ways that I thought only literature could.

So, on the one hand I'm very happy to be part of this big crime fiction familiy, on the other hand I'm disappointed my books have been marginalized in Canada as "genre fiction," and not taken as seriously.

This stuff may be more extreme in Canada, we're about the most insecure people in the world ;)
Who is this Matt Lewis joker?


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