Love and Death: Is There ANYthing Else to Write About?

A self-published author has put himself on the hotspot today by criticizing Frank Bill's Crimes In Southern Indiana: "From what I could tell," writes John H. Byk, "Crimes in Southern Indiana, is to crime fiction what the film, Saw, is to horror movies — a mindless string of sensationalism connected by the thinnest of thematic threads. I felt insulted as a reader by the clipped, non sequitor dialogues and two dimensional characters that reminded me of porn stars. Yet this tripe attracted the attention of a major literary agent and secured Mr. Bill a contract with a giant in the publishing industry (FSG). Congratulations to him and sour grapes to those who embrace this new trend.

"These authors, who write like Bill and who are featured in popular crime fiction ezines across the web, don't have the stamina to write a full length novel because there is no suitable framework to contain continuous splashes of blood on page after page.  But a society numbed by violence feeds upon these stories like frenzied sharks or masturbatory adolescents unable to control their urges or to satisfy their needs. 

"Sex and death. That's always what sells. Ask any freshman Marketing student."

My question for fellow CrimeSpacers: Violence can be overdone, sure, (I don't think so in this case from what I've read of Frank's short stories) but is there anything else to write about but love and death? Mr. Byk keeps deleting the angry comments, but his whole blog post is here.

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Well, love sure, but he says, "Sex and death," and also mentions his familiarity with porn stars so maybe there's something in that.

But there is a lot of lengthy descriptions of violence in crime fiction these days.

There's plenty to write about. Death's just a popular choice, especially for crime fiction. lol

I don't know.  I found myself on the critic's side.  There's just too much easy-beasy trash-writing out there.  And the buying public lacks any sort of taste when it comes to their preferences.  You'll probably get a much better level of understanding and taste from the non-buying library member.

What was the latest self-published sensation?  A fanfic novel full of sex?  It, too, got a major contract.

I think the critic definitely has a fair share of points. Maybe it's our job to try and steer direction a bit. Maybe make something just commercial enough but also pulls things away from just another sex/death smorgasbord.

I've missed the point somehow. Have any of you three ever written a novel that wasn't about love or death?

My novels are mostly about food and jokes, with a certain amount of sex and death tossed on after the fact, like tinsel.  Anybody who thinks otherwise has misunderstood my genius.

Well with crime fiction a death often provides the structure, but as Robert B. Parker once said: 

“The plot is the line on which I hang the wash, and the wash is what I care about.”

He's completely right.  Fifty Shades of Grey and its derivatives dominate this week's NYT best-seller list--S&M for soccer moms!  Now if only I could figure out a way to cash in!

What entertains us entertains us--an author can do it with class and style, or (apparently) not.  It's been that way since the pulp era.  No, it's been that way since de Sade!  No, it's been that way since the first homo sapiens painted a naked woman on the wall of a cave!

But seriously--I think this is why there's literary fiction.  If substance is what we're after, genre may not be the best place to look.  That said, my favorite undergraduate poetry teacher used to say there were only three subjects for a poem: sex, death and other--and there's precious little of other.  I think things have changed since then, and there's now a fourth subject--identity.  But I find the poetry of identity pretty boring, ultimately.  So--sex and death! 

FSG believes Frank Bill to be VERY literary, as does Playboy, Granta, and quite a few fancy reviews. His violence is the result of a disturbed America, or something like that.

Well, then, the world has gone to hell in a lunch-bucket, Jack.  But we already knew that.

Sometimes literary stylists get away with all kinds of stuff in the name of literary style.  It's always fun when someone outside the loop calls bullshit in a public way.  Let the writing wars begin!  This kind of fight has been going on in the poetry world since forever--see the recent battle between Rita Dove and Helen Vendler, among others.

There is something to be said for the notion that America's psyche has tilted increasingly toward the sadistic in the last generation or so.  See Abu Ghraib.  See reality TV.  See Fifty Shades, etc.  A writer who reflects that and makes money is also obviously exploiting and perhaps perpetuating it.  But it's not our job to heal the damn world, right?  Right?

Sorry, John, but I kind of see more substance in genres than literary fiction.   It's kind of like anybody can pour sauce over something, but good fried chicken takes some know-how and sticks to your ribs.

I'd say the best of so-called genre fiction has as much substance as your average lit fic book. Most genre fiction, for example, has no theme beyond the banal and characterization is typically far more complex in lit fiction. I say this as a person who writes genre fiction and reads it in favor of lit fic in a ratio of at least ten to one.


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