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.


Read more: http://blogcritics.org/books/article/sampling-frank-bills-crimes-in...

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This is why I prefer stories about professional criminals, it opens up so much more thematic space.

 

Is it just sex and death? Or is it morality?

I'd prefer to think that how one deals with, or handles, these two facets of the human condition speaks to your concept of morality. How do you relate to other people? - Sex. How do you survive the death of others, or cope with the prospect of your own death? - Death.

Each of these elements of the human condition calls into question your moral view of the universe. Are others there to be treated as objects for your pleasure? (For example.) Or, can you deprive others of their lives readily and not worry about it? (For example.) Sex and Death - where does your sense of morality intervene in determining your actions?

So yes, Sex and Death are the presenting problems, as a psychiatrist might say. But ultimately they demonstrate how certain characters - created by crime writers - deal with the ultimate question of right and wrong. Or put another way, Good and Bad.

When we're writing crime fiction we're really investigating this eternal struggle - why should people act well, when there are many reasons for them to act badly? Or, why can't I act badly to further my own interests - what is there to stop me?

Phew, I'm getting all philosophical there. (I recently read a post where someone described Philosophy as Common Sense with jazz hands ... I'm still laughing at that.) I've been reading crime fiction almost exclusively for the last twenty years, and I'm convinced that the reason I do so is because the battle between Good and Bad (not Evil - I don't believe in Evil) is a strong psychological driver for us. We want to do Good but are tempted by Bad. Bad has lots of associated pleasures. And it's those we find hard to do without ...

Sure.  Sex.   Kind of equal parts love and death.

I believe we make a mistake when we blame the reader for the books or elements of books we produce.  If we think of the reader as part of the mindless masses, the lowest common denominator, or frenzied sharks and masturbatory adolescents we not only insult our CUSTOMERS but we misjudge them.

Most people lead lives of quiet desperation (to quote Pink Floyd) and escapist books, whether it is romance, science fiction, or crime, takes our readers to other worlds, other places.  That is a positive thing.  It doesn't turn them into slobbering monsters (even if our antagonist is one) and it doesn't mean the reader is somehow stupid or unsophisticated.  

Quoting Thoreau, actually.   Pink Floyd said "hanging on in quiet desperation"  

I wholly agree on your sentiments here.  I see so much advice to writers based on the premise that readers are just too stupid to get anything that's not laid out simply for them with little arrows to show them what is going on.

wells there's rather a lot

Spys

Cold War

jealousy

money crime

sophistication

All of which, IMHO, involve love and/or death, the threat or hope of, anyway, with the exception I guess of sophistication. Not sure what you mean there.

At one time in my life I thought it meant wearing a monocle or frock coat.

I think it interesting that almost all of these elements were used by William Shakespeare.  Good enough for him, good enough for me.

That's quite a name you have there, Henry.  That ought to sell books just by being there.

I never can see the "too much trash" thing.  It aims at superiority, but has a hard time standing up.  Who is the judge.  Maybe somebody is up there saying your stuff is trash.  There's a wide variety of writing available and people take their pick. 

Everybody seems so threatened by lousy writing.  I don't get it.  I'm intimidated by superb writing.  And there's an awful lot of that.  I guess it's a half full./ half empty thing.  But my mama always told me, You don't get any taller by looking down your nose.

All that bad stuff is "standard"?   The only ones who havce success are the bad ones?

Henry, that's an awful outlook.

It's got to have a negative effect on you to feel that way.  And to be concerned with what other writers do, rather than focus on what you do, and what good writers do.

Why do people read all this sucky books?  I can't remember the last time I read I read a crappy book.  Why would I want to do that?  You'd have to be out of your mind to read Twilight, it's like it's got big flashing signs on it telling me I wouldn't like it.  So I didn't read it.  So I can't really judge it.

Accentuate the positive, dude!  Go for it.

Well, yes, there are many very bad books that have reached bestseller levels.  Meyer did it by pandering to teenage fantasies about sex and vampires.  50 Shades of Gray, which is fanfiction (and therefore heavily --86 % -- stolen from another author) did it with rampant sex of the pornographic caliber.  Such books appeal to those who want the cheap thrill and nothing else.  They are in the majority among book buyers.  The other readers hang out at libraries. 

And that has got to be discouraging for writers.

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