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.
Doesn't it usually work like that, though? The better the art the messier the artist.
Well, yes, I meant the successful current literary fiction. I don't read much modern fiction but have sampled a few award winners. Some I liked a lot. Some just had gorgeous descriptions. Most dealt with the human condition in some way. But the line between crime fiction and literary fiction need not be so clearly defined. In my view, good crime fiction needs to deal with the human condition. And with character. It's much harder to do that when you are confined by the requirement of the genre. There is something wonderfully liberating about the way a modern literary writer can just do whatever he thinks is right without regard to sales.
And as for snob appeal: why, having read the latest work by a famous literary writer makes for great dinner conversation and may even impress the boss. And the tome will have staying power on display on the bookshelves of the library. Or maybe on the coffee table.
Money. Crime fiction revolves around crime, and crime's primary purpose is money. Murders committed for no other reason other than to provide a body (to paraphrase Chandler) are dry material. It's not the crime that matters; it's the reason or reasons for the crime, which often involve money. Especially when dealing with professional criminals or repeat offenders, as opposed to one-time killers who snap or get carried away. Crimes worth writing about are rarely done for no reason, and the most common reason for crime is money.
As for other genres (including literary), I think money pops up quite a bit there.
As for the blog post that provoked this discussion, the blogger may be right, but he's blaming the wrong people. The kind of writing he deplores (not saying Crimes in Southern Indiana is an example) sells a lot of copies. That's on the readers, not the authors. People stop making that crap profitable to write, writers will stop writing it. We're whores, not pimps.
You will not be able to change readers. They are a given. The onus is back on the writers.
I'm not saying we should try to change them. This is the world we live in. Authors who want to make money can write to the public's taste, or not make much money. The kind of fiction that is taken to task in the blog post is not anyone's fault, if that's the word to use. It just is. He might as well have railed about the sun rising in the east. he can't do anything about that, either.
Or weeds growing in your lawn. Or mosquitoes ruining your summer. Or politicians.
It doesn't matter what you're doing. Books, music, movies or lawn sculptures. The lowest common denominator works because it has the widest appeal. You can wiggle the middle one way or the other, but it's still the middle.
IMHO, it's only the threat of death, or the search for love, that make the chase for money dramatic.
But for a professional criminal, the threat of death (or death itself) may be secondary to getting the money. They're willing to kill for it, and possibly die for it.
But we write for readers, not criminals.
But we write ABOUT criminals. For them, money is often the main, possibly only, motivator. The trick is to make that interesting for readers while still making the criminals behave as criminals.
I think it was John McFetridge who was chided once in a review because he hadn't made it clear why the drug dealers were drug dealers. Duh. Why is anyone a drug dealer? For the money. (This is why I so rarely read reviews, and NEVER read reviews of books I've already decided to read.)