A World Between

I have recently interviewed two Irish suspense writers – John Connolly on last week’s Author2Author, and Stuart Neville for our upcoming February issue – both of whose fiction writing grew out of an interest in the supernatural, and both of whom expressed the opinion that suspense/mystery readers and perhaps a great many suspense/mystery writers harbor an abiding suspicion of That Which Cannot Be Rationally Explained.

Supernatural fiction, after all, is often inhabited by what amounts to an Evil Intelligence, a kind of anti-God force that does not abide by the laws of the physical world as we have come to know them. Perhaps these villains’ greatest threat is their power to deprive of us of our precious reason, what we had come to believe was the bedrock of our daily safety. The heroes of such stories must overcome their enemies with courage alone, which is a discipline of pure balance, compared to the brute strength of applied logic.

Traditional mysteries, however, actually seek to strip away mystery, to reveal through rational insight the threads holding our wild world together. What seems at first meaningless and random turns out to be a part of a larger whole, and the detective, an engine of scientific good, uncovers the trail of cause and effect that led inevitably to the event that now fits logically into the world as we know it.

It is so like humans to reside in one of these two camps and spend our days grousing about the other. One camp would deny order exists when clearly it is everywhere always, and the other camp would turn life into a great dull clock, ticking away unimaginatively until its final hour. Our true lives, of course, are lived forever between these two worlds. Such is the creative tension alive in the human mind. To perceive the delicious order of things – the predictable sunrise, the constancy of gravity, the steady flow of rivers to the ocean – and be simultaneously free to think anything at all, unbound by any law other than our own desire.

Welcome to life, young humans. This is what we’ve got. You needn’t pick sides in anything. Between desire and reason blooms a perfect rose, and that little flower is you.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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Comparative Acceptance

I had a very lively and surprising conversation with the suspense writer John Connolly on last Tuesday’s Author2Author (Oh, and be sure to catch tomorrow’s chat with screenwriter/novelist Delia Ephron). Perhaps because John’s work spans two genres (horror and suspense) we spent a great deal of time talking about genre and the various attitudes writers of one genre have about writers of another genre.

John is a friend of Lee Child, whose Jack Reacher novels land unambiguously in suspense. I was not familiar with Lee’s work when I interviewed him, but I very much enjoyed the opportunity to do so. He was charming and smart and had a very Author-ish attitude about writing. He advised writers to allow their work to evolve organically rather than strategically, thereby ensuring the quality of authenticity and originality book buyers and sellers are always looking for.

So I was surprised to hear John say that Child felt that at heart all literary writers secretly wished they could write entertaining commercial fiction, that the only reason literary writers do write literary fiction is they can’t write genre. This simply isn’t true, of course. If my hundreds of interviews have taught me nothing else, they have taught me that any writer who has had any success at all writes precisely the same thing: what he or she most likes to read.

But Child’s misperception is not a punishable offense. A literary writer might, and probably has said precisely the same thing about Lee Child regarding literary fiction. Both would be correct in a small way, because everyone seems to envy what the other one has: literary writers crave the genre writers’ sales, and genre writers crave the literary writers’ critical approval.

Fortunately, in most cases envy does not keep us from writing what we ought to write. I believe this is because some part of us understands that those people we envy don’t actually have what we believe we need. Genre writers and literary writers all have precisely the same thing, and it isn’t sales and it isn’t rave reviews in the New York Times. We have only what has been given us, and to compare it is to reject it, and to love it is to accept it – and I don’t know any writer who doesn’t love a good acceptance letter.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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