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!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com