Saturday, August 20, 2016

Writing for the "marketplace"

Anne on writing.

One thing I believed early on: readers have a right to pure enjoyment. If you won't give them plot, spectacle, suspense, some glamour, then don't complain if they don't want to read your work.

I found myself amongst disillusioned academic writers who felt they were "better" than those topping the bestseller lists, alienated from a public who didn't appreciate their fine small realistic psychological novels about upper middle class life and its endless small frustrations. I never had much sympathy with all that. Yes, there were crude writers atop the bestseller lists but when you took the time to read bestselling novels, you could see the skill, the passion, the relentless storytelling, the appeal.

I figured I could offer spectacle, plot, suspense and glamour -- the things I loved -- and still write a novel with depth. I took Aristotle's reflections on successful tragedy to heart; I wanted my work to have heroes, real heroes, and plenty of spectacle and plot, fine writing (the finest I could do) and to arouse pity and fear and produce catharsis.

I saw a total absence of these elements in the "better" serious fiction of America, the pedestrian realism anointed as the national literature with its "ordinary" folk in inevitable situations, striving for small insights. Understand, there was much great writing in these "better" serious "realistic" novels. But I wanted wider appeal. I have some deep constitutional aversion to elites. Yes, they may be the custodians of artistic values, but I admire and desire the art that moves "the people." After all, I am "the people." I love Elvis and Maria Callas; Jackie Susann and Charles Dickens; "Splendor in the Grass" with Natalie Wood and Lawrence Olivier's Hamlet. I read literary criticism and comic books. I crave poetry and night time soaps. I wanted my books in student backpacks and on kitchen shelves in trailers and other homes, in libraries and in drugstores. I was actually terrified of small, limited, respectable success. So I wrote big bizarre and unwieldy books in which vampires or witches talked of "souls" or "eternity."

Well, it paid off for me with the audience I love and respect and identify with. So my advice to other writers will always be: do what you want, do what you love, write the books you want to read. Never study or reflect on "the marketplace" and try to craft a fiction to meet its demands. And if you want to write for literary critics, good luck with that. I know nothing about it.

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