griffinwords: (profile)
Following on from minutes-ago post about going from Stephen King's Dreamcatcher to Cormac McCarthy's The Road...

A reasonable first reaction would be to say that these two are about as far apart as two writers could be. The sun-bleached lines of McCarthy, which manage to be terse even when they are poetic, stand in dramatic contrast to the casual, slang-filled conversational style of King. One is less, one is more-more-more.

On the other hand, both are quirky with punctuation, and both frequently construct sentences to feel like internal stream-of-consciousness.

Beyond that, there's another similarity I would like to discuss. Both have written genre fiction (McCarthy dabbling in SF or apocalyptic horror this once, King obviously working in horror most of the time) that appeals widely to readers outside those genres. This ability is rare enough -- and make no mistake, most genre writers very much want their work to appeal to readers outside the genre ghetto -- to bear consideration. Why is Stephen King's work so popular among readers who never read horror except King's work, and more often read mainstream books or thrillers? Why do critics treat The Road with the same respect they give All the Pretty Horses or Blood Meridian, rather than saying "I'll pass on this one -- he's just writing end-of-the-world shit?"

Despite the stylistic gap between these two writers, I think the explanation for trans-genre appeal is the same in both cases, and also explains writers like Vonnegut, Palahniuk, Atwood, and even Tolkien reaching way beyond the usual genre boundaries (in some cases to the point they are no longer considered genre writers even when what they're doing plainly uses all the tropes). That is, the placement of the characters' emotional drama at the forefront of the story in such a way that we are tangled in their experience. We experience their fears and hopes, and directly project ourselves into their place.

This seems a simple matter -- all writers know they're supposed to engage the reader on an emotional level -- yet very rarely does that engagement occur in such an intimate way as with these writers. It's about putting the "people stuff" ahead of the "trans-warp tachyon drive" or "vampire/zombie plague" or "Venusian cloud colony" bullshit. Most genre writers think they're doing this, but they're not. That's because most genre writers get their start out of a love for the tropes and McGuffins, and not out of pure storytelling. They may try to figure out how to write relationships and emotions, but it's not what drives them.

I haven't read enough about McCarthy to know if this is true, but from reading him I'd say he's strongly influenced by Hemingway and Faulkner (which probably says a lot about why I'm so smitten with him, because those are two of my favorites). Obviously King has more roots within horror than without, but I think it's telling that his favorite writer is Elmore Leonard, and not Lovecraft or Machen or Blackwood or Shirley Jackson. Leonard is another writer whose primary focus is individual fears and desires. It's incidental that his characters are murderers and thieves, con artists and detectives.

Sometimes a genre writer wants to break out, give themselves a shot at appealing to a broader readership, outside their own genre. Sometimes they try a different style to which they're not really suited , such as Greg Bear writing an awful supernatural thriller with minimal SF content, Dead Lines. I think a better idea would be to focus on writing stuff with a more human appeal.

Lots of people love Friday Night Lights who don't care about high school football. Normally I don't like Westerns, yet I loved Deadwood crazy-much, because the characters and conflicts were so compelling. To my mind, the foremost goal of any writer should be to make their work appeal to people who normally dislike the subject matter or genre.
griffinwords: (Default)
My reading time has been short lately so I've been limited to audiobook listening during my long-ish commute. I just finished Stephen King's Dreamcatcher and I'm about to start The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

I've been thinking a lot about writers who create work that transcends genre, and these two writers are noteworthy in that regard. I'll post something about that later today.
griffinwords: (Default)
I don't have any one subject I want to focus on here at the moment, but a few things are going on.

My wife is out of town this week, and I'm not with her. This situation is common for lots of married folk, but we almost never travel separately, so it feels weird, and I don't like it!

Here in Portland we finally broke free of over a month of rotten, lousy un-summer-like weather and for a few weeks now it's actually been sunny and warm. This would not normally be considered "news," but this summer at least, the sun coming out has allowed some fun stuff like hiking and trail running and even just lying out in the back yard with a book.

This coming weekend I'll be traveling to the "Writers Weekend" event in Moclips Washington, which I believe I mentioned here around the time I signed up. I've been reading the stories of other participants and making notes, getting ready. It's something I'm looking forward to, but this week has been such a strange one (see above story of wife-lessness) that it doesn't seem quite real. Still, I'll have more to say about that just before, or during, or after, or maybe some combination thereof.

My own writing has been going well, too. I've tried some new things recently, including another effort at a story that can only be called horror. The biggest thing here is that I find the one thing I miss now that I write SF almost exclusively is writing about this world. Not that I'm considering a big shift of emphasis, more like something I'll dip into a few times per year as a change of pace. I can write all kinds of horror-like or at least horrific stuff within SF, so the only real reason to break off and write a "real world, present day" story is that it's fun to write about a people and places, for a change, closer to the people and places I see day to day.

Other than that, I've pulled back two of my short stories that I had previously been sending around, having decided they weren't quite up to the standard of my more recent stories. Very often I find that if I'm not careful, my stories default to a sort of introspective, low-energy grasping at poetics and philosophy, short on plot and conflict. I've been working to address that in my more recent stories, but sometimes I crack open one of these earlier ones and say "gosh, the first scene doesn't accomplish anything, the story doesn't really start until page two or three, and the ending just trails off." So back to the drawing board with these two (one of them is almost completely reworked with a much more compelling and satisfying turn of events at the end, not a twist, but certainly a kick to the protagonist's groin, figuratively).

At the moment my "now reading" and "now listening" are Forever War by Joe Haldeman and Dreamcatcher by Stephen King, respectively. I went through a month-long stretch of listening to book-related podcasts rather than actual audiobooks (really enjoyed Jonathan Strahan's podcasts particularly) but I felt like listening to a good, old-fashioned "grabber" of a story.

Stephen King is great for listening while driving. His voice is so informal and conversational (talking about writer's voice here, not the speaking voice of the guy reading the audiobook) that it's like having friends in the car telling me the story.

Forever War is just fantastic as well, though it's taking me longer than usual as my reading time has been short recently. Technically, I suppose, this is considered Military SF, but it just doesn't have that feel. It's much more restrained and literary in feel, like a quiet, regretful cousin of Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Really a very fine book, and it makes me want to read more Haldeman though it doesn't seem people really talk about any of his books other than this and Forever Peace. I'll have to do some research on this guy. I do know he just won a Grand Master award at the last Nebulas, so he's got that going for him, which is nice. Of course, Gene Wolfe doesn't have a Grand Master award, so what the hell?

I'm also starting to re-read Again, Dangerous Visions in little bits. I had forgotten just how much I love Ellison's introductions and little lead-in essays for each story. Is it just me, or are there more people in this book whose careers never really went anywhere, than there are established writers with significant careers?

It's fun sometimes to just blog about a few random little tidbits. I suppose I could Twitter this stuff, but for some reason I'm still using Twitter more to quickly check up on a number of people I'm interested in, than for something to broadcast my own particular brand of whatever. In other words, consuming rather than producing, Twitter-wise. At least I'm blogging relatively consistently. Yeah, I know you're thrilled! More soon.

Profile

griffinwords: (Default)
[ GriffinWords ]

August 2013

S M T W T F S
    1 23
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jul. 26th, 2017 08:47 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios