Not long ago, I went to a Philly bar called Eulogy with my best friend. This bar is a Belgian sort of pub one feature of which is a private room with a table like a coffin, and this best friend is a guy earning his master’s in literature but who also moonlights as a keyboardist in one band and a lead guitarist in another, which I hope will intimate the overall atmosphere. If only because my buddy and I have the conversation where we discuss Derrida but totally admit to neither ever reading or understanding the guy.
Over the course of (several) fine Belgian beers (Rochefort 10 ftw!), we started talking about Heath Ledger and The Dark Knight. Now, what you have to know, straight off, is that while we’re good buddies, he and I rarely agree on anything related to either music or movies. We both like music in general and good music in particular, but we have very different definitions as to what that exactly means.
So, Heath Ledger. The Dark Knight.
When I first researched graduate school, what seems like all those years ago, one of the first things I did was order books from faculty members at every institution that caught my interest. Some great programs, like Johns Hopkins and Iowa, I had dismissed early because they hadn’t seemed to jibe with my direction, which left places like North Carolina and somewhere in Arizona. I don’t remember all the institutions, and only a few of the authors.
I didn’t have to do that this time around. This time around, NYU came to me with the same certainty as USC; all that’s left is getting in.
Which meant I felt I should familiarize myself with some of the work of some of the faculty members, the stand-outs of whom include E.L. Doctorow and Jonathan Safran Foer. Neither of whom I’ve ever read. Nothing against them, just never seemed like my thing; I’d rather read Neil Gaiman and Harry Potter and Joe Hill, most of the time. For me, the novels whose scope doesn’t stretch much beyond characters coping with ordinary lives have never really excited me so much. I’ve tried reading guys like Tom Wolfe and John Updike, and I generally feel decidedly meh about them. I hate to call it “serious” fiction, if only because it seems to imply that people like Gaiman and Rowling aren’t serious about writing and stories, and I think that’s foolhardy. I’d hate, too, though, to attempt to claim it’s all about marketing, because it’s really not.
Before this becomes a discussion of genre in fiction, though, let’s move on to the reading. Because the first book I picked up was Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Saw those words at Will Shetterly’s blog yesterday and thought it was sage advice. Then again, I often think Shetterly offers sage advice, among which, over the years, has been that I should throw my novel out and rewrite, which I did, and which then carried me on through both grad school and The Prodigal Hour.
He posted it as start of the New Year, which has always been a little blurry for me if only because I tend to gauge every year according to three milestones (Halloween or the Samhain, New Year’s Eve, and my birthday). The latter two come with official numbers and dates while the first has always felt in a way more spiritual, but then again, all have some meaning to me, and I track my life according to all three. This year, the time between the Samhain and yesterday was full of wrapping things up and preparing to start anew, almost as if it were preparation for the fresh start yesterday offered. And prepare I did: leaving Denver, polishing up my business plan, finalizing grades, submitting my application to NYU…
That latter came with a great deal of excitement. This year’s anniversary of September 11th hit me differently than in previous years, if only because this past September, I started to realize how much I missed Manhattan. Back when I was looking at grad schools the first time around, I had narrowed my choices to NYU and USC and chose USC solely because I hadn’t actually done LA yet, and one of the reasons Denver seemed so attractive was that I wanted to be in a new city but didn’t think I was yet ready to return to Manhattan, and home.
This year, around September, the call of Manhattan came as of a siren save the danger. It’s in my gut and makes my abs clench. I want it. I want NYU.
I have to admit, I’ve not yet read a John Connolly novel, though by all accounts, his books seem right up my alley. He’s an Irish writer who writes ostensibly crime novels that have, according to his Wikipedia article, become in recent years increasingly concerned with the supernatural.
So yah, got to look me up some of those.
Dude’s won a bunch of genre-type awards: a Stoker for best first novel and a Shamus. And two of his books have apparently come with soundtracks, which is totally awesome (note to self: what is the soundtrack for my writing?).
Connolly recently posted a great blog on the old argument concerning ‘genre’ fiction versus ‘literary’ fiction. It’s well worth reading just to enjoy the pretension of some writers. I mean, holy shit, you think it’s a joke some writers think the way he portrays, and then you meet those writers who not only think that way but even speak that way, and you know for a fact those are the same damned annoying writers who appropriate agent/editor panels at writing conferences to ask deeply personal questions about their deeply personal pet projects and who believe the publishing world is totally against them because it’s a covert and Cabalistic cadre of secret societies and secreter handshakes one can only break into if one compromises one’s ‘artistic integrity.’
He makes a lot of points I agree a lot with, but the money one comes toward the end:
I believe that art and craft are not mutually exclusive. One works at one’s craft, and one hopes that, along the way, art may possibly emerge. Even if it does not, one can still take pride in the fact that one has done one’s best.
Because, seriously, totally
That’s the title of the only course I’m currently taking. It’s all about targeting to audiences, marketing, and branding. We only meet one weekend per month, and we’ve only had two weekends so far. Today begins the third (class all day tomorrow).
I’ve been struggling so far with it, if only because I never really stopped to think about my audience; I’ve just figured that anyone who likes to read or likes stories will dig it, mostly. I knew there were some caveats: there’s a time machine in it, but I don’t think it’s really a science fiction novel. It doesn’t feel that way. I think I once read Patrick Nielsen Hayden talk about genre and say that he mainly thought it was a product of the writer’s mindset as the writer was composing. Being that he’s an editor at Tor, generally knows what he’s talking about, and was a large part of the reason I ended up in a graduate writing program, I’m compelled to listen to him, and my mindset was never that it was science fiction. No more than one might consider Jurassic Park or Timeline science fiction. Really, they’re high concept commercial technothrillers.
Or, simply, you know, fiction.
There’s an old argument that all fiction is fantasy, because it’s made up (though that seems to indicate that all memoirs are fantasies, too, lately). I don’t really agree or disagree, mainly because it’s never something I’ve cared much about. I just like good stories. I’m as likely to enjoy a good love story like Shakespeare in Love or The Time-Traveler’s Wife as a brilliant action flick like Mission: Impossible III.
Anyway, I did as best I could with the marketing plan and trying to determine who my target audience is, besides, simply, everyone. I’m pretty happy with the proposal.
But now I’ve got to go to class.
Video tomorrow, though.
Have a good one. Wish me luck.