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The Sirens of Suspense

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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Sam Wiebe's award-winning debut novel Last of the Independents was published last year, and is currently nominated for an Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. His follow-up book is due mid-2016. Sam's short fiction has been published in Thuglit, Spinetingler, and Subterrain, among others. He lives in Vancouver.

 

Find Sam on Twitter and Facebook.

http://samwiebe.com

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item1 ON GENRE SNOBBERY item1
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When critics dismiss a book as ‘mere fantasy,’ or a writer talks about slumming to write crime novels instead of ‘real’ literary books, or some clueless reporter headlines an article with ‘Comics Aren’t Just For Kids Anymore’--it’s not worth kicking up a fuss. It’s something to rejoice about.

No one likes to see the things they love denied recognition, not taken seriously. But what’s the value of being taken seriously, and what’s allowed to grow when being taken seriously isn’t a concern?

Artists need spaces off the grid, non-critical spaces, spaces where squares fear to tread. We need a laboratory. It’s the same reason comedians need underground clubs where they can try out new material and use language that respectable folks shy away from.

For writers, genre fiction can be that laboratory. It’s popular and it hews to, not a formula, but a series of recognizable tropes. If you’re not paying attention, that’s all you’ll see.

We all remember the books that redefined a genre for us, that glorious black-and-white-to-Technicolor moment when we realized, this isn’t just as good as mainstream fiction, this is better. It’s taking risks, it’s blending styles, and it’s using the wellspring of genre archetypes in original and unsettling ways. Tana French does this better than anyone, spinning stories we think we can anticipate, creating characters and situations we think we know, and then upending them, so that what’s most unfamiliar are the very things most recognizable from our own lives.

It’s not that writers like her ‘transcend genre,’ a meaningless phrase; rather, they build masterpieces out of genre. There's no Alan Moore without boxes of Judge Dredd serials, no Raymond Chandler or Dorothy B Hughes without thousands of Fawcett Gold Medal paperbacks.

What makes pulp fiction reprehensible and lurid, what distances it from the mainstream, is the very best part of it.

And keep in mind: if the mainstream is blind to something, it means it can be blindsided.

Emerson wrote about Shakespeare that, “Had the prestige which hedges about a modern tragedy existed [back then], nothing could have been done.” What Emerson calls “The rude warm blood of the living England” was necessary to make art out of the tradition of popular plays, in which “any experiment could be freely tried.” Shakespeare wasn’t working in High Tragedy; he was working in a medium which, by today’s cultural terms, had all the respect of a pro wrestling match. What he did was art because it wasn’t hemmed in by Art.

The cool people already know this.

Sure, there are literary gatekeepers with tremendous amounts of power and outdated notions about literary worth. As a crime writer, I know I've lost out in some cases. But it's a net gain--if a certain festival or reading series is run by an old man (usually) who thinks crime fiction is second-rate, there's three people (women, usually) in line to replace him who think differently.

As far as respectability and legitimacy...

Artists don't need to be respectable, shouldn't pursue it, shouldn't care. If you're an artist, your time should be spent A) making art, B) getting it distributed to people, and C) trying to get paid for it so you can continue to make it in a way that allows you to put head to pillow and sleep the sleep of the just. Anything else is a distraction.

Respectability is a hindrance. We should celebrate not being part of the mainstream. Ultimately they need us more than we need them.

 

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WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON GENRE SNOBBERY? Tell us or leave a comment on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS! (U.S.& CANADA only please.)

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