Friday, September 9, 2011

Backlash: You Don't Have to Have Written a Vampire Book to be Considered One

A few weeks ago I was at a writers conference sitting in on a panel about (in a nutshell) whether literary fiction should accede to commercial tastes, but the example everyone used was the supernatural (vampires, werewolves, magic) as a stand-in for everything that sells these days. One of the panelists, a literary agent, started praising The Last Werewolf, a recent work by a literary novelist that seems to be the poster child for the trend, when one of the other panelist said (paraphrasing), "I'm glad you told me it was serious because otherwise I'd never read a book with that word in the title."

I think that about sums up the current state of deathmatch smackdown that exists between the worlds of literary and commercial fiction. Not that everyone on the literary team is taking sides, but I get the feeling that most people who consider themselves "serious" readers would sooner eat Spam that's been left in the sun for two days than pick up a book with vampires, werewolves or zombies. Recently, this blog post on the trend of literary writers tackling commercial fiction prompted at least one person to add the subtitle "with the implication that genre writers aren't getting it right."

I expected to suffer some confusion with my own novel, The Taker, given its completely ambiguous supernatural element. Imagine my surprise to find that reviewers aren't even bothering to read the book--they're assuming it's a vampire novel and dissing it without reading the book. Getting tarred by the brush of disdain without even being a member of the party, as it were. You really can't win for losing. The part that slays me is that the reviewer claims to have read the book yet says it's a vampire book. Never mind that the premise for the supernatural element is dealt with at length, that there's about 75 pages of backstory dealing with the evil one's origins plunk in the middle of the book. That the word 'vampire' is never used and there isn't so much as a neck being nuzzled, we were so careful to avoid all things vampiric.

It's hard not to become cynical when you're surrounded by these attitudes. Writers are advised to write the best story they can, but what chance does it have when people aren't even going to read it to decide they hate it?

So, more on The Last Werewolf: I haven't read it yet but plan to. But several people whose reading taste I respect have told me they didn't think it lived up to the hype. They felt that reviewers who don't read much supernatural fiction got hot for it because it seemed new to them, but that the same material was handled as well or better by other writers. Food for thought as you're contemplating the hypecycle of books.

1 comment:

  1. Lord have mercy!!! Heaven forbid we put any ghosts, fairies or supernatural elements in our serious literature! Mr. Shakespeare, you are off the "literary" list.