Jun 3, 2011


taken from Paste Magazine

The remarkable, painterly writer Susan Straight told me once that literary novelists are tiny rowboats next to the ocean liners of popular culture. “We’re rowing our leaky little skiffs like mad,” she said, “as we bail with a coffee can; and meanwhile there goes the giant Stephen King cruise ship or the James Patterson aircraft carrier, fully lit, the music playing, the passengers peering down at us from on high.”
So Tom Franklin just got a bigger boat.

Up until the latter part of the 20th century, literary fiction drove American book sales. Our great writers—Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Cather, Fitzgerald—were the engines of enterprise for the New York publishing houses, and the groundbreakers for the culture, too. A new book by one of the big modern American literary lions meant that a cultural event had occurred, and sales followed.

Now, many of our literary writers have largely been relegated to the commercial backwaters, with just a few exceptions like Jonathan Franzen; and the genre writers have become the big ships. Stieg Larsson, ahoy. Thrillers, mysteries, science fiction, uh huh, even romances—those are the novels that now displace the most commercial and cultural water. Whether this means a wholesale dumbing-down of our culture or a welcome relief from navel-gazing, nothing-happens-twit-lit—well, you decide. But what has occurred means something very serious for those wretched scribes among us who face the keyboard and the blank page every day—it means that most writers who want to both keep writing and continue eating now feel the compulsion to pen a genre novel that can become a series that builds an audience and a brand.

It used to be shocking when a literary giant came down from the mountaintop and wrote genre fiction, but now it’s commonplace. In his last two books, Cormac McCarthy, one of our greatest living authors, wrote a mystery (No Country for Old Men) and an apocalyptic science fiction novel (The Road) that both sold quite well, were optioned and produced handsomely by Hollywood and allowed McCarthy to finally buy the house his many previous literary novels had failed to provide, thank you.

Tom Franklin may be embarking on the same path. read more....

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