Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Guest Post: What Is Literary Fiction Really?


I am excited to introduce my readers to an author I met this past year…and I’m so glad I did! I read Benjamin X. Wretlind’s CASTLES: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors and was completely blown away. He takes me so far out of my comfort level of what I usually read and I personally feel it’s important for people to do that now and again. And then he asked me to read & blurb his latest Sketches from the Spanish Mustang and I am honored to be a part of his blog tour announcing that book due July 1st! So here is Mr. Wretlind’s guest post on something I’ve always had issues with (even though one of my books was a finalist in the Literary Fiction category). 

Take it away, Benjamin!


Benjamin X. Wretlind
When I first stumbled across Gregory Allen in the Twitterverse, I was impressed by his willingness to help other people out. And after I'd read his 2011 novel Well With My Soul, I was impressed by his writing, too.  The novel remains one of my favorite reads this year.

That fact forces to me ask the question I've asked many times before: "What is Literary Fiction Really?"

When I was wee lad (well, thirty-something), I had this idea I would be the next great horror writer. I did all things horror: wrote short stories, worked on novels, edited a horror magazine, read works by other horror authors, attempted to buy my way into horror conventions, collected horror action figures (they’re not dolls!), etc. I was pretty good at getting involved in the horror scene. I even accepted the massive egos of some well-known horror writers out there.

However, while doing all the above, I found something in my writing: it’s not all horror. Now, this revelation might not be cause for alarm. After all, if a piece of work is fantasy or speculative fiction, there’s no reason to go crying about things to your mom, is there? You can still write.

I didn’t think this way, of course. I didn’t go crying to my mom (of course . . . that would be . . . silly), but I did find myself in a bit of a depression. I was supposed to be the next Stephen King, the next Clive Barker, the next (insert your favorite obnoxious and ego-rific horror author here). I was going to write and write until my fingers bled and when they bled I was going to wear bandages and write more until I had written the penultimate horror novel that was sure to be the first blood-filled slasher to win the Pulitzer prize.

What happened, however, was the complete opposite: I stopped writing altogether. I left one novel in the middle and thought I would never look back.

I spent a few years ruminating about my failure and then a good solid year evaluating what went wrong. I was sure I was meant to write horror. After all, the first story I ever wrote when I was 7 years old was horror. But if that was the case, how come all the story lines I could come up with were not horror-ific? I supposed I could just stick in a big, green monster to eat people, but that wouldn’t make sense.

It was odd. How could I go on?

It wasn’t until I accepted I wasn’t a horror writer but a fiction writer that my life made a drastic 180° turn. That was me: a fiction writer, living outside of one genre and willing to read anything and write anything.

Except romance. But I digress.

Since that revelation (if you could call it that . . . I mean, there weren’t any singing angels or anything), I’ve written a lot. I’ve also published a lot. The first novel to come out was that one novel I abandoned years ago. I asked myself what horror was and decided it wasn’t about big, green monsters eating people (although that’s pretty neat), rather it was about making the reader uncomfortable. CASTLES: A FICTIONAL MEMOIR OF A GIRLWITH SCISSORS is just that: a novel intended to make the reader squirm while debating exactly what the main character’s motivation for her actions were. Is she mad or is there some paranormal type activity going on?

CASTLES is actually the only horror novel I have ever written, and looking at my list of future projects, the only one that will be in my bibliography for a long time. I don’t actually call it horror, though; to me, it’s literary horror or just plain Literary Fiction.

Whoa. Stop. Did I just say I think CASTLES is Literary Fiction?

The first novel I actually wrote (which is being reworked into an epic style and due for release at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013) is not horror. I had one reader comment that the novel actually falls into the magical realism category. Magical realism was not something I had considered in my “horror writing” days. The collection REGARDING DEAD THINGS ON THE SIDE OFTHE ROAD contains several stories that might be considered horror and several more that would fall into the surrealist or magical realist categories.

SKETCHES FROM A SPANISH MUSTANG is comprised of 7 separate character sketches set in and revolving around a fictional casino in the town of Cripple Creek, Colorado. None of those sketches are horror. Rather, they’re spread across a broad spectrum of genres, from that oddly familiar magical realism to the domestic (or family drama) to thriller to tragic romance. (See? I can write a romance!)  In 2013 I should finish a new novel, currently titled DRIVING THE SPIKE. DRIVING THE SPIKE is actually a political thriller/family drama. 

It’s not even remotely related to horror.

Unless I add in a big, green monster to eat people.

And then I wouldn’t like it.

Neither would you.

What I'm saying, though, is this: Literary Fiction, which I would put almost all of my writing and Greg's writing into, is not a genre. Literary Fiction is fiction and if you stay away from it, you'll be missing out on quite a bit. Were it not for that label, applied in the 1960s to things that didn't have a particular place and were meant to be "serious" and "lasting" fiction, we would probably read a bit more. 

I mentioned on Michael K. Rose's blog on Day 1 of the Sketches from the Spanish Mustang Blog Tour that I had asked a few people what they thought of when they heard the term "literary fiction." The responses I received ranged from “Vladimir Nabokov” to “classics, Dickens, Bronte” to “old stuff.” There's a whole book of articles that could be written debunking the notion that Literary Fiction is just plotless words jotted down for the sake of being fancy.

I also proposed my own definition of Literary Fiction: A kaleidoscopic of work that includes elements of romance, thriller, horror, science fiction, mystery, the American Western, etc. Literary Fiction is cross-genre.  Literary Fiction is fiction, and we all need to stop lumping some of the best work out there into this category.

I walked into a Barnes & Noble the other day and discovered there was no "Literary Fiction" shelf.  It's called "Fiction & Literature" and you'll find anything from Nabakov to Dickens to James Rollins to Douglas Preston to Stephen King.

It makes sense, really.

Now we just need to get rid of that "Literary Fiction" shelf on Amazon.




BIOGRAPHY
Benjamin X. Wretlind, the author of Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors and Sketches from the Spanish Mustang, has been called "a Pulitzer-caliber writer" with "a unique American voice." Aside from novels, he has been published in many magazines throughout the past 10 years.

SKETCHES FROM THE SPANISH MUSTANG
In Sketches from the Spanish Mustang, a haunting, heart-warming and often brutally direct exploration of the lives of seven people in the mining town of Cripple Creek, Colorado, a woman must come to grips with the failings that cost the lives of her husband and child. Bestselling author Michael K. Rose says: "Mr. Wretlind has penned a tale of such emotional and literary depth it will haunt the reader long after the last page is turned."

With a pencil, a sketchbook and a keen eye for the details of the soul, the woman's lines and smudges, curves and tone reveal the stories behind her subjects. Life emerges on the page — vengeance, salvation, love and death. The artist's subjects fight for survival, only to be saved in the sketches of a woman with a gift . . . and a curse.

International Book Award winner Gregory G. Allen calls the book a "unique journey that rips away the outer layers of people allowing us to stare into their souls where humanity is universal: no matter the genre of writing."

Sketches from the Spanish Mustang will be available at all major online retailers for $14.95 on July 1st, 2012.  It will also be presented in an electronic format (e.g. Kindle, nook) for $5.95.


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