Ok, I'll admit it. I lack what it takes to write serious literary fiction. Stephen King settled that issue for me in his book, On Writing, when he said, “You will never be a great writer unless you are born with it. " Great writers must be passionate about something, right? I'm only passionate about things I shouldn't eat or drink.
So the arrogance of someone so lacking as myself, offering up a thesis that literary fiction doesn't sell and inferring that cognitive critters might solve that problem, is not lost on me. But even the most calloused devotees of esoteric fiction among publishing gurus, are hard pressed to make the case that a Nobel Prize winner will outsell a good murder mystery, thriller, or diet book.
Obviously there is a market for literary fiction. I buy lots of it myself. James Lee Burke, recently nominated for a National Book Award, wrote the only crime genre fiction I've ever read. Among that dedicated cadre of serious readers that have not already jumped ship for nonfiction, there remains a market for quality fiction. Not a huge market, but a market nonetheless.
What's the problem? The characters in literary fiction spend so much time thinking; they never get around to doing anything. They constantly are confronted with deep issues of: Who am I? Why am I here? What should I do? Where am I going? Why can I not love/be loved? What if I'm wrong? What if I'm right? Why is life more difficult than it has to be? Who out there makes my life more difficult than it has to be, and a myriad of other “Oh, woe is me" considerations. There just is no time left to do much. This leaves heaps of the reading public wondering, “Is something ever going to happen in this book. "
Yet, during this stultifying process of self-examination, these characters and we readers constantly rub up against all of God's creatures both large and small. Some of these creatures we make into pets. Some we watch with unfeigned interest in the wild or in cages. Some we feed. Some we nuke with pesticides. Some we eat. Some we squash unknowingly underfoot. Some we train to do tricks. Some we shoot for sport. Some we just enjoy. But none of these do we assign any cognitive powers except for “fight or flight" responses, and occasionally mistaking the attention our pets pay to us as affection - when in reality they probably are thinking, “Oh, boy! It's the food guy. "
I have a friend, Leopoldo Solis, who is the guru to the tequila producers in Mexico. He has developed processes that tamed tequila from a muy macho kick your ass drink, into a delightful sipping beverage. One of those processes is playing Mozart to the yeast as they contentedly munch away on cactus juice during fermentation. He has presented academic papers illustrating the increase in ethyl alcohol production and the decrease in impurities created by these music loving yeast.
If the lowly yeast can enjoy classical music, then maybe we do Nature's woodland creatures a disservice by denying them any cognitive powers. Here might be the salvation of literary fiction. What if we let the characters do lots of fun, interesting, creative, exciting, mysterious, fulfilling, and/or amazing things - while letting the creatures that the characters encounter do the heavy thinking about what is happening to them. The reader gets the best of all genres - plus completely new perspectives on life and the world around us.
I had this idea while in the shower. I shouted the traditional, “Eureka, " ran naked though the house to my computer, and launched this entirely new genre of fiction. The first manuscript is complete under the working title, VAMONOS! In Quixote-esq fashion, two guys ride their Harley's through Mexico seeking redemption for sins of the flesh.
The result of my effort is not great literary fiction for the reason stated above by Stephen King. In fact, most would call VAMONOS! a hilarious, action-packed romp. But nestled amongst all this whirl of activity, adding depth and meaning, are the musings of the creatures encountered by the characters. Ruminations like, “Who out there keeps jerkin’ me around? Why? and, How about cuttin’ this crap out?”
I’m enough convinced that this new genre of fiction has a future, that I am well into the second novel. I urge all of you literary authors, more gifted at birth than myself, to let a few cognitive critters do some thinking to free up your character’s time. They then can get off their butts and do something; possibly winning back some of the literary fiction market.
Anyway, that's what I think, but I could be wrong. What do you think?
Bill Stephens has written for newspapers and periodicals for over 20 years. You can read his novel, Horizons Past, for free on http://www.horizonspast.com
His essays appear on his Blog, Read It and Weep http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/billstephens