Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Fleming. Ian Fleming.

By Cornelia

I was happy to discover that British author Sebastian Faulks had been tapped to write the next James Bond novel. At first.

He's the author of Charlotte Gray and On Green Dolphin Street, so it seemed like a good choice.

And then I read the following quote, which put me in rather a bad mood about the whole the whole enterprise:

"My commission was from the [Fleming] family, and they strongly believe in Ian Fleming’s value as a writer. And that’s one of the reasons they went to someone like me rather than a genre thriller [writer]."
--Sebastian Faulks, interviewed on Entertainment Weekly's Popwatch blog

I mean, there are just so MANY things which annoy me about that comment, I barely know where to begin.

Thankfully, I read a quote from another author earlier this week about the genre/literary divide which I thought was a much better comeback than anything I could say.

Here it is:

TNI: What about the issue of comparing thrillers and commercial fiction with so-called literary fiction?
Child: It’s an issue that doesn’t come from our side. We’re happy to let those guys do whatever it is they want to do. The issue always comes from their side, because they’re jealous about our sales. They get all stirred up about it, and quite rightly. I probably have more books shoplifted out of every title than they sell in their entire lives. They start to feel troubled over it, and they want a bit of our action; so they go slumming and try to write a thriller. And it’s always an embarrassing failure. Whereas any one of us—I know this for a fact, having talked to my writer friends, and we are not idiots—have read all the great books in the world, and we could write a literary novel easily. Michael Connelly, anybody like that, could invent a different name, write a literary book. Him or me, it would probably take three weeks to write that kind of book. It would sell three thousand copies like theirs do, and it would probably be well-respected. We can do what they can do, but they can’t do what we do; and that’s where the friction comes from.

--Lee Child, interviewed by Robert Bidinotto for The New Individualist

My response to that is: Lee Shoots, He Scores!

So what say all of you?


  1. Ouch but I LOVE it! I'm going to run off a copy and frame it. Go Lee.

  2. Glad you liked it, Patty.

    I am still just so steamed about the Faulks quote. I mean, what, Ian Fleming DIDN'T write thrillers? HELLO??????


  3. I love Lee Child, even though he still owes me a six-figure legal fee from his murder trial at the first Thrillerfest.

    Still...Lee's comments come off a tad strong. Let the literary types gnash their teeth all they want. Let them bitterly inquire, as Edmund Wilson did 60 years ago, "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?"

    But let's not respond by lighting our cigars with hundred-dollar bills, or in my case, a ten-spot.

    We'll keep doing what we do...providing entertainment, both literate and thematic, for the folks who enjoy a good read.

  4. Yay to Lee! I'm sure Sebastian Faulks isn't short of a quid or two, but I bet he'd like some of the earnings that our popular genre writers make -- and I bet he won't complain about the publicity he gets from the Bond books.

  5. Faulks' quote reminded me of Ruth Franklin's genre putdown in Slate awhile back (May 8, to be precise), and Ursula LeGuin's marvelous response:

    And yeah, the quote's annoying, but I'm much more amused than annoyed, watching Faulks trying with one hand to bitchslap genre fiction, while with the other hand he's grabbing the money as fast as he can, from the estate of one of the crown princes of genre fiction. Cracks me right up, and makes it hard for me to take him seriously.

    A number of people have said it, but it can't be repeated too often: there are two kinds of books; good ones and bad ones. And that distinction is made by readers; not by writers or reviewers or pundits or editors or publishers or agents.

    So I'm going back to re-reading my Ian Fleming and my Lee Child and my Knut Hamsun and my Albert Camus, and phooey on anyone who tries to tell me that one book has more literary merit than another.


  6. Paul, I agree that lighting our cigars with currency (or 50-cent pieces, in my case) isn't the best argument, but I think Lee may have a point that money could be the source of the vitriol on the part of "literary" authors who feel the need to stomp on the merits of genre writers.

    Shaz, exactly so... Faulks is certainly doing all right for himself, but he wasn't the first author to be asked whether he wanted to take on the Bond franchise recently. In fact there was at least one "genre thriller" writer who turned it down, that I know of. So....

    And Rae, EXACTLY. I like books that don't suck. I just find a whole lot fewer of those outside the genre, these days.

  7. We don't need to say anything with leaders like Lee out there. Wow, I'll remember that next time I'm at a book festival and innocently ask "What do you write?" And the reply invariably comes, "Oh, I write literary fiction."

    I usually drink too much and punch them.

    Lee has a better approach.


  8. I think your response has a lot to recommend it, Mr. Born. I might have to follow in your footsteps.

    Could work really well for me, since they don't usually expect women to throw a punch. The drinking is another matter. That never seems to surprise them.

  9. I agree with Paul that Lee's comments are too strong. And they're a bit arrogant. Perhaps he meant them that way. But I don't believe any writer should demean another. A good writer can write anything. To say that literary writers can't write thrillers is ridiculous. Lee is in the enviable position of being a commercially successful writer. He is one of a handful. Sara Gruen is also commercially successful, and doesn't she, if I am not mistaken, write literary fiction? Let's not throw stones. Our glass houses break way too easily, as do careers...

  10. Very good points, Karen, but I still think that Faulks' claim that he was tapped to write the next Bond because Fleming's work is seen by his family to "have value," which genre thriller writers apparently, in his estimation, don't, is the more arrogant of the two statements.

    It does seem to me that so-called literary novelists complain more about so-called genre fiction FAR more often than vice versa.

    I agree with Rae that the true argument should be which books have merit, no matter what marketing niche they fall under. I've just read two appallingly bad non-genre novels, both highly acclaimed. That's not to say that I don't run across crap writing from genre writers, as well. I just want to know what's GOOD, on its own merits. I find more to my taste in various genres these days than in the lit crop, but I wouldn't dictate on the basis of that what anyone else should consider reading, or make bald, blanket statements about which form of fiction has "value," as Faulks did in this instance.

  11. I think I still feel about it all the way I did when I posted this comment on Sarah Weinman's blog several years ago:

    "I think they're all just pissed off because they've turned 'literature' into the kind of Philboyd-Studge Latin whose precise declensions can only be enforced with Joycean pandy-bats viciously applied to the reader's tender palms and footsoles, and meanwhile we're all having so much goddamn fun over here in Vibrant Street-Italian Vernacular Land it should be illegal."

  12. "Joycean pandy-bats"?

    "Vibrant Street-Italian Vernacular Land"?

    Mother of God. Your imagery is just making me smile hugely.


  13. I think Lee's words were meant to make a point by mirroring the words of certain "literary" writers and critics who regularly and arrogantly trash the work of "genre writers." Besides that, they made me laugh.

  14. I hate it that writing has to be put into boxes with labels: literary, mystery, women's fiction, science fiction...And that mysteries have to be put into sub-boxes: hard boiled, soft boiled, cozies, thrillers, romantic suspense...

    A good book is a good book. Regardless.

  15. And to respond to Patty: Is that why genre writers feel justified in trashing "literary" writers? Because we've been trashed? I've heard it from both sides. Why can't we all just get along?

  16. I don't get that genre authors are trashing literary authors, so much. I keep hearing literary authors saying "genre authors suck" and genre authors saying "what's the deal with those guys? Why are they so damn whiny?"

    Your mileage may vary, of course.

    In this instance, I think Faulks is saying "thriller writers are not worthy of following in Ian Fleming's footsteps," and Lee is saying "maybe they're so pissed off because they don't sell as many books."

    But I'm biased, admittedly.

  17. "Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger." Franklin P Jones

    I'd hate to find a book I'd written in the "cut out rack".....or one that I had personalized for a friend or loved one, for sell at a used book store.
    "Literary" or "genre," if the book is good then it's good, if it's crap then the book is crap.


  18. Jon, that's a fine quote. It's also tough to take honest criticism from one's writing group. I usually cry. Because they're usually right about the parts that are crap.

  19. Oh, Lord, I am late to the party on this one - didn't get to read until Thursday, however, I have got to tell you, that Faulks quote just made me want to rocket off my seat and throttle him. And I'm not a throttling kind of person, usually. However, Lee's comment was balm to my ears - just tell it like it is, eh? I am still flummoxed by a reviewer who said, about my first book, "It's a mystery that reads like a novel." So what the bloody hell is it supposed to read like, eh? And of course, we all love the 'transcends the genre" comment - whatever that means.

    I once belonged to a book club attended by several writers, and when I finished the manuscript of Maisie Dobbs, the book club's founde told the group, "Jackie's written a novel." Now, among our number was a very "literary" writer, who asked me about my book. I said it was an historical mystery, and she said - raising her voice - "Oh, my you've written a little pot-boiler." And it wasn't a joke, and she didn't crack a smile.

    I was quite crushed and did my best not to let anyone see how I felt, however, the following week my friend sent me an article from The Atlantic Monthly, about the so-called "literary novels" that were unreadable, and that some of the best writing was to be found in so-called "genre" fiction. The sad thing is that I had bought that other woman's book of short stories, to have her sign at our book group meeting. It was in my bag when she made her comment. I didn't ask for her signature, and I've never read the book.

    Maybe Lee's comment was a bit strong, but what the heck, I liked it.

  20. I try not to take the bait anymore when someone tosses out the literary vs genre hook. But I do wonder about two things.

    Considering so many literary writers seem to fall short when they tackle the "formula" of genre fiction, you've got to reason they don't even bother to READ it before they try to write it.

    And second, there's a tendency even among our own genre writers toward this sort of snobbery. As in: "my publisher is marketing my new book as a literary thriller." Hearing that sort of crap from your own family really rots my socks.

    p.s. congrats on the Anthony nom, Cornelia. Well deserved.

  21. Lee nailed it, as usual. And make no mistake, Ian Fleming wrote thrillers.

  22. Cone, I love your comments about the starchy self-proclaimed literary establishment writers. I am just so bored of them and kind of outraged that their plots are so non-existent. Too much of their creative energy seems to go into mugging over their shoulders at the audience so that everyone will know that they understand these are all conventions.

    Mostly I think about this stuff in context of children's books. People will dismiss a novel as just a children's book as if to say it must be shallow, simple and one-dimensional..."unlike the works of Chuck Palahnik," as one person on my child lit listerve put it.

    The NY Times actually had to invent a whole new bestseller list for children's books, I guess because they were afraid J.K. Rowling might hurt Don DeLillo and Norman Mailer's feelings. Blech.

  23. Ari I'd heard that about the children's lit list in the NYTBR, Ari. Poor Mailer, he's just so sensitive!

    Great points, and I agree with you about children's and YA books often being dismissed as literature. Also the literary over-the-shoulder "mugging." Perfectly put! And that's very funny about Palahniuk (whom I always tend to think of as Palahniuk-nyuk-nyuk, in homage to the Stooges).