RARA-AVIS: Re: commercial and noir

From: Max Gilbert ( jmaxgilbert@yahoo.com)
Date: 29 Apr 2005

... Now, I'm just wondering if everybody knows this but me, and how clearly it
> comes across that a book is driven by one means or another. I'm
too bullheaded
> to go for the money and change my style, but do people consciously
shop for
> plot-driven novels? Birken gets printed in paperback at 100,000
copies, and I
> can only assume there are many others like him. Why don't I ever
see anybody
> reading this type of book, except for the occasional Robin Cook
maybe? Also, how
> does Dennis Lehane sell so many books if character-driven is such
a turn off?
> These are the questions I'm going to ask when I die and go to
heaven, of
> course, but if anybody has any idea now, it would be
interesting. ...
> Vicki

I'm not sure if I can competently discuss the interests of today's reading public, although I think being able to right something that is massively popular is a skill as worthy of praise as being able to write something that critics acclaim as having great literary merit. In the nineteenth century it was possible to please both audiences, but it has become increasingly difficult since then. Of course there's no reason it can't change again.

As for myself, I like both plot and character development in my reading, but if I have to go for one of the other I'd chose plot. When I was younger I enjoyed works that were all character and no plot (e.g., Samuel Beckett's novels) but as I've gotten older I think I've gotten lazier and I need a good plot to keep my interest. Probably one reason why I read "genre" fiction more these days as well. Plot is important in most crime/mystery fiction I've read, where what is going to happen is usually as important as who it is happening to.

However, I don't think a book needs to be driven by one at the expense of the other. It's interesting that you characterize your own work as character-driven--I can see that in MIAMI PURITY (the only book of yours that I've read yet, unfortunately) but I also thought plot was very important. When I stareted reading I knew that something bad was going to happen to Sherri and that she was going to be betrayed, but you don't know how. That suspense, which kept me interested, is really plot-related as much as character- related.


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