Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Defining Literary Fiction in the Digital Age

Over on the Kindle boards an author asked if anyone could give a definition of Literary Fiction. The answers were varied. Some took a stab and some had no idea. So as an author I will take a shot and give some  meat to the poor old bones of Literary Fiction. Once upon a time there was pulp and then there was literary fiction. LF was what people read for enlightenment, information, entertainment, and yes something of the other. Pulp was straight up entertainment.

So lets approach it like this. The author makes the difference. The intent of the author. The Literary author has an idea or an emotion and in this moment there is something of the eternal. Not all that different from the painter. The eternal is the thing you cannot put your finger on that allows you to reread a novel over and over and still enjoy it.  Literary fiction has a duty to entertain but also to give us something we did not know until we read it. This is what makes people scream from the rooftops about a book.

It is why John Gardener said a novelist must be moral. He didn't mean it in the literal sense but that the writer of serious fiction cannot be amoral. They cannot have a flawed value system or the book will be flawed. Writers drink and do drugs and do all sorts of morally reproachable things but the point is they must be able to discern right from wrong at a very basic level. F. Scott Fitzgerald said two things that apply here.

One. Behind every novelist is a moralist. And two. All cheap entertainment is immoral. It is heroin of the soul. We can relate in the age of reality television. Entertainment has hit lows we thought not approachable but also we didn't think a democracy of 350 million people could empower people to have buying power on a such a scale. Lest we forget cheap entertainment is all about selling. Selling the product and just about everything else.

So in the digital age this is a bit of a conundrum where everything is on the cheap. In fact my fellow authors look at me sometimes with  a funny glaze of what the hell is he talking about. But this is because we operate on the assumption that selling at nanosecond speed trumps all. It doesn't but a lot of people have not been exposed to the other.

But when they hit it when they read. They shake their heads and say...how the hell did he do that?
That is Literary Fiction. Defining the undefinable. The refusal to be commodified or to have a value attached. It is the very essence of why we  live. Get that between two covers or on a Kindle and you have something for the ages.

The Pitcher

Books by William Hazelgrove