When I started to find my footing with crime fiction, I gravitated to the style that inspired me. The hard-boiled pulp stories that I fell in love with as a kid, the exaggerated bullshit I heard from phonies and legit hard asses growing up, and random nonsense I caught from the world around me.
Low brow. Fun. An edge that maybe perturbed others. That was the goal and writing those kinds of stories was a shit ton of fun.
But then I tried to transition that mindset to a novel. Short stories and novellas felt perfect for that style of story – the cartoonish shot of adrenaline – but not so much for long form.
So I failed to take off. Multiple times. The pulpier stories would become novellas that were publishable, but as I kept trying to find a lengthier narrative structure, it began to dawn on me that fun was only fun in doses. Now, I could simply survive by adding a bunch of drab nonsense between the fun, but I hated that. It wasn’t my voice and it wasn’t my style.
I tested the waters with Fantine Park. If you’ve read NO HAPPY ENDINGS or PULL & PRAY (meaning you got past the titles) you might notice there’s pulp there, but there’s also a LOT of soul searching. Those books were less about heists and more about struggling with familial issues, inferiority complexes, and imposter syndrome (all things I deal with, yay!).
It was also a test flight for what would become HELL CHOSE ME and a very big change in how I saw my writing and its purpose.
Fun is great, but I began to want to use these backdrops and characters as a means of exploring my issues and the issues of those around me. My mission statement shifted from just trying to get published to trying to tell more than a story. I realized I could explore real problems while camouflaging that analysis with the pulp and fun.
Now all that sounds really obvious, but I think I fooled myself into thinking I was writing more than the sum of my stories’ parts for a very long time. That simply spinning a yarn was enough and of course there was literary merit in that work (no there wasn’t) and of course I should be taken very seriously (I shouldn’t). This is probably why a lot of assholes look down their noses at genre for the most part (but that’s a subject for something far lengthier and more well put together than a blog rant).
And there’s the danger zone. The insistence on staying in that cloud and not taking the next step. There’s a challenge in trying to do more with a smaller box of tools and that’s what I want to do. I want to grow as a writer while drawing from the well that’s inspired me. That goal has paid off in many ways for me; not just in regards of whatever we deem successful on an outside level, but personally. The more I’ve matured and challenged myself with my writing, the more satisfied I’ve become with the results. The less I chase the high of being published, the more I’m happy with what I’m pulling together.
Now that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for irreverent nonsense anymore. There always is, especially in flash or shorter stories, but now I’m realizing that with the ability to write novel length, I’ve provided myself with an immense opportunity to mash my idiot sensibilities with deep discussion/analysis of being broken. It’s all at once therapeutic and exciting.
I’ve never been the type to tell other writers they HAVE to do anything. I’ve tweeted random insights and advice that’s served me well, but I do think crime fiction (at least the independent scene) needs to begin taking a long, hard look at what we want to accomplish. Are we simply content to write pulp stories with age-old tropes? The same Chandler-style detective stories? Maybe some more copaganda?
Or do we take those stories and really try to upend them as best we can? Do we finally open the door to hearing diverse perspectives on overly revered stories; maybe providing a deeper insight into what we thought we knew? Personally, I think the survival of the genre is entirely dependent on that decision. We either remain cosplayers or we move towards becoming something a little more original (no sleight on cosplay, just the best metaphor I can think of). There are only so many revenge stories we can tell, sure, but there has to be a way to add new flavor to this.
The answer’s not easy, but I believe that to simply strive for these things. To take the bigger swings would be beneficial. Believing we can succeed by following the same path dozens of others tread is simply no longer a sustainable model and those who insist that it is will do more damage than any effective change could possibly do.
One response to “With Pulp”
My take is what was edgy or titillating to one generation is merely assholery or demeaning to the next. I think you nailed it in saying avoid the worn out tropes (racism & misogyny most especially, but not exclusively)–write something that’s not merely transgressive but also progressive. Make people think. And remember it’s mostly about character.