Sunday, March 30, 2008

Michael Chabon vs. Battlestar Gallactica

I am so burnt out. I'm burnt out on winter. Writing. Romance. Snow suits. Border Collies. I am burnt out on my own head. The only thing I really love right now are donuts and we all know that road leads to ruin. So, to get my mind off donuts I've stopped writing and to get Sinead off my back I am watching Battlestar Gallactica. And reading one of my very very favorite authors - Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay, Wonder Boys, Summerland, The Final Solution and a brilliant book of short stories the title I can't remember because Maureen has had it so long.) I'm reading the Mysteries of Pittsburgh. It's fantastic - of course, because he's a brilliant brilliant writer. And Battlestar is fantastic - because it's written by brilliant brilliant writers. Incredibly different kinds of writers. But, the same in a lot of ways.



Now, a few weeks ago I was having a conversation with some other Superromance authors about what Wanda Ottewell as the new senior editor of the line, wants from us, from our books and from the line in general. My response was "drama." A lot of people disagreed with me, saying that conflict and lots of it was the key and others said it was more action, less slice of life. Anyway there were a lot of opinions and I forgot for a while what my gut reaction was - drama.

Cut to the other night and me watching Battlestar Gallactica. More specifically me watching the scene with Starbuck being held hostage and fed dinner by the creepy cylon dude that loves her. Tense scene. We know something is going to happen. Starbuck says she can't cut her steak and he comes over and cuts it for her with a GIANT KNIFE. Oh! The tension. Oh! The drama. Starbuck with a shank of some kind stabs the guy in the side. Now, Cylons don't die - that version will, but another one will come and take his place. She knows this. And in essence the dialogue is: "Why do you keep doing this? You know I'm going to come back." And her response is "I'm doing this because you keep coming back." So, then, bloody, still prisoner Starbuck sits down and takes a bite of steak and wipes her mouth on a white linen napkin held in her bloody bloody bloody hand.

Whoa.

That's drama. That's character revealing. That's action. And then it hit me -- that's what genre fiction gets to do. It's life and people, dealing with life and people things but in a way that's just slightly better than life. Less boring. More thrilling. More perfect. More DRAMATIC. Genre fiction is about putting stuff on stage, giving it a bright white spotlight - making it sparkle and sizzle in a way that my real life really really doesn't. And then for a few days I thought - that's the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction. Literary fiction has less drama - more real life in a real life kind of way. A little dull, to be honest.

And then I started Chabon. And he's literary - the guy has won a Pulitzer. But I realized reading this book and looking at my bookshelf of "literary"books and I realized what really good literary writers do - and really successful literary writers do - is use their voice as that spotlight. They add the drama - the writer. So, my new theory is this - there is no real difference between good literary fiction (and by good I do mean what I think is good because it's subjective and I have no idea what you're reading and I hate Margaret Atwood) and good genre fiction. In the end. It's about honest, poignant, character-driven, exciting drama.

Man, I love taking breaks.

10 comments:

Molly O'Keefe said...

Wow - well, to correct myself already. Chabon is clearly headed genre... proving he's just getting smarter.
http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/awards/michael_chabon_gets_the_hugo_nomination_80475.asp?c=rss

Maureen McGowan said...

Amazing post, Molly. Burn out or no, you're obviously recharging.

And I think there's an extremely fine line between the best genre and the most readable literary fiction. Sometimes it how it's perceived ends up being how the publisher decides to market it.

And that scene from BSG was astounding.

Sinead M said...

The best of both genre and literary sort of expands into the other's territory.
Literary becomes exciting, and story focused, and genre brings fasinating, flawed characters to life.
Loved that scene from BSG. Loved the entire New Caprica storyline.

And the ending. Just watched the season ending episode and whoah.. definitely dramatic.

JKB said...

Oh Molly, you on't know what you've gotten yourself into with BSG. A wide wide world of wonder awaits you. :)

Isn't that great? I think Thrace is definitely one of the best characters on that show. Although I particularly like Gaius Baltar. The man so so fundamentally flawed, and yet...and yet...he is flawless. I adore him. :)

I'll have to go and get a book from Chabon and check it out.Thanks for the heads up, I can always use a nice new author.

Kimber Chin said...

Wow, I love that bit on putting the spotlight on scenes. Very clever.

Good, good stuff.

Margaret Moore said...

That's something I wish people would understand about romance novels. They aren't how-to relationship books about love. They're fiction, so you need dramatic tension to power the plot and to get drama, you need conflict. Lots and lots of conflict, of all different kinds (some light, some serious, some shallow, some deep and some that seems insurmountable).

Speaking of shallow, is it wrong that I'm also hoping for another almost-drop-the-towel scene with Jamie Bamber? Just about fell off the sofa the first time....

franQ said...

"Welcome to the World of MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH!" which has long been my favorite book.

That said, I must warn you against the recent film adaptation by the writer/director of DODGEBALL, Rawson Marshall Thurber.

With any luck, this film won't see the light of day (it suffered terrible reviews at Sundance this past January). But in case you haven't heard, Thurber took it upon himself to CHANGE 85% of Chabon's original story--reducing Phlox to Art Bechstein's "sometimes girlfriend," anc CUTTING the character of gay Arthur Lecomte!

If you're like the rest of us MOP fans you're probably wondering how there can be a story without the Phlox/Arthur/Art love triangle. It seems Thurber felt a triangle between Art-Jane-Cleveland would better suffice, so he made Jane the "leading lady" and Cleveland a bisexual!

I've read the screenplay and had to stop myself from hurtling it against the wall SEVERAL times...

Check out the official MOP Film Boycott for more info!

Molly O'Keefe said...

No - Margaret - it's not shallow - not since I'm living for it too. And you're so right about romance novels not being a how-to. I already did how-to. My husband and I dated and had long conversations over coffee and never once were we stalked by a serial killer. If I'm going to relive falling in love again - I want a little excitement. A little drama.

Hey FrankQ! I am loving MOP and you're assessment of the movie is filling me with terror. Why can't screenwriters leave good books alone? Or make them better if it's possible - and it is. But between MOP and the Boylen Girl, it seems like what's great about the story is being left behind. And that's too bad.

Molly O'Keefe said...

FranQ - by the way -- love the cover and title of your book!!! When is it out?

Marley Delarose, Author said...

I have loved Battlestar Gallactica since it began - my favorite was Dirk Benedict.

I've been re-reading Molly's Baby Makes Three and this little book is a powerhouse of drama. An instruction manual on the highs and lows of emotions in real life.

Rivals any scenes I've read in literary fiction lately.

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