Too Straight-Forward?

Is there a place for the straight-forward in genre fiction any more?

It’s a serious question with implications for me at least. You see, I’m under no illusions – I don’t write literature, never wanted to, never have done and never will. What I set out to do, and what I hope I succeed in doing at least sometimes, is to write good straight-forward stories that are easy to read, exciting and fun with believable characters that you feel something for, whether it be love or hate or just interest. Problem is, I’m beginning to wonder whether there’s a market for that any more?

This is where the problem comes from. I look at the books in horror and science fiction (the two genres I tend to write in) that are getting the rave reviews or being shortlisted in various awards (Stoker, Hugo, BFS etc.) and they seem to be almost universally clever or unusual books, or all too often the self-consciously off-the-wall book. I am not criticising those books, indeed I have read several and really enjoyed them, but they are not straight-forward, or what some people might call pulp.

I know the moment I use that dreaded word pulp there will be readers and writers (and particularly critics) who will immediately sniff and turn away as if they’ve just smelt something awful. It’s one of those strange things, pulp writers and readers seldom criticise the more literary among the genre, but the more literary often criticise the pulp. Why? In my opinion it takes every bit as much skill to write good pulp fiction as it does to write good literary fiction, it’s just a different skill. But I don’t think the critics or the people behind awards will ever realise or acknowledge that.

So, my question is whether there is still a market for good straight-forward storytelling when all the attention seems to be on the clever, more literary books? If there isn’t, my writing career is screwed before it’s even really got started.

I’m lucky as a reader that I like a fairly broad range of genre fiction. In horror I can go from the quiet, soft approach of Charles L Grant and T M Wright to the more in-your-face approach of Richard Laymon, Brian Keene, Guy N Smith and others. In science fiction I enjoy equally the books of Stephen Baxter, Arthur C Clarke, Jack Vance, Elizabeth Moon and so on. Surely there’s a place for all approaches to the genres?

Perhaps my greatest hope lies in the success of a writer like William Meikle, an excellent author at the height of his powers who writes exceptional pulp fiction (I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that). His popularity gives me hope that there are other readers out there like me who enjoy great story telling without the literary side-salad. And, of course, the grand master of pulp, Guy N Smith, is still writing, and authors like Steve Gerlach continue the work begun by Richard Laymon, so maybe, just maybe there might be an audience for my books out there – if my books are good enough of course. But that’s a question (and a worry) for another time.

So, to answer my own original question, yes, I think so and I hope so. To the pulp writers, keep writing the great stories and don’t be seduced by the temptation to be literary. To the readers, please keep buying and reading the books you love, doesn’t matter whether they’re literary or pulp as long as you enjoy them.

One thing’s for sure – I’m not going to be winning any of those literary prizes! 🙂

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