Yesterday I read the Portfolio interview with Andrew Wiley. An absolutely fascinating interview. Alas, he also called commercial writers (ie, genre writers) failed novelists. Huh? Failed, I guess, because such writers are unable to write literary fiction. As if they secretly want to but can’t and so must muck about with mystery and SciFi and Romance. Because it’s not possible, is it, that there are writers who aren’t interested in writing literary fiction. Interesting assumption there, Mr. Wylie. Or is it more an interesting revelation about Andrew Wylie? Some writers in the canon today were considered hacks in their day. I say thank God we’re not all trying to write literary fiction. I wonder if Mr. Wylie would argue that a singer who isn’t Pavarotti is a failed singer, because, after all, Pavarotti’s voice will be heard for years after his death. Surely, it wouldn’t be the case that there are commercially failed novelists whose work might actually be read through the ages, if not for a rather pernicious chauvinism? Consider Andrew Wylie Exhibit A.
There are more of us failed novelists than novelists because genius is actually rare. The way Pavarotti’s voice is rare. It’s not a matter of will. If I just wish hard enough will I write a book like Beloved? And if instead I write a story that entertains, why am I a failure? Just asking. When I was growing up, I read a lot of books by failed novelists, and those stories made me fall in love, and stay in love, with reading. They’re why I read Toni Morrison and Michael Chabon and Virginia Wolff. There’s not just room for us all, failures or not, but a need for all of us.
Just wanted to point that out.