In Defense of Pop Fiction

  • By E.A. Aymar
  • February 14, 2014

Why the line between genres needs to be crossed.

In Defense of Pop Fiction

It’s hard to go through a graduate writing program and not leave with a disdain for popular genre fiction. Part of that disdain is deserved: There’s a lot of bad shit on the bestseller lists. And invariably, most students have a professor who hates writers like John Grisham and Danielle Steele and encourages students to emulate the work of classic masters.

Then a curious thing happens.

Those students graduate and find that literary agents and editors are hungry for the next John Grisham or Danielle Steele. Writing programs, after all, are designed to teach students the craft of writing. They rarely prepare students for the reality of publishing.

I was one of those students. I took a number of creative writing workshops and, for the most part, found them helpful. I studied under great teachers and beautiful writers, shunned most of the boilerplate thrillers I’d read as a kid, and decided that literary fiction was the best fit for me. I took years to pen a literary novel that, when it was finished, failed to sell. That book had promise and a fair share of flaws, but its biggest, an agent once explained to me, was that it simply wasn’t marketable.

I had to reconsider what I wanted to do. Baltimore was my book’s setting, and my research of Baltimore writers led me from Anne Tyler and Rafael Alvarez to the crime stories of David Simon and Laura Lippman, and that took me to George Pelecanos and Sujata Massey and gifted writers outside of the region, like Kate Atkinson and Meg Abbott. All terrific writers, as good as any of the literary stylists I had read, and all crime writers. I devoured their work like a lovely drug.

Surprisingly, my writing improved when I wrote thrillers. The conventions of the genre forced me to tighten my prose, to keep scenes tense, to make sure secondary characters stayed pertinent to the plot. The first book I published — a revenge-based thriller unapologetically titled I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead — was the third book I wrote; it was published by Black Opal Books two months ago.

The reviews have been good, and I’m proud of my work. I don’t know if I’ll write another novel that crosses the line into literary fiction. I just want to write so well that the line disappears.

E.A. Aymar earned a B.A. in creative writing and an M.A. in literature. He lives with his wife and son just outside of Washington, DC.


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