I once knew Henry Miller. I stayed for a time in his house in Pacific Palisades. Aside from his telling me that with a name like Longfellow I was born to be a writer, I remember two things very clearly. One was that the rich suburban tract house on Ocampo Drive was nothing like you’d expect the likes of the infamous Henry Miller to hang out in. The second was his special bookshelf. It stood against a wall no one could miss packed from top shelf to bottom with only his books: every book he’d ever penned in every language and every special edition ever printed. I was enthralled by it. I was secretly puce with envy. I hadn’t begun writing yet. I was still pretending I’d be a writer one day. (Not to myself though, I never lied to myself. How could I be a writer? I had nothing to say.)
Running my envious fingertips over all those hardback books, all I wanted was a bookshelf of my own like Henry’s.
All these years later I have one. I wish Henry could see it. He’d say: “Whatcha expect, kid? You got the name, doncha know.” There it is now, a few feet to the right of me. It’s much smaller than his was, but it’s mine. One whole shelf holds foreign editions.
I don’t sell like Henry. I’m not a name like he still is. I don’t expect I ever will be. But there’s one thing we have in common. We write Holy Crap books. (Note to me: this does not include my latest foodlings, the Sam Russo noir mysteries… but a few genre books never hurt any of us Holy Crap writers.)
What’s Holy Crap Fiction? I just found out today by reading a piece in the New York Times Book Review.
Holy Crap Fiction is not genre writing. It’s not necessarily an easy read. Airplanes and sand are not its natural habitat. It’s seldom, if ever, found on a bestseller list. And it polarizes people. They love a Holy Crap book or they hate it.
The writer of this piece makes pretty much the same case for the New York Times Book Review that William Randolph Hearst’s daddy made for his newspapers. He told his reporters that if what they wrote didn’t make a reader sit up and say: Good God! they wouldn’t be Hearst reporters for long. This chap says why review genre fiction? All you can say about historical fiction/murder mysteries/thrillers/chic lit/etc is that it worked within its genre or it didn’t. How interesting is that? Interesting is reviewing books that make the reader say: Holy Crap! What the hell was that? Is it good? Is it bad? Why? What? Who? Huh? Now that’s interesting.
Houdini Heart (one of my efforts) is Holy Crap Fiction. It’s not horror even though it was selected as a candidate for a Bram Stoker Award for Best Horror Novel of the Year. It’s not fantasy although it has fantastical elements. It’s not romantic or a mystery even though… hells bells. It’s all of the above and none of the above. it doesn’t have a pat ending. Anyone who manages to get to the end is stuck deciding for themselves what it is they’ve just read.
Houdini Heart’s reviews range from raves to outright loathing. One fellow wanted it pulped. One girl said it proved anyone could get published considering what total dreck it was. Someone wanted their money back. (Sorry. I spent my cut on a stamp.)
Now all I have to do is get Houdini Heart into the hands of the fellow who wrote this piece, a certain Christopher Beha. Anyone have any ideas?