Followers of the Thriller Guy have heard reference to TG's writers group, Squatting Toad, six published mystery writers who have been meeting for Chinese once a month for the last fifteen years or so. TG couldn't make last Friday's meeting because he had to wait for the repairman to come and fix his broken AC unit (you probably thought TG had staff to handle these sort of problems; sadly, no) and by doing so he missed meeting a Literary Great. This report in from one of the members:
“We had been drinking for some time when I noticed two men and a woman come into the bar and sit down. I leaned over to one of our group and said in what I thought was a whisper, but I'd had a few drinks so it probably wasn't, 'Hey, that guy who just came in looks just like Jonathan Franzen. Remember when Oprah picked his book for her book club and he bad-mouthed her and she dumped the book. Ha, ha.' I then sensed movement on my right, and I looked up and the guy standing there said, 'Hello, I'm Jonathan Franzen and that's not the way it happened.'”
Franzen went on to explain his version of events, nicely, then went back to his table.
TG was mighty glad he wasn't there. While it would have been nice to meet America's Greatest Living Writer, according to several recent reviews of his new book, Freedom, but the fact is, TG has been unable to read any of Franzen's work without falling asleep, in particular his last novel, also greatly acclaimed, The Corrections. Every decade or so a new master of literary fiction is anointed (TG calls to mind Harold Brodkey in the early nineties) and the Reading Public rushes out willy-nilly to buy their book and proclaim themselves devotees, even though most of them never actually read the book. These are the same people who display tomes by Stephan Hawking on their coffee tables but never consume much more than a single page.
So TG wonders if this “fault,” his inability to read literary blockbusters, is because he has become stupid in his later years, that perhaps his brain has grown slack and lazy after reading hundreds of thrillers rather than “quality” material? Are thrillers somehow of less quality than literary blockbusters? Certainly many of them surely are. TG figures that of all the books he reads in a year, 10% are terrific, 20% are terrible and the other 70% run the gamut from barely acceptable to pretty damn good. Does TG now need the stimulus of action and adventure to keep him mentally engaged, where more subtle writing is too soporific to keep him turning the pages. Perhaps.
Ah, to hell with it. Even writing about it is getting boring. TG will leave you with Franzen's 10 rules for writing fiction. These appeared in an article in The Guardian in February of this year. Some of these rules TG agrees with, some he doesn't, and some he doesn't even understand. Maybe all these thrillers really are making him stupid.
1. The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
2. Fiction that isn't an author's personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn't worth writing for anything but money.
3. Never use the word "then" as a conjunction – we have "and" for this purpose. Substituting "then" is the lazy or tone-deaf writer's non-solution to the problem of too many "ands" on the page.
4. Write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.
5. When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
6. The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than The Metamorphosis.
7. You see more sitting still than chasing after.
8. It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction (a TIME magazine cover story detailed how Franzen physically disables the Net portal on his writing laptop).
9. Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
10. You have to love before you can be relentless.