Earl Javorsky: Genre is a funny thing

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Genre is a funny thing. It signifies (as do most words) distinctions. Rock, classical, jazz, hard-boiled, literary, romance, action, comedy, thriller. My dictionary defines genre as “a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.” Sometimes we get combinations that work: country-rock; comedy/romance; literary thriller. Some combinations seem like a tougher sell. Recently, talking with friends about their reading habits, I found that some liked mystery and some liked supernatural, each generally to the exclusion of the other. Which gave me pause when it came time to describe my new book, Down Solo, which begins with Charlie Miner looking down at his dead body on a gurney at the morgue, but proceeds pretty much as a standard detective mystery. So I wrote to my editor, Lou, saying “I’m aware that my combination of hard-boiled+supernatural is a potential turnoff to both camps, thus a potential marketing problem. I’m thinking that ‘drug noir with a metaphysical twist’ might be a way to spin it—unless you have thoughts to the contrary.”

Lou wrote back succinctly with “I’m not convinced that ‘drug noir’ is a way to sell anything, at least not to a mainstream audience. I actually think the hard-boiled/supernatural angle makes Down Solo distinctive. We’re not planning to shirk from it.”

Whew! So much for a problem my head made up for me. And anyway, how many bluegrass fans listen to rap? And what could a combination of the two possibly sound like? Well, check out the opening song to Elmore Leonard’s TV series Justified, by a band called, unbelievably, Gangstagrass. It’s a terrific combination. It’s in the crafting that the best elements of the disparate genres fuse into something new and interesting, and my hope is that my craft is adequate to the job.

Jonathan Lethem’s Gun, with Occasional Music is a hard-boiled sci-fi mystery, and Brian Moore’s Cold Heaven is a literary novel in which a woman encounters her dead but inexplicably ambulatory—and self-aware—husband. Each bends and blends genres and defies the reader to challenge the narrative’s basic assumptions.

Joyce Carol Oates once wrote, “In genre fiction there is an implied contract between writer and reader that justice of a kind will be exacted; ‘good’ may not always triumph over ‘evil,’ but the distinction between the two must be honored.” In this sense, “genre fiction” is one thing, an amalgamation of all nameable sub-genres, and the naming itself may be irrelevant.

So, I’m still tempted to wax eloquent with stuff like “Down Solo is a metaphysical speculation wrapped in a tale of crime,” but it has always paid off to defer to Lou’s opinion.


 Earl Javorsky’s debut novel Down Solo is out today.

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On December 9, 2014
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