Friday, December 13, 2013

When Are You Going to Write a Real Book?

"Hey, Kid, when are you going to write a real book?" asked Karl.

Excuse me? I said, not sure if I'd heard the deranged curmudgeon correctly.

"I said, when are you going to write a real book?" he shouted.

I heard you, I heard you, you crusty old fart.

Karl chuckled into his beer. He enjoys baiting me like this. We were sitting in The Tilting Windmill, my favorite Dutch themed bar, watching the Dutch men's curling team compete in the European Curling Championships.

What do you mean, a real book? I've written real books.

"Oh yeah? Since when?"

I've written four books and I'm working on my fifth right now.

"Those aren't real books, Kid."

What the hell are you talking about? They were published by real publishers, I have physical copies of the book printed on real dead trees, and they occupy a physical space in the world. How are those not real books?

"Those are nonfiction books," said Karl, dismissing my accomplishments with a wave of his hand. Karl has written 18 mystery novels, so he tends to dismiss most writers with a wave of his hand. I flagged down the bartender. Two Gulpeners, please, Marieke. Put them on his tab.

"Those are 10 bucks apiece, Kid!"

Hey, look who's a real accountant, I said. Marieke set the two beers down. Karl reached for one, but I grabbed them both. No, you stick with Grolsch, Mr. Fancypants Real Author.

"Come on, Kid, you know they're not real books."

Why? Because they're not fiction? Because I didn't write about the human condition and middle-aged angst? Because my stories don't involve cranky police detectives who break all the rules and their plucky young, attractive partners chasing down sociopathic killers—?

"Hey!" Karl gets annoyed when people make fun of his books.

Because my books aren't about zombies and vampires fighting for the love of a pirate maiden?

"Now I'd read that."

Actually I would too, but that's not the point. You're a book snob.

"How am I a book snob?"

Because you think that nonfiction books aren't real.

"But they aren't. Neither are romance novels. Real writers produce fiction that tells the truth, bringing ideas and philosophies to light through the characters' stories."

Dude, come on. In your last book, the killer cut the ears off his victims as trophies. What kinds of ideas and philosophies are those?

"I didn't say they were all sound philosophies. But I think fiction writers tell the real truth, and provide a benefit to the reader."

Are you kidding me? My second book was about how to find a job. It helped people find work! How is that not a benefit? Besides, most "real book" writers are literary fiction authors who look down on genre fiction writers like you.

Karl took a drink from his beer and thought. I polished off my first Gulpener. I had considered giving him the other one, but after this little revelation, I wasn't feeling very generous.

"But where was the actual truth in your books? The character development? We weren't drawn into the lives of the characters the way you are with real books.—"

Would you stop saying 'real books?'

"Fine, the way you are with fiction. There's nothing that makes the reader feel inspired."

You're not even a real writer then. The 'real writers' only produce literary fiction. Christopher Moore writes comedy novels about vampires and sea monsters. James Patterson has become the number one writer in American churning out suspense thrillers. Hell, even Shakespeare's work was written for contemporary commoners; now we treat it like it was written on silk scrolls only to be read by royalty. And you write about police detectives who chase down cannibalistic ear slashers.

"What are you saying?"

These writers aren't known for their literary fiction. They all wrote stories that appealed to the masses, and yet they're all highly successful.

"You think I'm successful?" Karl brightened a bit.

Successful enough to buy me two 10 dollar beers.

"So why don't you give fiction a try? What's stopping you?"

I worry that the kind of book you want me to write will attract the kind of people I don't want to be around.

"Now who's being a snob?"

Hey, it's a real concern. I haven't even written it, and I'm already stuck with you.

"Two more Gulpeners, please," Karl said to the bartender.

No thanks, Karl. I don't think I can—

"They're not for you, Kid, they're for me. Put them on his tab, Marieke."

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