An accomplished writer comes to the defense of genre.
Percy (The Dead Lands, 2015, etc.) has practiced what he preaches. His novels can be considered genre novels, but they’re more. In this deeply personal and intriguing apologia for the “pop lit” and pop film that he grew up on—he’s read The Gunslinger more than any other book; Jaws is his favorite movie—the author enthusiastically argues for good “plotted fiction,” books that are “neither fish nor fowl, both literary and genre.” He loves story, “discovering what happened next.” Too much literary fiction, he argues, has “fallen under the indulgent spell of…pretty sentences.” Born out of past lectures and articles, this is a craft book about how to be a better writer, but it’s also a colorful memoir about a young boy who loved reading, especially horror and fantasy books, and realized he wanted to be a writer. Each chapter takes on a specific topic. With setting, aim for a few “indelible moments.” Research your setting fully, and “know what you write.” With tension and suspense, “strategize the delivery of bad news.” Violence? Avoid at all costs “gorenography,” which is “hollow, excessive, masturbatory.” Make the ordinary extraordinary, or “we won’t be willing to follow you to long ago and far away.” Also, don’t provide too much back story. Occasionally, Percy is prescriptive. The book abounds with numerous, sometimes-lengthy excerpts from works, including his own, that he admires. One of the book’s strengths is the many instructive examples of close, in-depth readings. Curious as to why The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was so popular and “compulsively readable,” he read it twice, then color-coded key passages throughout to reveal what made it tick. Percy is in “awe, hypnotized, overwhelmed” by Michael Chabon’s sentences, which “lavishly uncoil.” On Donna Tartt’s sentences in The Goldfinch: your “eyes bug and your heart hurries.”
Would-be writers will find Percy’s passionate, pragmatic cheerleading inspiring and energizing.