I’ve mentioned Albert Berg (@albert_berg)on this website before. He’s written some of my favorite reviews of Probability Angels and Persistent Illusions, and he won a flash fiction contest I hosted a while back.
He is also the co-host, along with Tony Southcotte (@tsouthcotte), of the Human Echoes Podcast. Their podcast discusses a new horror movie every week. But that’s not really what the podcast is about. The podcast is about the conversations that these two guys have and the wide array, some might say baffling array, of topics they get into and the different viewpoints they both bring to the table.
I’ve definitely become a fan and you should click that link up there and listen to some recent episodes as well.
Anyway, a few weeks ago my name came up in the podcast and Albert was trying to describe my work to Tony. Part of the fun of listening is hearing the buoyant enthusiasm that Albert exudes when discussing books and movies, and it was a thrill to hear that enthusiasm come out because of something I had written.
Then, while trying to sum up my books to Tony, Albert suggested that they might be described as “Highbrow Pulp.”
I joke a lot on here about how hard it is for me to classify what I write into a genre. This is partly because artists are finicky weirdos and we don’t like to be lumped into genres, partly because the genres I do fit into are more or less overrun by soft-core porn, and partly because I have a book where an undead samurai helps a Roman slave push Isaac Newton to come up with his theory of gravity…and that’s sort of hard to classify.
But the term Highbrow Pulp has stuck with me since hearing it on the HEPodcast, and I think I rather like it.
On the one hand, my literary heroes include Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Kerouac and Salinger. I don’t know how well I’m doing in following in their footsteps, but there’s a desire in me to write poetic prose, to pay attention to the language, to write scenes where everything is about mood or tone, to have plot lines that are barely sketched in the background, to capture something true about the world and life itself. And in the Matthew and Epp stories I find I’ve written some of my truest and heartfelt passages while taking viewpoints from a wider array of characters than I ever have before.
On the other hand, I’m writing books where an undead samurai in a bad suit fights zombies.
And I’m proud of both of those facts.
I think the definition of what “pulp” writing is will vary a lot from person to person, but for me it has no negative connotations. Oh, I know, there are cheaply produced books filling shelves out there that contain awful writing and trite plots and they have sex scenes shoehorned in, and a lot of people would define those as pulp. Not me, though. I define those as crap.
For me, pulp writing means detectives who like bourbon and dames, it means shoot-outs and plot twists, it means femme fatales and exotic locations.
It means writing that doesn’t take itself too seriously and lets the reader have some freaking fun.
For some people, meaning and fun are never found together.
There’s a mindset out there that I always find annoying that meaningful books must be dry and hard to understand and have nothing take place and be about whichever pop sociology happens to be in the headlines at the moment.
I’ve never understood this way of thinking.
What is it that you think is being captured with writing like that? Because it isn’t life. People smile in life. They laugh. Not all the time, no, but quite often, even in trying times and in horrible situations. Sometimes people are overcome with the bad times and life seems devoid of fun, but then they overcome being overcome.
All of the funerals I’ve been to have had a few smiles at them.
A lot of the worst things I’ve faced have resulted in me resolving to take life a little less seriously and focus on the simpler joys more often.
And those writers I listed earlier as my heroes? They might not write slapstick, but their stories do contain drunken idiots and misunderstood dialogue and jokes and some actions scenes and laughable situations.
They just also contain something deeper.
I don’t know that I aim to write pulp, but with this current set of books I am aiming to fit in as many classic movie monsters as I can. That sounds sort of pulpy.
But I’m also aiming to break your heart if possible, and to make you ponder your life if I can.
I don’t know.
I’ve heard worse descriptions.