Woody Allen has said in an interview how much he had loved Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 black satirical comedy, DR STRANGELOVE, and that, like many others, he then waited four expectant years for Kubrick’s next film to appear. Allen sat in the darkness of the cinema and watched all of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. He exited the cinema, just thinking “what was that?” He couldn’t make head nor tail of Kubrick’s new film and was very disappointed.
A week later, says Allen, he went back to see 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.
On the second viewing, Allen loved it and concluded this was one of the best films he had ever seen in his life.
And so the confounding of expectations…particularly in cinema and literature, genre expectations, can go…
Kubrick seemed to delight in radical shifts in subject matter from film to film: from noir to war, from satire to science fiction, from the distant past of SPARTACUS to the dystopian future of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE; from the candle-lit 18th century picture-frame beauty of BARRY LYNDON, to the Stephen King horror of THE SHINING; from the austere sacrifice and betrayal of PATHS OF GLORY to the epic comedy of frustration that is LOLITA.
It was as though his mind was playing a game of private battleships, shifting co-ordinates radically from project to project rather than stick with the tried-and-tested…perhaps hoping thus to hit upon some unimaginable spiritual motherlode of material…and surely he succeeded at this better than most.
He was able to do this because, one way or another, he always remained independent enough to retain control of his own material. Often met with mixed reviews on release, his films were recognised years later as masterpieces.
Notice that word: Independent
For decades of course, authors have been robbed of this factor. If the author was successful with a first book, like Kurt Vonnegut, they were then required to BE a science fiction author exclusively (often to Vonnegut’s dismay, resenting not the science fiction genre, but the limitations he encountered when trying to step outwith it); similarly Ian Rankin, who thought he had written a literary fiction novel, and would go into the bookshops in Edinburgh and move his first novel out of the crime section and into literary fiction, only to have to give up in the end as the bookshop staff kept replacing it in the crime section.
Some authors, of course, get round this by writing under more than one name, when writing in different genres.
But I wonder whether the Kubrick model might not be an excellent one for an INDEPENDENT author to follow, should they feel the desire to do so?
Creativity, when unfettered, seems to lend itself to such boundlessness: I can already see the evidence of this in the descriptions of books like Roz Morris’ “strange and stubborn book”, MY MEMORIES OF A FUTURE LIFE, a literary work where a musician finds her soul pulled towards a future reality which may only be a figment; or Cally Phillips’ THE THREADS OF TIME where the tension and spiritual connection is between a love story set in the 1990s, and another taking place across a time-span of two-and-a-half-thousand years into the distant past; or take the book description for Dan Holloway’s SONGS FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL, “a coming of age story that inhabits anti-capitalist chatrooms and ancient wine cellars, seedy bars and dreaming spires; and takes us on a remarkable journey across Europe and cyberspace in the company of rock stars and dropouts, diaries that appear from nowhere, a telepathic fashion mogul, and the talking statue of a bull.”
Freedom to cross genres indeed.
Freedom to bring to the subject matter as much, or as little, of a “literary”/”quality” “voice” as the author feels fits the story, or their own intentions.
So no need for literary fiction to be devoid of action or story; no need for genre fiction to be devoid of literary voice.
Let the reader decide, after all.
I did some relaxed “market research” over at Goodreads and Amazon forums. The feedback from voracious readers was that they do not mind at all if an author shifts from genre to genre with successive books, in fact they quite like this, just as Kubrick must have quite liked doing it, and the many Kubrick fans liked it too, even if, as in Woody Allen’s case, it might take a week and two viewings to make the mental leap on occasions.
And by the author writing under one name, there is a potential to unify these multi-coloured strands of work which the imagination seems to wish to generate when left to its own devices, its own INDEPENDENCE.
And, in this way, the author’s fans will be able to find all their work more easily!
What an astonishing idea, the author being allowed to write under one name, even under one pseudonym if they wish.
After all, as John Proctor said in THE CRUCIBLE:
“Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”
My name is John Logan, but to publish I had to “become” John A. A. Logan, as there is already a very famous screenwriter and author out there, and on Kindle, named John Logan.
But really, I was not “becoming” anything, I was reverting to the original, as my middle intitials really are A. A. (for Andrew, Alexander…named after the 19th century Scottish Highland farmers who were my ancestors)…but I had not used the middle initials for so long it did feel like a bit of a “becoming” to place them on a book cover…and John Proctor’s words raised a hackle on my back as I did so.
Perhaps, once we have our name in place, then we have to look again at this freedom to “cross genres” of subject matter and whether we truly have it.
In my case, these considerations may be very important.
My first novel that I had a literary agent represent, ROCKS IN THE HEAD, is a social realist coming-of-age story; my second novel, which was represented by the same agent, is THE MAJOR, a book about a blue collar manager of a Tyre Supply Depot who is really a cosmic visitor from the universe’s furthest reaches, come to town to do great and terrible mischief amongst the unsuspecting locals.
My third novel, AGENCY WOMAN, is a 500-page literary espionage thriller pastiche.
My fourth novel, STARNEGIN’S CAMP, is set two thousand years ago when an un-named, insane Emperor who wishes to begin a colony, impregnates 18 young women with his supposedly Divine seed and sends them on a ship to the uncharted other side of the world, where Starnegin, the camp’s leader who was sent out a year earlier to establish a safe base in the primal forest, has deserted his post and leaves the camp every day, disappearing into the forest to do no-one-knows-what…until the women arrive in the boat to disrupt his new and secret life in the woods, and an old friend follows him there one day…to see what he has been doing all those months…
My fifth novel is THE SURVIVAL OF THOMAS FORD, a literary thriller which 20000 people now have in their Kindles, Ipads etc…and which my second literary agent has just asked me to write a synopsis of for film producers.
My sixth novel is one-quarter completed and untitled, and when it is finished I will have to decide whether to epublish it INDEPENDENTLY or hand it over to my agent who wants to send it round the London publishers...like The Survival of Thomas Ford was sent round the London publishers last year…
In the meantime though, I have a new ebook which I will put out in a few weeks, a story collection entitled STORM DAMAGE, consisting of nine stories totalling 225 pages; with subject matter ranging from NAPOLEON’S CHILD, where a young boy appears inexplicably out of a desert one night…to UNICORN ONE, the tale of a strange choice of astronaut for Scotland’s first ever Independent Space Program…to THE AIRMAN, a ghost story about a World War Two bombing raid over Dresden that ends up in modern India…
Disparate tales then, constituting 7 books and 23 years’ work.
Whether this constitutes a lifetime’s work, or half a lifetime’s, remains to be seen!
And all the work to be unified under one independent name, with my old friend Stanley to turn to for comfort and inspiration should I waver in the wee small hours of what sometimes feels like eternity’s edge but is perhaps only the prelude to a new dawn.