I Want to be Michael Chabon

I’m currently reading Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time. Telling the story of two Jewish cousins who develop popular comic books in pre-World War II New York, Chabon spins a tell that is both fantastic and grounded so well in history that it’s hard not to feel as though you’re living in that time.

The thing that strikes me most about Chabon’s writing, however, is how closely it matches the way I would like to write. In both style and content, Kavalier and Clay displays how I envision myself writing under the best possible circumstances. Chabon’s narration is sublime, his description is vivid, and his dialogue–one of my biggest pet peeves with most writers–is spot-on realistic. He pays attention to all the details as a writer that I pay attention to as a reader and to find such a match, like meeting a soul mate, is joy almost beyond imagination. For me, there is a comfort in reading Chabon that I rarely find because it feels like reading my own writing, only perfect. I want to write that way.

Another endearing quality about Chabon is his belief that the traditional lines between literary and genre fiction should be blurred, if not erased altogether. He is a major genre fiction apologist and a contributor to the notion that enriching literature can also contain elements beyond what we would consider realistic. Other writers such as Jonathan Lethem and Susanna Clarke, both critically acclaimed and gifted authors, provide further evidence for this view, that good reads and good fantasy can be one and the same. Chabon, Lethem, Clarke, and so many others are only a step away from the wave of up and coming urban fantasy authors that garner little more than upturned noses from those insistent on separating literature and modern fiction. Even with authors like Cormac McCarthy, whose Pulitzer-winning The Road tells of an undefined apocalypse with elements of horror and science fiction, there are more and more authors who blend a literary approach to language with a nod to the surreal situations found in genre writing.

The success of these authors is what inspires me. I, too, believe that tales of the fantastic, the supernatural, the futuristic, and the horrible can be told in elegant, beautiful, moving prose. The most difficult part of this belief, though, is having to describe my writing to someone else. My current work-on-submission, Dead and Dying, is a vampire novel, but to me, more importantly, it is a story about friendship and loss and the many things in life more terrible than death. I could say it’s a horror novel, but that would only be partly true. I could also say it’s literary or mainstream, with the added bonus of the undead, but that again does not tell the entire story. Classifying my book in query letters to agents has been a real challenge for me. I settled upon “literary horror” because, frankly, I didn’t know how else to describe it, but even this seems just off the mark. I just hope that the agents who read my queries can understand my categorization and find it moderately consistent with what I have written.

So, I’ll continue reading Kavalier and Clay with the pure pleasure that comes with enjoying a really good book. I’m not concerned with how to classify it, but that is the last thing I’m worried about. As far as I’m concerned, there are two types of novels–interesting ones and not-so-interesting ones–and genre, or lack thereof, makes no difference to me. All I want, whether reading or writing, is a good story.

Work on Project Superhero took off last night and I ended up with about 3200 words in barely under two hours of writing, a pretty damn good day for me. I’m past 40,000 now and very close to the end of part one where I jump ahead fifteen years in the story. Hopefully, I’ll finish the chapter tonight that I started last night. I have a good feeling about the rest of the book, so we’ll see if it goes the way I hope.

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