Existence By Its Books

So this friend of mine asked about the Mystery and More Book Fair which, as I have been trying to make clear to you, is not happening this March but is rolling the books into July. In the course of conversation, I mentioned that we also sold fantasy and science fiction.

“I don’t read that,’ she said.

This is fine with me. There are plenty of people in the world, and plenty of books, and if everybody read the same books I wouldn’t have much in the way of business.

She went on to say, “I don’t know why anybody would. It’s all so imaginary, so escapist.”

Everybody is free to read what they want, with my blessing. But do you have to knock what other people read? I had another friend who felt that way about ALL fiction. “Why read that made-up stuff when there are so many fascinating true stories? Why read lies?”

Well, I suppose it’s the writers, really: all their fault. They want to give you thrills or fears or insight into the human condition, and non-fiction makes so many time-consuming demands. Some writers find a story exciting because it IS true, but others just want to make their point or strike a chord in your emotions, and footnotes get in the way.

I have a story myself, a creepy one and a sad one, in which the hero (or was he the villain?) dies in a sad and miserable way. It is a true story. The problem is that I’ve heard it from three different people now, and each version has a different ending, one that the villain (or is he the hero?) lingered for a few months in the hospital, and another that he survived in a mentally and physically handicapped existence for several years. I could do research, of course, but this would not only not improve the story, but give me a two out of three chance of making it worse. In fiction, I can pick the ending with the best impact.

It’s like that with genre fiction. Some people cannot write the story they want to write without dragons, or a dead body, or an alien race capable of telepathy, faster than light travel, and really unusual kissing. Some people cannot get the point of a story unless it contains a showdown on main street or a small hand-picked band of highly trained commandos. Everybody needs something in the story with which to connect, be it footnotes for the nonfiction reader or recipes for the lover of culinary mystery novels.

An obsessive author named Charles Fort, who had a sense of humor about fiction, nonfiction, and even his own obsessions, started by studying eyewitness accounts of showers of fish and frogs from the sky, and made four large books out of his research. He excused his obsession by noting that existence is large and the universe vast thatwe had to find a way to get a grip on it. Some, he noted, did this through a study of Napoleon, some through a study of laws of supply and demand. He chose his own method. “We shall pick up an existence by its frogs.”

I endorse that sentiment, be the matter frogs or Frodo. We’ll sell you whatever you’re looking for to set the universe in order, if we have it. (By the way, Mr. Fort, though he wrote nonfiction, is to be found in the Science Fiction section. Take a look there in July.)

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