The Storyteller Reports: Can Literary Fiction Have A Brand?

RANT OF THE WEEK: You Can’t Brand Literary Fiction

There seems to be confusion about what exactly it is, but we can agree that it’s fiction that tackles big themes, and doesn’t pay as much attention to convention as other genres. If you have issues with that, I’d love to debate about it.

But let’s talk about this first. The Washington Post informs me that Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River and other novels, now has his own imprint at HarperCollins. It’s an imprint specifically for literary fiction, apparently. As the press release puts it, “literary fiction with a dark urban edge.”

I find the concept laughable. If literary fiction ignores genre conventions, and if it’s primary focus is theme and character, how can you set aside a label for it? I don’t know if you can establish guidelines around it- much less a business plan. In the end, you know literary fiction when you see it. The lines are fuzzy. Mr. Lehane can try to classify it, but he won’t succeed.

At least, he could have realized that “literary fiction with a dark urban edge” is a silly thing to say. Once again, why do settings matter for literary fiction? It’s as if HarperCollins is trying to make a brand out of this. If they just said “dark urban edge” to create a certain image for consumers, then why bother saying literary fiction? Literary fiction shouldn’t have anything to do with advertising, should it? Would it even be literary fiction if it’s being sold as a brand?

STORYTELLER OF THE WEEK: A Rock Band

Odds are you’re confused right now. Why on earth am I writing about a rock band on a blog based in storytelling, writing and books? Funnily, it turns out that this rock band has a closer tie to all three than many writers I have encountered over the years.

Let me make some introductions first. House of Heroes is a rock band from Columbus, Ohio. Late in 2008, they released a 16-song masterpiece called The End Is Not The End. I was a junior in high school. I found it early in 2009. Since then, The End Is Not The End has been my favorite music album, hands down. A year later, I was still raving on my old blog…

” I could write pages on just the songwriting. Add to how (the songwriting) works with the music, and how amazing the music itself is… I could write a whole book. The themes span love, heroism, redemption, remorse, and a host of others, with references to World War Two and wars in general. It’s the talk about the wars that give it an extra layer. There’s such a story in the music. Listen all the way through the album; you’ll find hints of it in the lyrics, since it’s not a concept album, but you’ll hear in it in the music. I can’t say exactly how. Each song begins and ends like how chapters in novels begin and end; just the right tone, just the right place. It leaves me spellbound every time.”

When they released another album in 2010, I was just as happy…

“(T)he vocals only got better. And the songwriting ventured into new territory. With the classic rock came a focus on youth and suburban America. And my, oh my, does it take your breath away. Gorgeous renditions in “Relentless” the first track, of a boy running wild in the suburbs; “God Save The Foolish Kings”, a gang preparing for a fight and looking for purpose; “Disappear”, a dark, driving reflection on mortality… you have to listen all the way through the album here.”

You get the idea. I love this band, and since The Kingdom: The Quest is coming out next month it’s about time I thanked them. They helped me write this novel.

I’m listening to the first track of The End Is Not The End right now, as I type this. It’s a 30-second instrumental of violins, which builds into the first song, “If”…

“I could be in love / If you wore that dress every day / With your head just so and your eyes of gray…”

That sweet melody sets my heart on fire. The lyrics put me in a different world, a world that swells with passion, angst and love as the album goes on. So it has for the past two years. I listened to House of Heroes more than any other band when I wrote The Kingdom: The Quest. I listened to them more than I did Howard Shore, Hans Zimmer, Tchaikovsky, or any other classical music that writers gush about.

Slowly, but surely, their music became integral to The Kingdom: The Quest. “Lose Control” inspired me with it’s wild riffs and dark lyrics; “By Your Side” with its quiet, transcendent story of brotherly love; “Faces” with its hopelessly romantic quest for the unattainable; “Voices” with its nightmarish, operatic encounter with remorse; and “Code Name: Raven” for its defiant, epic choruses. They all found their way into The Quest somehow.

I meant it when I said I could write a book about this album. Maybe someday I will. For now, celebrate with me. Give a storyteller’s salute to all House of Heroes members, past and present: Tim Skipper, Colin Rigsby, Jared Rigsby, A.J. Babcock, Joshua Dun and Eric Newcomer. Together, they have helped shape a story and taught a boy to love life, and sing along, out-loud and off-key…

“We’re devils / Tryin’ to earn our angel’s wings! / We stumble / At every turn indeed! / We’re desperate / Chasin’ down the love to just survive! / God save us, the foolish kings!”

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