By Fire, By Water, by Mitchell James Kaplan
Other Press LLC (May 2010)
Recently I was privileged to read Mitchell James Kaplan’s thrilling debut novel By Fire, By Water (read my review). Set in 15th century Spain, this historical novel kept me enthralled. I am even more delighted to have Kaplan here on my blog today with a guest post which I think you will find thought provoking – what IS the difference between commercial fiction and literary fiction…and does it really matter? In addition, the publisher has graciously offered to giveaway a copy of By Fire, By Water to one lucky reader of my blog (see details for the giveaway below).
First a bit About the Book:
Within this dramatic story lies a subtle, insightful examination of the crisis of faith at the heart of the Spanish Inquisition. Irresolvable conflict rages within the conversos, who are torn between the religion they left behind and the conversion meant to ensure their safety. In this story of love, God, faith, and torture, fifteenth-century Spain comes to dazzling, engrossing life. – from the book flap-
Watch the book trailer:
About the Author:
Mitchell James Kaplan lives in Pennsylvania (he has also resided in California, Germany, Connecticut, New York, and Paris) with his wife and two children. He has worked as a translator, screenwriter, and script consultant. By Fire, By Water is his first novel. Read more about Kaplan and his work by visiting the author’s website.
Commercial Fiction vs. Literary Fiction
Guest Post by Author Mitchell James Kaplan
What is commercial fiction? What is “literary?” Publishers, agents, critics, and academics seem to place great stock in these concepts, but I have never come across useful definitions.
People who use these terms argue either that literary fiction is better than commercial fiction, or vice-versa. Advocates for commercial fiction are quick to point out that Shakespeare wrote for money. Those who prefer literary writing observe that most so-called commercial fiction stands no chance of becoming classic, blithely glossing over the fact that most so-called literary fiction never becomes classic, either.
As everyone knows, the arbiters of taste are often wrong. In his time, Ben Johnson was considered a greater writer than Shakespeare. In 1905, Henryk Sienkiewicz won the Nobel Prize for Literature; have you tried reading Quo Vadis lately? Raymond Chandler never won any prestigious prizes, but few today would deny his status.
When people use these terms, I always ask what they mean. Sometimes they explain that commercial fiction tends to place more emphasis on plot, while literary fiction showcases style and psychology. Others use a variety of other terms, depending on which type of writing they prefer. Those who prefer commercial fiction will use words like “gripping,” “page-turner,” and “engrossing” to describe the books they like, and “boring” or even “pointless” for those they don’t. Those whose tastes run to the literary may characterize commercial writing as “contrived” and “sentimental,” while reserving terms like “beautiful,” “moving,” or (these days) “spare” for the works they consume.
When I answer that I don’t understand what they mean, they look at me blankly as if to say: I thought you were supposed to be a writer. The reason I don’t understand is that I see no contradiction between these qualifiers. A story can be both gripping and beautiful, or pointless and spare. There is no reason that a novel should not feature a well-developed plot, a fascinating style, and psychologically rich characters.
Many of the classics do. From the Bible through Faulkner, right down to our time, great stories typically combine superior writing and storytelling with a deep understanding of human psychology, as well as one other element: a profound obsession with the human condition. Many of the greatest writers – including, in the English tradition, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Fielding, Dickens, and Faulkner, to name a handful – excelled at combining these elements, producing works that are as exciting to read as they are enriching.
Concepts such as “commercial” and “literary” derive from a pre-democratic model of culture, in which only a small, landed, educated population was deemed to have taste. That model has been defunct for generations. In our society, literacy is rampant and everyone has a right to his opinion. A beautiful story that’s well told, with nuance and intelligence, transcends such simple-minded categorization.
BOOK GIVEAWAY DETAILS
Other Press LLC has graciously offered to send a copy of By Fire, By Water to one lucky winner. Here are the guidelines to enter the contest:
- Contest is open until July 27th at 5:00 PM (PST)
- Only U.S. and Canadian postal addresses please.
- To enter, leave a comment on this post telling me you are interested in winning the book and WHY.
- I will choose ONE winner from the entries using Random.org and announce their name here on my blog on July 28th. I will also send the winner an email requesting their snail mail which I must receive within 5 days or I will choose another winner.