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An Interview with a Legend of Literary Fiction (Not Really)

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Friday, November 4, 2011

An Interview with a Legend of Literary Fiction (Not Really)

This is my response to one of the more ignorant and inflammatory comments I've read with regard to genre fiction. In last Sunday's New York Times, Glen Duncan reviewed Colson Whitehead's Zone One. The review led off with this: "A literary novelist writing a genre novel is like an intellectual dating a porn star." Believe it or not, the rest of the review is even more demeaning.  After reading Duncan's review, a NY Times review of Duncan's novel The Last Werewolf, and several interviews with Duncan himself, I felt prepared to discuss the subject with him. Below is the account of that conversation which may or may not have actually happened.
[For the uninitiated Cheryl is my imaginary personal assistant.  She makes a mean latte and has a limitless Rolodex of industry contacts.  Additionally, this is a fictional account of a conversation that never took place.  I did however read every interview I could find to best capture the voice of the interviewee.]
Me: Cheryl, get me Duncan on the phone - stat.

Cheryl: Yes, Mr. Landon.  That's Hal Duncan, right?

Me: No, no.  Hal's the smart one.  The other one.

Cheryl: Dave Duncan?

Me: Good lord woman, he's eighty!  Do you expect me to do a hard hitting piece on a man old enough to be my grand father?  What kind of monster am I?  No, no.  I want the other one.

Cheryl: Glen Duncan?

Cheryl is a real professional.
Me: Obviously.

Cheryl: One moment please.
[intermittent secretarial pause]

Cheryl: I have Glen Duncan on the line.

Me: Thank you, Cheryl.  That'll be all.  Good morning Mr. Duncan.

Duncan: What the bloody hell do you want?

Me: I was hoping to take a few minutes of your time to talk about your recent New York Times book review of Colson Whitehead's Zone One.

Duncan: That was quite a cock up, wasn't it?

Me: The novel or your review?

Duncan: ....

Me: Right.  Well, do you have a minute?

Duncan: I might have one or two moments to belittle my readers and aggrandize myself.  I've an Arcade Fire concert to get to though, so make it snappy.

Me: Sure. I'll be as short and to the point as a Glen Duncan novel.  Do you know Charlie Sheen?

Duncan: Who?

Me: You know, American actor, Twitter sensation, drug addict, owner of #TigerBlood.

Duncan: I don't know anything about #TigerBlood.
Glen Duncan, sitting.

Me: You're sure? I think the two of you share a passion for porn stars.

Duncan: Are you referencing my comparison of genre fiction to a porn star?

Me: Am I that transparent?

Duncan: *snort*

Me: So you pretty well slated Whitehead's novel..  But while you did it you took a blatant shot at your readers.

Duncan: Well, my readers aren't very bright are they?  Yes, I wrote genre fiction, but there are literary conceits in there, man.  I used big words, and all people can focus on is that I have werewolves.  Bloody hell, I wanted to be the next Don DeLillo, now I'm a literate Stephanie Meyers, do you have any idea how badly I want to shoot myself?  Go read my interviews, I end them all by saying, 'if I don't put a silver bullet in my brain first.'  Seriously, I'm not joking.

Me: Huh.  Justin Cronin, another intellectual turned porn star to use your terminology, wrote a review of The Last Werewolf for the NY Times and took a far more professional approach.  How do you respond to that?

Duncan: Justin Cronin is bollocks.  His books are readable.  Not to mention he used vampires, how tired is that? 

Me: If you have such contempt for genre fiction, why did you write it?

Duncan: Daddy has to pay the bills.

Me: Please God, you haven't procreated have you?

Duncan: Daddy as in someone who has sex a lot.  God I have to spell out everything for you philistines.  Anyway, I wrote the book because no one bought my literary works and they didn't win anything.  I seek validation despite my exterior that would lead you to believe I'm above such things.  Once I got into it though, the hooker found herself turned on by her trick so to speak.

Me: So if you got into it, why denigrate the genre so much?

Duncan: Because it's not hip to care.  In case you didn't notice I've put a lot of work into cultivating this 'fuck the world' mentality.  I did drugs.  I get drunk.  I traveled the world after dropping out of college.  I believe in the States you call it, emo.  If I'm going to write something 'marketable', I can't be happy about it or they'll take my skinny jeans and knit cap away.

Me: Well, thanks for being so candid, Mr. Duncan.  I'll look forward to watching you self destruct.

Duncan: Sod off.

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