03 February 2011

Banville, Black, and Beam

In my SCBWI New England workshop on writing within and without genre last year, I used the example of John Banville, the Irish novelist. Under his own name, he writes Man Booker Prize-winning literary fiction, such as The Sea. Under the name Benjamin Black, he writes murder mysteries—a popular genre.

The pseudonym isn’t even an open secret anymore, an the Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam makes clear in a new interview:

Q. How do Black and Banville divide their time?

A. I’ve got a schedule now. I do a Benjamin Black in the spring and early summer. I hate summer, so this is a wonderful excuse to sit in my room and pound away at a crime book. I write those quickly on the computer, in three to four months.

What I want from Benjamin Black is spontaneity; John Banville writes in longhand with a fountain pen. I can’t do them both at the same time. Banville was never much interested in character, dialogue, and plot, and Black is entirely character and dialogue and plot.
Which is indeed a common distinction between literary and genre fiction. Whether future generations will consider that distinction worthwhile is another matter.

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