Monday, February 7, 2011

A Mistaken Premise--ADHD America

I mentioned in a Red Room comment to someone that I'll bet that Sherlock Holmes and Philip Marlowe would not be successful characters in today's publishing world.  Not as they were initially created.  The reason I gave was that the American public is seen as too ADHD, too hyper, too bent on immediate gratification, to accept a work that takes a while to build its characters and crimes.  Chandler's novels are, first and foremost, about Philip Marlowe (and, one suspects, Raymond Chandler at the same time) and about the L.A. of the time.  The crimes and plots are so secondary that the novels often seem plotless, actually.  In fact, the plots were stitched together from many of Chandler's short stories, published in pulps like Black Mask, and they often don't hold up very well as plots.

But the novels, taken in their entirety, work very well, mostly due to the Chandler style and Marlowe's Voice (which are practically the same, but not completely).  Could such a work do well today?  Can a mystery noir be first about character, secondly about writing style, and thirdly about plot and actual mystery?  I thought so, which is why my ms. works the same way, but I can tell you that agents--and, perhaps, the entire publishing business--does not think so.  At all.  Readers don't have the patience.  Crime on page one.  All mysteries up front, with more to follow consistently.  Suspense on every page.  Crime, mystery, suspense, repeat.

Character and setting?  Writing style and Voice?  Fine, they'd say, but first: crime, mystery, suspense.

The publishing business isn't the only one to feel this way.  The education business does, too, I assure you.  The teaching colleges push the law of entertaining lessons so hard today that you'd swear they expect their teachers to be singers and dancers, too.  They really believe that if the lesson is super-duper-interesting, the teacher will never have a behavior problem, and everyone will love learning, and everything's rosy.  I've seen a lot of student teachers crash-and-burn because they believed this to the bitter end, only to learn---

But I digress.  Or do I?  Are the American Readers--and the American Youth--that ADHD, that hyper, that demanding, that needy for immediate gratification?  Are they, or does everyone think that they are?  Which came first, the supposed ADHD American Reader, or the publishing industry that's based on the model of immediate gratification for its readers?  You can ask the same about the education industry.

I propose that the whole thing's a mess.  With the state of both industries today, someone needs to step back and re-think this initial premise.  It's a chicken-and-egg scenario that did not exist in my student and first-reading days.  I don't know when it started, but what if the whole concept is a mistake?  I don't know about the publishing industry, but I can tell you that it's a disservice to many students, and that it's actually insulting and offensive to many of them.

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