“Check off each box which applies…”
Just returned from an invigorating trip to UNBC in Prince George. Participated in a lovely creative community event organized by the inimitable Si Transken, as well as a visiting Rob Budde’s Gender Theory class. I always appreciate and learn from interactions with an audience and students. The questions posed can lead me to more deeply interrogate my own thinking and process, and this is always a generative thing.
One of the questions posed was if I saw myself as writing from a Canadian Speculative Fiction community/background. I don’t know if I did the question justice. (It’s challenging for me to hear a spoken question, decipher it, think upon it, and then provide a response succintly. This is a big part of why I’m a writer, maybe. I need the time and space to think things through before I can make sense of them, make sense of my own ideas.) I stated that I didn’t necessarily think of my writing in terms of these genre categories…. That I know these categories exist for a variety of reasons, but I don’t feel especially tied to them. I also stated that I wasn’t “pulling a Margaret Atwood” (bless her resistance, but she will be assimilated!) and denying any connections to the genre(s)– that I respect and admire great works of science fiction and fantasy, just as I respect great works that fall under the “literary fiction” genre, and that all areas had an enormous array of books that run the gamut of awful to brilliant.
Maybe there’s an immigrant quality to the way I approach my writing…. This just came to me now– I’m flying by the seat of my blogging pants, as well as teetering on a kind of essentialism, but there you go. FWIW….
To explain: a significant part of my immigrant experience, i.e. immigrating from Japan as a young child, and growing up in a household that retained certain cultural and social beliefs from the country of origin whilst being socialized and educated in a different/new country/culture, has been in bordering and living between two different cultures. A rich and complicated childhood of negotiating differences, and making sense of them for myself. I have learned to keep and accept the best of both experiences (best being highly subjective, of course) and this is part of my understanding of who I am and where I stand. So now I’m wondering if I’ve approached my relationship to different genres in fiction and/or writing in a similar way. I see positive and wonderful elements in more than one area, and combine them to make a new whole that makes more sense to me….
Half World, on the surface, appears to be a straight ahead book of fantasy…. I know, however, that I’m not necessarily following all of the conventions of the fantasy genre. Half World also involves the mythic, the folkloric, religious elements as well as some aspects of horror as well as some conventions of literary fiction. Soooo, is it a work of fantasy? <shrug>. Yes, mostly, but also pastiche?
When I write a book project I’m chasing an idea, and chasing the idea from its start, to its logical conclusion (I don’t exclude elements of the magical or transformative from the umbrella of logical. Magic and transformation has its own logic.) Basically, I feel that elements from other genres are part of my repertoire, if and when they are best for the story at hand.
(Momentarily back to essentialism: clearly there are a great many immigrant authors who have not combined elements of different genres in their approach to writing. So, we must not say that all immigrants writers write this way, just because they are writers who happen to be immigrants! <slow Sarah Palin Wink> <ironic>)
I do identify with other writers of speculative fiction such as my lovely peers Nalo Hopkinson and Larissa Lai, for instance. Do I come out of a particular school of Canadian SF? I’ll let the scholars decide! <grin>
I concluded my response to the orginal UNBC questions with the rather glib statement: I think I write weird stuff…. There’s a newer genre umbrella that’s coined as The New Weird. I like the sounds of it. China Meiville and Jeff VanderMeers have written/spoken about this. But I don’t know if my writing hat is absolutely covered by this term either. My poetry is not at all Weird, New or otherwise, and I’ve also begun dabbling in non-fiction. Where will it all spread to? That’s the best part! It can creep out, like water. Flow laterally, over surfaces, sink into the soil, and go underground, evaporate and rise up in the air, and pool in larger bodies, to begin its flow all over again!
I know this makes me a bit of an oddball for a publisher or agent to deal with… and I don’t necessarily think I make it easier for them re: the publishing industry. But I have to do what I have to do– the artistic exploration aspect does not necessarily dovetail with marketing.
For those writers who are wondering about ‘your genre’, I say, Don’t try to be fenced in by the idea of genre expectation (Unless, of course, you actually want to!). If your story idea takes you into the next field, why, heck! Check it OUT! Something really neat might be there. Look! A faery ring made out of puffballs that some have speculated was the manna from heaven that the Israelites ate to survive the terrible trek through the wilderness! Is that a faery or a heavenly host? I dunno? Whoa!
If the story is good, it will be published, no matter what the genre or where between them. Heck, Make UP a New Genre! If you can’t find a publisher, post it online. Start a new form. Create a venue for your creative explorations! Share it! If “they will come” to a baseball field if you make it (wahhhhhh!, no, not you, Kevin!), they will surely come to see your AMAZING STORY! I will!
(Not to imply that I think I’m writing AMAZING STORIES! <crooked grin>. I just like weird ideas… I’m a curmudgeon who doesn’t like being defined by other people’s checklist, so my stories go where they lead me. Genre is not the deciding map. (But that doesn’t mean I don’t know the different genres, and that I don’t consider it, either. It’s important to know what it is, that which you think you are not, if you know what I mean….)
As my father used to bellow: BE-LIEBE!
(He didn’t mean, necessarily, in God, tho he was a christian…. He meant believe in what you’re doing, and have faith in it. It’s not bad immigrant advice…. <grin>)
There is a risk, of course: a number of readers might come with readerly genre expectations and may not appreciate that you have not met those expectations….
You have to accept this risk if you choose to accept this mission…. <theme song>
There is always room for a different story.