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The microbial approach to RevolutionForrest11-13-03  11:58 am
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AliceB
Posted on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 11:33 am:   

I have a question (or perhaps an opinion). Do you think that publishers of children's books are generally more open to interstitial stories than the adult market?

Sure children's books are divided into genres, but they tend to be divided by age group (picture book, story book, middle-grade reader, YA) rather than substance -- although series in B&N and Borders-type stores tend to be segregated. There is some genre differentiation (poetry, non-fiction, activity books) but within certain age-groups, everything seems to go. For example HOLES (which I think of as interstitial fiction) will be found on the same series of shelves that hold A WRINKLE IN TIME (sf), LOSER (contemporary fiction), I WAS A RAT! (fantasy), and WITNESS (historical fiction in verse).

On the acquisition end, I'm not sure how the houses work -- whether they further divide books by genres within age groups -- but my impression is that what editors acquire is motivated by what they like, regardless of genre, and whether the marketing people think the book will sell.

Thoughts?
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Saturday, November 08, 2003 - 11:32 am:   

Hi Alice!

Really interesting question. I was trying to think of interstitial children's books, but most of the ones I thought of fit into various categories, like the ones you listed. So it seemed as though the children's shelf was generally interstitial (as you pointed out), but not necessarily individual works.

But then I remembered that at WFC Greg Frost had spoken of Holly Black's Tithe as interstitial. And I realised that I hadn't thought of it as interstitial while I was reading it, because I expect YA to blend magic and realism in strange ways, but if I thought of it as an adult novel, it reminded me very much of Jonathan Carroll. Who does seem interstitial. So maybe I hadn't initially thought of it as interstitial specifically because we don't apply the same categories to children's books?

Maybe children's books have such a tradition of crossing the boundaries that exist in adult fiction that we don't even notice when a children's book is interstitial? I'm thinking of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, which among other things incorporate parodic poetry and chess. If we've been educated by that tradition, maybe we read Phillip Pullman without seeing anything unusual, although if his trilogy had been published for adults, we would look at it strangely indeed.

Ok, so here's a brief list of my votes for interstitial children's or YA books:
Alice in Wonderland and Sequel
Tithe
The Golden Compass and Sequels

Also, we're used to seeing children's books combine words and pictures in ways that seems interstitial when we see adult books doing it (witness the current excitement over graphic novels).

My current favorite children's book (with pictures) is Tony DiTerlizzi's The Spider and the Fly. A Victorian era cautionary poem about what happens to flies who trust seductive spiders, with illustrations that refer to the flapper era and are most definitely creepy. It's a lovely book, and there are paper dolls available online. I also want to get my hands on Charles Vess' A Circle of Cats. But are these interstitial, or just very, very cool?

So, a final question, just to stir up controversy. Harry Potter. Interstitial or not?
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lisa y barth
Posted on Saturday, November 08, 2003 - 12:39 pm:   

ooo! great thread over here. personally, i don't know much about children's books but my wife is a kids' librarian and has worked at an independent children's bookstore for years. so i grilled her for ya, alice.

> my impression is that what editors acquire is motivated by what they like, regardless of genre<

lisa says this is true, which actually makes it pretty easy for interstitial kids books to get published. as a result, this thread might soon get clogged with great recommendations of interstitial fiction.

also, as you say, the categories and genres are pretty different in kids' books. they're far more specific, both to meet the specific tastes and preferences of picky readers, and to identify with as many different kinds of young readers as possible. (this really changes the way one might address interstitiality in kids versus grown-up books, i'd guess). for example, lisa mentioned Tangerine, by edward bloor which slips between the "sports" book genre and the "special needs" genre (the main character doesn't see very well). there's no fantasy element in Tangerine, but booksellers have a hard time shelving it because it doesn't fit into the available categories. lots of IA-style arguing ensues.

she agreed that there's really no other book like "holes." when parents come in asking for something like it, because their kids actually read and loved it, booksellers at lisa's store sort of shrug their shoulders. nope. it's its own thang.

other books that fit into this uncategorizeable category: the weetzie bat books (like Dangerous Angels) by francesca lia block (she's right, and i HIGHLY recommend them!), Skellig, by david almond (kids find a creature in their garage but the author never explains what it is - angel? an owl-man? what?), and Mr Was, by peter hautman (time travel used for more realistic, jonathan carrollian ends).

lisa also mentioned the incredible A Series of Unfortunate Events, by lemony snicket. it's interstitial because it's without literary peer, says she. it's satire of dickensian boarding school stories, says me. but it's a kids book; kids don't know the context for it to be satire, so it's interstitialy unique, says she. by jove she might be right, says me.

lisa votes an interstitial thumbs down on "harry potter," dora ("narnia for the nineties"). but i think i know why you asked: did it reinvent the form? i shrug in bewilderment. ever read "i was a teenage fairy," by fransesca lia block? that one has us stumped for similar considerations.
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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Saturday, November 08, 2003 - 06:45 pm:   

Hey Dora, et al,

I don't think HP is interstitial myself--it fits comfortably into not one but two categories: boarding school fiction (you know the kind of thing) and straight fantasy. I don't think intersection is the same thing as interstitiality, because HP doesn't fall "in the cracks between" anything.

I also think that LS is interstitial, because I have a very hard time categorizing them. They abound w/references to all kinds of writers, they're not fantasy but Violet's inventions certainly couldn't work in real life, they've got a very dry sense of humor but I don't think they're straight send-ups, they're just sort of...weird...fiction. The illustrations are Gorey-esque; in fact the whole series is Gorey-esque, but I'd call Gorey interstitial too. The clincher for me, though, about Snicket is that they are neither entirely children's books nor adults' books. Much like *Sesame Street*, no child is going to get the slew of references to literary figures, inventors, etc, and so an adult readership is clearly indicated. But just as clearly, these are books intended for children to read. Interstitial!

I think that one of the main reasons that children's books might be more interstitial is that "children's books" is in and of itself the overriding genre categorization. So you can have a store devoted to children's lit, just as you can have a store devoted to SF, or mystery, but you'd never have a store devoted to "grown-up literature" (unless it was a euphemism for porn). Grown-up lit isn't considered a genre because grown-ups are considered the norm. In the same way, you might find a section of "African-American interest" but not of "White interest" because white people are considered the norm. So what was my point? My point is, I think that this dismissal and marginalization of children's lit as its own genre opens it up to be interstitial w/in that genre. Also because adults tend not to take it that seriously.

Another reason, perhaps, is the much greater intertwining of children's literature and illustrations. For instance, I don't think Alice is complete w/o Tenniel, or Pooh w/o Shepherd, or Snicket w/o Helquist for that matter, but I can't think of an adult book that is so dependent upon its illustrations.
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Chris Barzak
Posted on Saturday, November 08, 2003 - 10:15 pm:   

Hi everyone. Actually, Veronica (hey Veronica! long time no see!) I think one book for adults that I've read in the past couple of years that I wouldn't want to read without its illustrations is CRUDDY, byt Lynda Barry. She's a cartoonist, and this is her first novel, I believe, and she's illustrated it with amazing sketches of the characters. It fits so well with the structure of the book too. A sort of diary left for people to find in the wake of a possible suicide by the teenage narrator who has gone through some major life shit, to put it bluntly.

So that might be one adult book to consider when it comes to dependence on illustrations. Maybe it isn't so dependent on them, but I still have that feeling that I wouldn't find the book as compelling without them.

Chris
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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 06:00 pm:   

Hey Chris--I miss you too!

I agree, and of course I should have added "except for graphic novels." I've always assumed that Barry's work fell in that category, but I must admit ignorance. Graphic novels themselves were kind of interstitial, weren't they, when they first hit the (serious, high-culture) scene, i.e. *Maus*.

I was thinking more of what you describe Barry doing, though; unlike *Maus* or *Persepolis*, Alice is a perfectly coherent novel w/o Tenniel's illustrations--it just loses some of its..Alice-ness.

I should read Barry, whose comic strip I've always loved.
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 06:24 pm:   

There are some other wonderful illustrated Alices--including Barry Moser's and a recently reissued Mervyn Peake edition. I'm an Alice collector.
Ellen

>>I was thinking more of what you describe Barry doing, though; unlike *Maus* or *Persepolis*, Alice is a perfectly coherent novel w/o Tenniel's illustrations--it just loses some of its..Alice-ness.
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Delia Sherman
Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 07:02 pm:   

I've long thought that children's lit was a kind of safe haven for writers who simply followed their muse without paying too much attention to what genre she was leading them into. HOLES is one interstitial book that kids really like, but what about SKELLIG? Did genuine children really take that out of the library and come back clamoring for more? If they did, I'd be delighted. And I'd guide them to Nina Kiriki Hoffmann's excellent A STIR OF BONES, just out from Viking, which has some of the same dreamy, poetic quality applied, in this case, to a problem novel/ghost story.
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barth y lisa
Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 08:58 pm:   

no, Skellig wasn't a big hit with kids the way Holes was. it was a title that required a lot of "hand selling," according to lisa. but it did sell and it earned a nice little following.

i'll mention nina's book to her. lisa used to be a buyer at wild rumpus so she might be able to get them to carry that title. thanks for the tip, delia.
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Alan DeNiro
Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 09:20 pm:   

Not to interrupt the children's lit thread (keep on goin', by all means), but I want to throw into the ring a recent collection of stories published by Back Bay Books (which is a Little, Brown imprint, I think?) called Super Flat Times by Matthew Derby. The closest "x meets y" that I could think of would be Carol Emshwiller meets Ben Marcus. But yeah, it's er hard to explain but was really mind blowing and necessary fiction.

Here is a link to one of the best of the stories from the collection:

http://www.elimae.com/fiction/derby/tower.html

and the Super Flat Times website is pretty cool (yes, it uses Flash, but pretty effectively):

http://www.superflattimes.com

OK, carry on!

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GabrielM
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 08:06 am:   

SUPER FLAT TIMES reminded me a lot of Ben Marcus as well, but it's certainly more accessible. There are some good pieces in there.

Ellen -- hey, I'm an Alice collector too. We'll have to compare notes sometime. I was very excited to get that Peake reissue last year. And Moser's is lovely.
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AliceB
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 11:19 am:   

Wow. Sorry I haven't responded sooner -- I haven't been around for several days. Great posts!

To pick up the children's lit thread, something Veronica said made me think. Since children's literature is considered its own genre (and therefore not as important as adult lit.), do books like HARRY POTTER jump genres, and have an interstitial character in that way?

I agree that HARRY POTTER fits the definition of fantasy fiction very well. It also fits classic english boarding school fiction. And it's a children's book. That it fits several genres does not put it in the interstices. But it also jumped the children's book genre when it became an international bestseller and forced the New York Times to create a separate Bestsellers List for children's books because the HP books were hogging the general list for so long.

The HARRY POTTER series aren't the only books that have moved around, from adult to children's fiction. Fairy tales are a classic example, although, as the audience has been targetted more and more to children, the tales have been "cleaned up."

Comic books went the other way. They started off as children's fiction and have moved toward the adult market -- and I don't mean graphic novels or manga (although that could be a topic in itself). Rather old-fashioned "superhero" comics such as X-Men, or anti-hero comics such as Swamp Thing have pushed the adult market as well -- while holding onto kids.

The entire young adult market pushes boundaries between what is "adult", and therefore has to fit an adult genre, or "children's" which then gets shelved on YA shelves next to every YA genre.

And then there are books like Salman Rushdie's HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES which I have only been able to find on adult shelves next to his other fiction, but which was written for his 13-year old son and is a wonderful fantasy children's book.

I'm starting to ramble.

Alice
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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 03:26 pm:   

Hi Alice,

I see your point about HP, but I'm unconvinced. HP has been a hit for adults, but does a bunch of adults reading a children's book automatically make that book interstitial? I'd say no; for a book to be adult-children interstitial I would say that it has to have elements of both and be neither entirely one or entirely the other. I read and love HP, just as I read and love the Oz books, but not because either series is incorporating adult literature. Just because I like to read children's books. HP is a cross-over, I'd say, w/respect to the adult/child divide, but not interstitial.

That's just my opinion, of course. I've been known to be wrong in the past.

I have mixed feelings about the *NYT* making a new section for children's bestsellers. On the one hand, it's nice to see an area that will allow more children's books and their writers to get press and accolades, etc. On the other hand, the *NYT* didn't feel the need to acknowledge children's lit bestsellers before the oh-so-special grown-up bestsellers started losing out. Spoiled loser crybabies. Also, it's not like they start a special "Horror" bestseller list every time Stephen King tops the charts or "Legal Thrillers" when Grisham does. It just seemed petty.

To Ellen, yes, I must admit I know about those other Alices and what can I say? I'm too inflexible to appreciate them, I think. I can look at them and think "how beautiful" in the abstract, but they feel...wrong. Like someone had switched my skin for another. It's my own failing, I know.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 07:42 pm:   

I like Veronica's point that Harry Potter inhabits two different genres (fantasy and boarding school stories) without falling into the cracks between them. I remember reading the first book and feeling very comfortable, like I knew exactly where all the elements I was reading had come from. I think the same goes for the new fantasy romance "genre." Sounds like the books are comfortably both fantasy and romance. So perhaps interstitiality happens when a book combines the genres it comes from in such a way that you look at it and go "Hunh. No clue what that is." (Like early biologists, and this is my husband the biologist's analogy, looking at a platypus.) I think Maus, for instance, evokes that "Hunh" response.

Have to confess that I haven't read Lemony Snicket. Now I'll have to! And Gorey is, I think, most definitely interstitial. I can't place him anywhere. (Edwardian gothic cartoons? But in Amphigorey and the other books, his style is all over the place. He does the strangest things with stick figures.)

And now I want to make a strange point. I've been reading Tom Shippey's J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, and if you really look at how The Lord of the Rings was put together, it's an interstitial text, a prose epic for England that is really quite different from anything that had come before. We can no longer see it that way because it has created the epic fantasy genre, with all its conventions. But if no one had written an epic fantasy after Tolkien, I think it would look as strange to us as Gormenghast still does. Though maybe Gormenghast is just now starting to create a tradition among the writers of the New Weird? Anyway, it emphasized for me the extent to which genres often begin with a single interstitial text before they become the countries with defined borders that we experience.
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ellen
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 07:43 pm:   

Gabe:
If I could only see my bookshelves for the books piled in front of it, I could find my other "Alices" --I've got some other illustrated versions of Songs From Alice and possibly The Hunting of the Snark.


Alan: Is there any horror in Super Flat Times by Matthew Derby? Marc Laidlaw recommended it to me too but I haven't time to read anything not horrific right now (or very very dark).

Veronica: I understand and I grew up with the Tenniel Alice but I do love the variations. Same with Moser's Wizard of Oz.
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Pat O'Connor
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - 07:29 am:   

Hi, I'm Patrick, an academic (at Oberlin, in Latin American literature) who was most improbably invited to attend the first Interstitial public meeting in SUNY New Paltz in June, where a good time was had by all.

I'm also an Edward Gorey fan. (I just met someone this weekend in a small town in Ohio who seemed to have stepped right out of the pages of a Gorey book --The Willowdale Handcar, say, or some other American Victoriana fantasia; but that wouldn't be an Academic experience, just a real-life one.)

Like Tolkien or Harry Potter, I think Gorey's oeuvre is a useful one for thinking about what the term "interstitial" can mean. Word and text are joined together very tightly, for instance, so that just about every individual Gorey panel is "readable." But Gorey offers a broad range of narrative strategies, some of them quite deliberately anti-narrative: for every Hapless Child which moves dramatically in a reasonably conventional way, there are at least as many stories in which narrative either doesn't happen at all or narrative is deliberately flouted: conversations between needles and buttons that never fully build up to a plot and characterization. (I'm on the more conservative end of that spectrum, myself: I prefer the stories of Mr. Earbrass and the Wuggly Ump that actually give one a plot, however parodic. )

Gorey often treats his narrative "interstitially" in another sense, too. Rather than dramatizing the violent or melodramatic event itself, he often displays the moment just before or to the side of it. Sometimes this is part of the parody, as in The Curious Sofa, where all the sexy bits are just offstage and the narrator uses twee euphemisms to partly veil what he is describing. But I actually think that Gorey believed that it would be wrong to dramatize just the dramatic bits of life. For little Milly Splaytoes who becomes the diva Madame Splatova in The Gilded Bat (do I have everyone's names right?), Gorey emphasizes that much of the ballerina's life is a refined drudgery of exercises and rehearsals and sewing ripped tutus.

So Gorey is a poster child (a Gashlycrumb Tiny?) for those of us whose instincts tell us that interstitiality in the USA 2003 often involves: an unexpected combination of media; a hard-to-pin-down appeal to the child and the adult, simultaneously, in Gorey's case producing a sort of Wednesday-Addams perverse-child effect; a volatile mix of high- and low-art pretensions; and some relationship, possibly fractious, to the avant-garde in one's artistic tradition, and really towards Tradition itself.

Finally, for me at least, I find Gorey's oeuvre fascinating not just the way a cultural historian might, but also the way an intellectual historian might. Someone's going to sit down some day and try to figure out what happens to the American literary avant-garde when Paris is eliminated as a center, because of World War II . "Everyone knows" that Paris regains an important cachet during May 68, and intellectually all us academics have learned how to get from Sartre to Derrida to Foucault like one of those Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon narratives; and minor figures from the 1950s like the Situationists have also recently been talked up by Greil Marcus. But there's some other story about the allure of "Parisian" aesthetics between 1946 and 1968, that involves all sorts of "minor" writers and painters on both sides of the Atlantic, that I think has its own center of gravity: in the U.S., the poets John Ashbery and Frank O'Hara; the composer Ned Rorem; the Surrealist boxmaker and collagist Joseph Cornell; Donald Barthelme, of course; and, I think, Gorey. (I gather there's a Harvard connection among some of them.) While Sartre is championing Jean Genet as a heroic sexual criminal, there's this other sort of queerness, connected up to sophistication and "minor" genres, more the lifestyle of the old Cocteau and the young Barthes and less that of Foucault. The reason some of us use the term "queer theory" instead of lesbian and gay studies is because we want to cast a net designed to include very strange heterosexuals like Joseph Cornell (who was championed by gay art critics, and I believe some of them thought he was gay), as well as authors like Gorey who displace eroticism so fully onto objects and spectacles that it's both everywhere and nowhere, certainly non-procreative and citing traditional perversions [isn't that a lovely phrase? I'm thinking of some of the characters in the limerick abecedary: The Wanton; The Governess; The Proctor], but otherwise impossible to pin down.

I don't know what Mr. Earbrass would think of all this. Why isn't there a fire? Why aren't there the makings of one? How did we get into the unused room on the third floor?
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GabrielM
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - 08:55 am:   

Very interesting. I'm a Gorey fan myself. Just to pick up on a small thread in your argument re the use of "unexpected combination of media", one thing I've found curious about Gorey is other artists' desire to adapt his work not for the movies (God forbid), as is usually the case, but for theater and music and so on. Over the last few years I've seen at least two theatrical adaptations of Gorey in NY and only last month the Kronos Quartet and The Tiger Lilies issued a CD where they collaborate on a series of Gorey-inspired cabaret songs. I don't know if there's anything "interstitial" about the phenomenon, but it's interesting.
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - 01:08 pm:   

I'm a major Gorey fan myself. I've been collecting his work since discovering him in the SUNY at Albany library in the late 60s.

I've seen his illustrations used with text by John Updike and by Samuel Beckett and they aren't as successful a melding of the two arts as his own text and illustrations are.
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barth
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - 02:04 pm:   

i love this and plan to steal what i can from it:

"So Gorey is a poster child (a Gashlycrumb Tiny?) for those of us whose instincts tell us that interstitiality in the USA 2003 often involves: an unexpected combination of media; a hard-to-pin-down appeal to the child and the adult, simultaneously, in Gorey's case producing a sort of Wednesday-Addams perverse-child effect; a volatile mix of high- and low-art pretensions; and some relationship, possibly fractious, to the avant-garde in one's artistic tradition, and really towards Tradition itself."
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barth
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 08:56 am:   

so a few of us MN ratbastards were hunkered down at a brew pub last night (we sampled the weissen, the red, and the dopplebock, if you must know), and we were talking about our next chapbook, zines in general, and the IA insurrection.

in the wake of that convo, this morning i blogged a call to genre/interstitial-arts zine editors to expand the parameters of our current talent pool. (www.barthanderson.com/wordblog). this wasn't meant to deride any editor's superb efforts, but an exhortation to broaden the pallett, to allow even more voices into the growing chorus.

we have a great do-it-yourself punk-fic push happening here on the fringes of the genre. and i'd argue that the sea change that needs to take place for IA to be a viable niche is happening dynamically in the zines and small presses (flytrap, say..., and lady churchill's to name a few).

how can "in-genre" zine editors find MORE IA-style writers who aren't publishing in places where we typically read? what writers do people recommend we approach? are there writers' market lists outside the genre where editors might call for submissions?
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Tim Pratt
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 10:13 am:   

Thanks for all the kind words on your blog about Flytrap, Barth. As for recruiting outside our usual paramaters -- I agree, absolutely. When putting together issue #1 I particularly went after poets who have nothing to do with the genre (Daphne Gottlieb, Maria Garcia Tabor, Jay Wentworth, Jen Larsen). Since I edit a genre poetry 'zine (Star*Line), it would've been easy for me to ask the usual suspects I publish there for poems, and put together a fine line-up. But I wanted to bring other people in.

Flytrap 2 is shaping up to be quite slipstreamish, though it is a lot of the usual suspects, at least in fiction. I accepted things by a couple of people I don't know either personally or from prior work, though, and by a few people that aren't as well known as they should be (like Mike Canfield and John Sullivan, who are two of the most talented people writing today). But one of the reasons I started a 'zine was because I wanted to publish stuff by David Moles, Kristin Livdahl, etc. etc. -- writers who write things I love.

As for strategies to find people... that's always tricky. I'm still tenuously connected to some non-genre poetry scenes, so it's not too tough for me to find poets who aren't well known within the genre.

Charlie Anders runs a great spoken-word series, Writers with Drinks, in which he brings together writers from various genres (memoir, fantasy, slam poetry, erotica, humor, etc.) on stage for a night of readings that run over and across a range of styles and content. We could do worse than to emulate his approach in print. (the website for WWD is www.writerswithdrinks.com)
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 10:26 am:   

Hi Barth!

Don't quite know how to write this, but here goes. Some of the experimental fiction being written at the edge of genre is tremendously exciting. But some of it sounds, well, like a lot of other experimental fiction being written at the edge of genre. And I get the feeling that we're making the same mistake as punk rock, all being experimental in the same way. In a way, more specifically, that was developed in the mainstream, among the postmodernists. My solution is a bit different than yours, though I think bringing in new names would be wonderful. I think we all need to be more adventurous, to take the techniques we use not only from a contemporary mainstream movement but from the entire history of literature. As I said on a panel at WFC, all the techniques that have ever been used by writers are available to us. And yet we often confine ourselves to writing stories that sound "hip" and "contemporary." Imagine if Lovecraft had confined himself to a hip and contemporary style.

"So, you worship Cthulhu," he said, the cigarette dangling from his fingers.

There were shadows under her eyes, and he could tell that she hadn't slept in days. "So what if I do? It's not a crime." The toe of her shoe tapped nervously on the linoleum.

Three writers that I believe are doing what I describe, using styles and techniques that reach beyond the current postmodern paradigm: Kelly Link, Jeff VanderMeer, and China Mieville. In spite of the fact that you can look at their styles and see influences from other writers and literary traditions, all three sound entirely original. (I haven't mentioned Greer Gilman. She's incredibly entirely original, and doing writing that I don't think anyone else would have the courage, or perhaps even the skill, to do. I think all genre writers should read her, to see how far you can go if you're willing to try.)
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barth
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 11:33 am:   

oooo, that's a good disaffected lovecraft, dora! now do po-mo lord dunsany!

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Christopher Barzak
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 11:58 am:   

Oooh, you don't wanna see that. Really. I tried it once, and what a mess!!!

;-)

But seriously, I think you're both correct. Barth in the feeling of expansiveness and an openness to new names writing these sorts of fictions. Dora in that sometimes we forget that inherent in the word "experimental" is experiment, and sometimes those just flat out fail.

I'm not sure, though, if this isn't happening already, though. Yes, I think often the same names are appearing and reappearing in various venues, but I'm not sure if that in itself is a Bad Thing, unless the stories that go along with those Names are Bad. And sometimes, that's true. I don't want a name. I want a good story that'll blow the top of my head off, as Emily D. quite rightly put it concerning poetry.

One of the things I think is interesting is what Dora points to in Link, Mieville's, and Vandermeer's works. They not only pull on contemporary writing styles, but on the old as well, techniques and manners of conveying language and meaning that have been "put away", like last fall's fashion lineup. But like last fall's fashion lineup, some of these techniques, language resources, whatever you'd call them, are awesome, and we should see what they look like matched with something else that they weren't originally intended to be placed in a composition with. One of the coolest things about Mieville's fiction is the Victoriana bubbling beneath the surface, along with pieces of stream of consciousness writing, and then flat out adventure on the high seas writing. They're all being synthesized, which is awesome.

I do, however, like voices that I cannot locate on the literary map of history at all. There is some writing that I encounter that seems to be unfixed from history, created in a void, then sent out into a conversation in progress, and of course these voices are often seen as the strange socially inept person that everyone says, "Who is that? Who invited her to the party? How did he get in here looking like that?" but I'm often fascinated by those strangers.

Someone who, once upon a time, had this affect on me was Carol Emshwiller. Encountering her fiction at first, I thought, What is this? Now of course they feel like old friends, but initially I was shocked and delighted, and often puzzled by the ways in which her fictions created meaning and also her choice in strategies of representation.

Ben Marcus is similar. And also the writer that Alan mentioned in another thread, the writer of the book "Super Flat Times", which I haven't read in its entirety, but there it is.

I'm reading Jincy Willet at the moment, and I get that same feeling from her fiction, which was out of print for the past ten years or so.

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JeffV
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 12:03 pm:   

This is definitely a concern of ours at the Ministry of Whimsy. In fact, we've had repeated discussions re the role of Leviathan, for example. When I started Leviathan, there were very few outlets specifically for cross-genre/interstitial work. Now you have Polyphony, LCRW, Trampoline, and many others, some one-offs, some continuing series. One challenge for Forrest, I think, in putting together Leviathan 4 (and he can speak to this much better than I, of course), was to take the best stuff, but also be cognizant of the fact that the moment Leviathan begins to ape the contents list of other cross-genre publications, it ceases to become relevant, even if it was the godfather chronologically to these other, more recent efforts. And, in fact, Leviathan 4's contributor list is very different from its "competitors". The same thing applies to the Ministry itself. If we began to publish the same authors as other interstitial/cross-genre presses, then we'd have lost our way, in a sense.

I do begin to see a certain amount of imitation at work--not necessarily of Leviathan, but generally in this section of "the field." Imitation is not necessarily a bad thing, if the riffs are original enough, if the renovation is solid enough. But I do agree that over time it will get old. What I don't necessarily agree about is the idea that postmodern techniques applied to fantastical fiction have as yet been overused. I don't think this is true at all. That said, I'm beginning to discard the postmodern techniques I used in City of Saints in my new fiction because I get bored easily doing the same thing.

Jeff
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 12:28 pm:   

I think some folks could stand to read more widely. I've had a few discussions with cross-genre flagwavers that that have gone like this. Details scrubbed off to protect identities:

Ex 1.

"Ah, you might want to read [incredibly famous recent book]"

"Oh, I've never heard of it."

"Really? It's incredibly famous, got the cover of NYTRB when it was reviewed, etc..."

"Oh, I don't read NYTRB or any mainstream reviews."



Ex. 2.

"I'm a genre pirate. I mix SF, fantasy, fabulism, mystery and mainstream!"

"What's the last mainstream book you've read for pleasure?"

"..."



Ex 3.

"This is my story, which is a pastiche of [incredibly famous genre writer] and [incredibly famous mainstream author whose books have sold tens of millions of copies]. What do you think, o workshoppers?"

"Well, I never read [famous mainstream guy]"

"I haven't read [famous mainstream guy] either"

"I don't know anything about [famous mainstream guy]"

"I think by having [famous mainstream guy] you're limiting your audience"

"Ditto not having read [famous mainstream guy]"

"I thought this was [some other mainstream guy utterly unlike the actual one] but then I figured out that it was [famous mainstream guy]. Never read him though..."

"I don't like [famous mainstream guy]; but I haven't read him. I bet [famous mainstream guy fans] will be snobs about this story."



Ex 4.

"Well, my book is fringe fiction because it combines two genres...it's horror AND thriller!"


And we can go on. It seems to me that an essential part of mixing genres is a familiarity with other genres. I too have noted some imitation going on recently: is one a cross-genre writer when all one is doing is aping the genre conventions of cross-genre writers?

One area where I have found a happy and wilfull ignorance of genre boundaries is in the zine scene. Of course, offering up a cross-genre genre for them to be a part of ("We have the flags and banners, now we only need the troops!") might only antagonize some of those writers.
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JV
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 12:30 pm:   

I completely agree, Nick. Just reading in any one genre/category/publishing label is slow death, strangulation by literary claustrophia. Heck, just reading fiction is too narrow.

JeffV
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Alan DeNiro
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 12:51 pm:   

Someone please explain to me why Lovecraft's style wasn't roccoco sloppiness to begin with? Or maybe we should leave HPL to taste, your mileage may vary, and leave it there. *closes can o' worms*

Anyway...Dora, I had a hard time parsing your post. I think saying that someone is writing "hiply" is like a food full of empty calories--I'm not sure if the term means anything. You mention Kelly as being the antithesis of this, but I can think of many of her stories ("Survivor's Ball, or the Donner Party", "Most of My Friends Are Two Thirds Water," "Lull") which DO sound hip and contemporary. And are fun to read because of that. Whether these stories succeed or not (and I think we'd all agree they do) has more to do with the way these techniques and dictions are tied to an emotional and cognitive vision.

That's also the nature of experimentalism, by nature. Some of them fail.

And I'm REALLY not sure what "the contemporary mainstream movement" is? I'm afraid that, like the yeti, its existence has been rumored about, but never confirmed.

I'm interested in your points but I think they're a little fuzzy.

Of course, I could just be dense today.

A.
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Alan
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 12:54 pm:   

Sorry, I started my message about 2 hours ago, wandered off and did other stuff, and came back to finish it. So a lot of Nick's, Jeff's, and Chris's points already hit some of the stuff I wanted to talk about.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 12:56 pm:   

Someone please explain to me why Lovecraft's style wasn't roccoco sloppiness to begin with?

Well, it wasn't sloppy. Roccoco yes, sloppy no. There's a weird precision to a lot of his stories. Part of the problem was the Arkham-era edits, additions, wholesale rewriting, and mislabeling of stories not by Lovecraft as being by Lovecraft.

That and pastiche. It's like the endless numbers of comedians who do William Shatner impressions; the impression has superceded the original in the public mind.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 01:02 pm:   

I feel like we're making something out of something else, perhaps too much. Using bits of old fashions, repurposing lost styles, appropriating various genres, various forms, it sounds all to dangerously like we're focused too heavily on the form of what we're doing, and not so much on the substance of it. Believe me, I love beautiful writing, and startling text and the re-imagination of literature. But I'm not sure that the way to go about doing that is to take a whole bunch of different things and make some sort of frankensteinian uber-text. I think we'd be better off just making something new.

Look, if we're talking about combining genres and literary styles and considering influences, aren't we perhaps a little slow in the digestion? I read a lot of different stuff, from chicklit to eng-lit to porn, but I don't sit down and say to myself 'time to write speculativechickstream erotica. I think I'll do it in iams.' I just let all this stuff bubble and simmer and rot, until Something comes out. And that something is usually some kind of fetid pastiche of me, but I don't think of it in terms of intentionally tying disparate genres together.

Ah, what the hell do I know? My main concern is that thinking about it too much spoils the process. But I think research spoils the process, too.
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Alan
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 01:19 pm:   

Nick, that probably explains it. I haven't read Lovecraft enough or deeply enough to get at the Original Source Material.

Tim, I don't know about you, but I'm thrilled that you coined the term "chickstream." It's so wrong, yet so right.
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Forrest
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 01:24 pm:   

Nick said: "It seems to me that an essential part of mixing genres is a familiarity with other genres."

Can't agree with you more, Nick. This is what really turned me off to the whole horror-writing scene. Attending WHC in Chicago was an eye-opener. I found myself shaking my head a lot to responses like this:

"Foucault - isn't that that one book by that Umberto Eco guy?"

"Yeah, dig Poe. But who's this Meyrink guy?"

"Exquisite Corpse? Cool! Is that a new market? Never heard of it. Sounds pretty gothic though, dude."

"Ryleh. Nga Nga Ftughaf^ij[ffh@runn#292t&**! Huh, huh. Yeah!"

"Rushdie? He's that dude that's going to get killed, right?"

Yes, well, you get the picture. And I agree with Jeff, there is a lot of great non-fiction out there that should be read to broaden one's horizons, if nothing else.

On the other hand, what are you going to do about it, other than berate people on a discussion board that none of the offenders are going to read? Do these collective rants really do anything outside of making us feel superior?

Sorry to be so practical with my questions. Note that I'm berating myself as much as anyone else.

Forrest
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Robert Devereux
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 01:30 pm:   

I just let all this stuff bubble and simmer and rot, until Something comes out. And that something is usually some kind of fetid pastiche of me, but I don't think of it in terms of intentionally tying disparate genres together.

I sometimes wonder if some interstitial stuff is too deliberate, purposely trying to tie disparate genres togther to make something that is both/neither genre.

I wonder if it's better to just let the mix be a natural one, or whether this deliberate mix is also good.

I know at one point I deliberately tried to make music that would blend certain genres, and those deliberate blendings didn't work too well. When I gave up consciously blending genres and just let the blend happen naturally, it began to work better.
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JeffV
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 01:44 pm:   

Alan:

I don't like Lovecraft that much--like Hodgson's Nightland I feel like he's writing through fog or through a veil, and if only he'd not been such a bad stylist at times, we'd see something truly glorious. On the other hand, China would make the point that a crap style went hand-in-hand with the cosmic vision, and you can't divorce the one from the other. I don't buy the argument. First thing I'd do if I had a time machine is send Rikki Ducornet back to teach Lovecraft a thing or two.

JV
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 01:44 pm:   

On the other hand, what are you going to do about it, other than berate people on a discussion board that none of the offenders are going to read?

Oh, I berate offenders in all sorts of venues and media.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 01:46 pm:   

Alan, I'm glad you like chickstream. On another discussion board I'm in this argument about chicklit. This guy said that fluff literature written by women was inherently inferior to fluff literature written by men, that men's fluff was naturally more intellectual and worthwhile and good, because it had been written by men, and men write more intellectual stuff than women. So I called him a misogynist, and now it's sort of devolved into name calling. He can't see what's wrong with his statement. It's kinda fun, and kinda scary, and a great deal frustrating. Anyway...back to your regularly scheduled interstitiality.

It's scooby doo meets cold mountain. It's william gibson bred with the marquis de sade. I write dali with a side of lovercraft, seared and served on a pynchon roll, smothered in shakespeare sauce. and I'm the next hemingway baby, or maybe I'm just the first Tim Akers.
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Christopher Barzak
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 01:59 pm:   

Re: natural writing process versus artificial process.

This really boils down to people who have writing processes that rely heavily on the subconscious versus those who have processes that are self-conscious.

Neither are wrong. Both have gifts and weaknesses.

Personally, I think every writer uses both processes. Even those who rely heavily on just "letting it all come out" should, at some point, look at all the stuff that's just come out and see how it needs to be managed and directed, focused and pruned and revitalized. Once you see the patterns you're making, you need to then shape those patterns more consciously. You start with inspiration (unconscious activity), then move into the work of making something to match the vision (conscious activity).

Well, you don't need to. But as a reader, I sure appreciate it.

And Frankenstein monster's are often cool.

Haven't read enough of Lovecraft to be an expert, but I do remember reading some of his stories as a teen and early twenty-something and being really scared and weirded out. And I loved the prose. I'd agree intuitively with Nick. Rococo, yes. Sloppy, not neccessarily.

On the contemporary mainstream movement. It's not so much a movement in that they don't collect and talk about their writing in quite the same way people like we do, but what Dora has pointed to is very real. There is a particular diction and set of techniques and choices in how to tell a story in the contemporary realism/naturalistic vein of writing. I think what she means to point out, or at least what I interpreted it as, is that we shouldn't look only to those choices when thinking about hybridizing story cultures. That we could look to older forms as well.

Someone who did this in the 30's and 40's, who I love to pieces, was Isak Dinesen. She took the tale, ala Chaucer and Boccacio, and totally reinvented it. Her stories feel both archaic and new all at the same time. No one knew how to take her. In America, we had a huge Southern Gothic fest going, and people like McCullers and Welty got her, but a lot of the social realists writing at the time didn't know what to do with her. And in her own country, they initially wanted nothing to do with he writing because it portrayed the bourgeois and upper classes, using an old form of writing, rather than trotting in place with the rest of social realism that was dominant at the time.
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barth
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 02:03 pm:   

tim, that's an awesome link you supplied.

for the record, here's one of "Writers With Drinks" past shows (from the archives):

"Writers In Drag!
Writers step outside their normal genre and present works they've written in an unfamiliar idiom! Featuring:
Pagan Kennedy reads children's stories
Toni Amato reads romance
Elizabeth Searle reads gay male porn"

and jeff vandemeer reads LOTR slash fic!

it's this kind of dynamic mix that really excites me, and i think it's in venues like this one that borders really get crossed. (it's no coincidence that our pals delia and ellen both read at "writers with drinks").

i think "crossing borders" for do-it-yourself IA editors is by necessity more literal than it is for IA writers. an effort to create an unusual TOC might require attending readings you wouldn't normally attend, or tracking down non-genre writers whose work you admire and asking them to either submit to your zine or to recommend writers they know who are also dancing on borders. it might mean some foot work and research, but i think the pay off would be a truly interstitial TOC.

without this kind of effort, small press and zine editors are going to find themselves mimicking what has happened to the core of the genre, with the same 20 writers getting recycled in the same several magazines.
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JV
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 02:05 pm:   

I'd like nothing better than to see all genres dissolve into one awesomely prescient, broad, deep category called "fiction," frankly. I hate the fact that the very fact there're genres will subconsciously prejudice me one way or the other.

JeffV
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barth
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 02:07 pm:   

i probably should have addressed that last post tim as in pratt.
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JV
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 02:12 pm:   

One reason I like the disease guide so much is that it collects writers who would otherwise never be in the same antho. Postmodernist RM Berry right next to Gahan Wilson next to Rikki Ducornet next to Tim Lebbon next to...fill in the blank. And in some cases, these writers are in fact creating another persona through their entry, becoming another writer entirely.

Hey, LOTR was a huge influence growing up. Is there anything quite a grim as Frodo's trek through Mordor.

As were slasher flicks. It ain't much of a leap. :-)

I like a side of pulp with my main course.

JeffV
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JV
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 02:18 pm:   

The only way you're going to get a truly interstitial TOC from most editors is to get a first reader to take the names off the manuscripts before they read them. And/or editors who are willing to be brave about publishing unknowns. These are unlikely combinations.

Re the interstitial anthos that are planned--those are going to be real bears to edit. There's a real opportunity to create something unique...or to just publish the same-old same-old.

JeffV
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 02:42 pm:   

I have to run out in a few minutes but just want to add my 2 cents. Cross-genre and mixed-genre fiction has been published in the genre magazines and in genre anthos for years and years. This is nothing new.
Over my 25 years as a magazine editor I've gone out of my way to get all kinds of writers writing for me and for the most part has succeeded: Joyce Carol Oates, Jack Cady (who was not considered a "genre" writer when I published his sf in OMNI), Jonathan Carroll, Patricia Highsmith, William Burroughs, Kelly Link, Carol Emshwiller, Sharyn McCrumb--that's off the top of my head.

Judith Merril was doing this in her Best of the Year anthos. The various editors of FS&F did this as well. Go back and look at some TOC before you go proclaiming the newness of anything, please.

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Forrest
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 03:26 pm:   

Barth said: "an effort to create an unusual TOC might require attending readings you wouldn't normally attend, or tracking down non-genre writers whose work you admire and asking them to either submit to your zine or to recommend writers they know who are also dancing on borders. it might mean some foot work and research, but i think the pay off would be a truly interstitial TOC."

This is *exactly* what I did with Leviathan 4, Barth. Dead on! I'll be curious to see what you think of the results when it comes out.

This also speaks to what I asked earlier - all this supposing and theorizing doesn't mean a damn thing if you can't *do* something about it. This is why I'm posting stories from the non-genre "side" on my discussion board, this is why I seek out authors from the non-genre "side" and solicit stories from them, and this is why I submit to both genre and non-genre markets regularly.

Now that I'm blue in the face from talking about it and sore from patting myself on the back, what are other people doing, besides complaining? Is it necessary to do anything at all, or do we just need a comfortable place to pick our scabs and hate the world? Does doing something about it nullify the natural-ness that Robert alluded to earlier? Why do we even care about the answers to these questions, if we care at all?

Forrest
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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 03:30 pm:   

This thread reads to me like it began as a something that could have fit into "To market, to market," but seems to have become something that could go quite easily into the interstitial literature thread. I'd like to move it there for those reasons, also because the name of it is confusing--at least *I* didn't know what it meant when I hit the boards. If there are any objections, please email me and let me know (please don't post to the board just to answer me--it'll take the conversation off track and I don't want to do that. It's an interesting conversation). I'll move it tomorrow at around noon unless there're some good reasons not to.
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barth
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 03:49 pm:   

veronica,

i vote we let the board grow organically. if one category spills into another, isn't that kind of the whole point? ;)

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Gwenda B.
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 03:54 pm:   

Nice point, Barth.

This is actually something we were extremely concerned with right at the very beginning of deciding to do Say... We wanted to shake up the normal TOC you see in genre, which is to say predominately white and predominately male. The first couple of issues of anything small is going to depend on your friends doing you the favor of letting you publish their work, and we were very lucky there, but we also really tried to put the word out in places that encourage diversity and individually solicit other people.

I'm really beyond pleased that the new Say.. (which you're in and you should receive within the next day or two) has more women than men in its TOC and spans so many genres. Very few of the people in it are people we've ever met. That makes me highly pleased. Having Alan as poetry editor instantly expanded both the type and quality of poets I think we have been able to publish, because they aren't traditional "SF" poets. That has been wonderful.

That said, we take the best stories (or work, comics, whatever) we get sent (or rather, the stories we think are best that we get sent). And I'll never take a story to break outside the box or not take one because it's by someone I know and whose work I like.

But I will say, we're getting way more submissions, higher quality, by people we don't know, people who live all over the world and who are doing interesting things. One of my favorite moments editing the zine was reading Jana Phipps submission to number 2, because it was so raw and fresh, and I'd never heard of her before.

So, yes, let's enlarge the conversation. It only makes things better and more interesting.

Gwenda
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 04:06 pm:   

I agree with Barth. In my 14 years online, attempts to arbitrarily and artifically corral dicussions fail 99% of the time.

Attempts to corral discussions that have already begun and are active and interesting fail 100% of the time.

Indeed, one datum point is the fact that both Barth and I answered here rather than via email, despite your request that we not. Your comment is part of the discussion now, and the natural tendency to carry on the discussion as it is being held trumps requests to take it offline. I didn't even notice your request until I started typing this in, in fact.

I also have to say that I found the series of empty, pre-made topics more than a little offputting in the first place; luckily the conversations have been more compelling than the structure offputting.

Now, back to our program.

Ellen: I agree. I'd actually also peg this "Wow, this sort of thing has never happened before!" sentiment on a failure to read widely. What people are talking about on this thread isn't so much new as it is simply recent. And of course, we're egomaniacs, so it's interesting.

Forrest: My back-patting includes this little number coming out next month, which puts mainstream, SF, dark fantasy, and porno (NOT erotica, PORN!) right next to one another in the same antho, and it has only one of the usual interstitial suspects.

The other thing I do is submit fantastical material to mainstream markets. They often sell. They also pay as much or more than genre markets. I have no idea why more people don't perform propaganda by the deed, and ignore genre boundaries by ignoring genre boundaries.

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barth
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 04:26 pm:   

"Cross-genre and mixed-genre fiction has been published in the genre magazines and in genre anthos for years and years. This is nothing new."

quite right, ellen, but as you point out, it was done within a genre context. the interstitial sensibility doesn't necessarily adhere to *any" genre. therefore, the TOC of an interstitial zine or antho might not include even a single sf/f/h story. which is nothing like OMNI or F/SF.

"Go back and look at some TOC before you go proclaiming the newness of anything, please."

i was raised in the wild by OMNI magazine! i still have all my original OMNIs, ellen, which as an 8th grader i bought religiously from the first issue, i believe, in 1978 through my senior year in 1982.

think about it. in a way, you created me.

(talk about frankensteinian....)
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JV
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 04:42 pm:   

Ellen:

I think what's new is that there are publications devoted almost solely to interstitial/cross-genre work. You have published quite traditional work alongside the more adventurous material. It's also a question of what you define as adventurous. I'd certainly define Emshwiller as being in that category. Oates and Cady, on the other hand, excellent as they are, may not be as experimental or pushing as many edges as some other writers. If I'm remembering correctly, by the time you published William Burroughs, he had already become a household name and, in a sense, become his own cottage industry.

You also have to define the kind of cross-genre work. There are certain kinds that just don't appeal to you and that you don't publish.

But you make a good point--it's always been there. It's just been reaching a critical mass. And also, just by the authors you've mentioned and authors others have mentioned...every single damn person in the universe has a different idea of what interstitial means, and what work is more or less interstitial than another.

JeffV
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JV
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 04:44 pm:   

I mean, hell, you can go back the New Wave or earlier and say this was happening before. But it never happens in exactly the same way, and it's never recognized in quite the same way. There are lots of great writers out there who never get the props they deserve from certain gatekeepers--Stepan Chapman, one of the most interstitial authors out there, is a great example. Here's a guy who is so interstitial he may not even be recognized as such.

JeffV
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Robert Devereux
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 04:58 pm:   

Now that I'm blue in the face from talking about it and sore from patting myself on the back, what are other people doing, besides complaining? Is it necessary to do anything at all, or do we just need a comfortable place to pick our scabs and hate the world?

If you don't like the status quo, then you should do something. If you don't mind the current state, you can just sit back and do nothing. But I'd rather see people try than just complain.

As for what we're doing, I'm not a writer or editor, so I can't do much from that end. What I can do is buy and support the work I like, much of which is interstitial. I can try to convince friends to read it.

From another angle, I have been tossing around ideas about what I can do for interstitial music. Maybe start a zine (or try to write for an existing one), maybe a small record label (trying the independant CD release has been teaching me some valuable lessons about the business side of things, but it still seems more than I can handle myself right now). I'm still thinking on this.

Does doing something about it nullify the natural-ness that Robert alluded to earlier?

Nah, I think Christopher Barzak put this nicely, that we all mix natural and artificial processes in art. Doing something won't necessarily nullify the natural-ness.

Why do we even care about the answers to these questions, if we care at all?

We're all passionate about our art. For the first question, we care because it deals with trying to see that our art gets out there for others to enjoy. For the second, it deals with whether doing something will adversely affect our art. At least that's why I care about those questions.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 05:05 pm:   

Thanks, Chris! That is what I mean, and you of course have said it so clearly. I certainly don't mean to be "fuzzy." What I'm trying to describe, without necessarily having the best words for it, is a sense I sometimes get when I read experimental fantastic fiction--that it sounds an awful lot like the experimental realistic fiction available in mainstream literary magazines, except with a fantastic element. I agree with Alan that Kelly Link's stories are often hip and contemporary. But Kelly also does more than that. I'm thinking of a story like "The Specialist's Hat," which uses gothic tropes and techniques, even to the inclusion of (in this case deliberately bad) poetry.

I also love Isak Dinesen, who is in my pantheon of literary godesses. Strangely enough, Alan, I loved your "Cuttlefish" in part because it reminded me of an Isak Dinesen story, although of course it was wonderful in and of itself.

And I adore Lovecraft. I find his style extravagant but precise, not sloppy. Except in collaboration, where the style can be sloppy indeed. But I take as much pleasure in his extravagance as I would in the spareness of a modernist like Hemingway.

In terms of writing, my suggestion is not that we deliberately combine various styles, unless for some reason we like technical exercises. (Hey, they're sometimes useful.) But I've seen writers who are starting out limit themselves, because they feel there are certain things they can't do in genre. Or they experiment, but feel they can only do so in a limited way. (This comes in part from my experience attending and teaching writing workshops.) My point is that all of literary history belongs to us, and we should feel free to draw from it. Not just from the history of genre or the contemporary literary scene.

(I remember taking poetry classes at the University of Virginia, where we were encouraged to read and write only free verse. And I thought, what about all the poetry that came before the modernists? Is there nothing we can learn from them? Of course, the likely outcome would be a batch of unreadable undergraduate sonnets. But at least we would have tried something different.)

Much of this may be redundant, for which apologies. I'll just add that I thought Leviathan 3 did a fabulous job of being diverse.
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JV
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 05:14 pm:   

Another question that has been on my mind of late: Will we necessarily *recognize* truly mind-bending, original interstitial work as such? Surely there must be sneaking through our midst writers who are not on the radar, or far enough off of it not to have received our attention, who will fifty years from now be as highly prized as Kafka became?

And Forrest--I know exactly what you mean. The impulse to *do* should always be stronger than the impulse to *say*. The action is always stronger. And in your case, you have every right to be rather content with having *done* through Leviathan 4.

As for the question of seeking out those who are off the radar--Ellen just published a brilliant story by Nathan Ballingrud, a new writer. And this happens more often than you might think.

JeffV
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JV
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 05:19 pm:   

Well, I'm probably too hard on Lovecraft, Dora. I love "The Strange Case of Dexter Ward" (sic), but I first read "Mountains of Madness"--on a beach, at mid-day, in the blazing sun...and when I got to the part about the giant killer penguins, I just started laughing.

I do think writers should acquire styles from all over the place, techniques, etc. It's not so much an artificial application, as you (general you) will have a particular story or character who demands the technique or style that you've appropriated from somewhere else and made your own.

A good example of how this works in painting would be Picasso, a man whose painting went through many phases and transitions. (There may be a better example.) But one thing that is overrated is developing a signature style. When you do this, you're then trapped into it, and it's hard to get out if you want to. It limits the diversity of what you, as a writer, can do. It also makes it incredibly easy to just slide in your writing and maintain status quo.

Okay, now I'm off-topic. Sorry, Veronica.

JeffV
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Alan
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 06:08 pm:   

Dora,

Hey, I'm with you, I hear you, and all of that good stuff.

I read experimental fantastic fiction--that it sounds an awful lot like the experimental realistic fiction available in mainstream literary magazines, except with a fantastic element.

Right, but I'm not sure this is a problem per se, as long as the stories compel or coax something out of the reader. I would say that this might be the case because experimental literary techniques lean towards the fantastic (liminity, as described in another topic) anyway. Which is why one of the reasons, I think, that metafiction and fairy tale literature made such a natural fit (Coover, Barthleme, etc).

I really don't disagree with what you said about approaching and understanding and grappling with a tradition. But in terms of what Chris said:

There is a particular diction and set of techniques and choices in how to tell a story in the contemporary realism/naturalistic vein of writing. I think what she means to point out, or at least what I interpreted it as, is that we shouldn't look only to those choices when thinking about hybridizing story cultures.

Absolutely, but I don't think it's an either/or choice. And "contemporary realism" isn't a direct equivalent with the "mainstream" either. In that the mainstream is a construction by genre folks. So I just wanted to reiterate that. Hey, we're probably all in agreement.

btw, I think Chabon's intro in the Thrilling Tales anthology handles this question well.

And, Dora, let's talk poetry at some point. :-)

Jeff, you said,

Another question that has been on my mind of late: Will we necessarily *recognize* truly mind-bending, original interstitial work as such? Surely there must be sneaking through our midst writers who are not on the radar, or far enough off of it not to have received our attention

I think that's a great corrollary to Barth's original question. There may be writers amongst us now who , and who will receive very little attention in the here and now. Who might be creating work that seems (to us) obfuscating or even dumb (both "stupid" and/or being unable to speak to us). Of course, I don't want to buy TOO much into the notion of an avant garde as it has been conceived of since the Impressionists--obviously this is a social construction as well, and any notion of "progress" in the arts is at least somewhat arbitrary. But giving room for oddball (lonely) voices is important. One other press that hasn't been mentioned who does this on a regular basis is Wordcraft of Oregon. The stories in their anthology Angel Body really blew me away, and I hadn't heard of many of those people before.

I think this question is further complicated (both good and bad) by the Internet. If Emily Dickinson had a blog and a Quicktopic, how would her poetry have changed?

(Can you imagine Whitman with a blog? Jesus.)
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Alan
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 06:46 pm:   

Now that I think about it, maybe Leaves of Grass WAS his blog.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 07:11 pm:   

And "contemporary realism" isn't a direct equivalent with the "mainstream" either.

Naturally.

In that the mainstream is a construction by genre folks.

Nah. Mainstream is a construction by publishers; contemporary realism is a subset of mainstream, which also embraces a variety of fantastic material. See the different hardcover and paperback promotions/rhetoric/art/placement of books like The Sparrow or Sewer, Gas, And Electric for example, where Ballard is usually shelved, and the fact that most category horror, whether supernatural or psychological, can be found in Fiction/Lit sections of bookstores today. Independent horror sections are dead for the most part.

In my experience with horror, incidentally, the hardcore horror reader acknowledges that horror is a genre (a tonal one, rather than a content -based one), while the occasional horror reader doesn't make a distinction between horror novels, thrillers, and realist fiction except for the mood the reader is in when he or she chooses to consume one vs. the other.

That may sound neat at first, but it is also worth noting that horror doesn't sell very well, outside of the famous authors, who are in a category of their own: Famous Authors.
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 08:38 pm:   

Jeff, my point is that genre editors have been publishing mainstream writers all along (it doesn't matter that Burroughs wasn't a new writer.)
And conversely, there have been publications all along that published all genres and outside the genres--the men's magazines of the 50s -90s published everyone from Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont to John Updike, Lawrence Block, Jack Dann, and Lucius Shepard.

As I'm sure you realize, just because a piece of fiction is "interstitial" doesn't make it adventurous. A lot of so-called experimental work is old hat or simply crap. Deliberately aiming to publish whatever one defines as "adventurous" fiction is a recipe for sameness and boredom. An editor's responsibility is to publish a good mix of stimulating fiction.

Greg Beatty asked me a question on the Tangent online BB on sff.net that is relevant here. I don't think he'll mind if I repeat it:

Ellen, may I ask your perspective on the "great literature" debate? Most
especially, I'm curious if as an editor you have a consciously articulated
standard, or if you work more directly from your educated tastes (knowing
that something is good by your reaction while reading, without necessarily
articulating the theoretical reasons why)? Or some third alternative?

Thanks.

Greg

My response was:

<<<Greg,
I'm not sure I can answer this satisfactorily but I'll take a shot. I read
for SCIFICTION or YBFH or other anthologies with different "agendas" (in
the non-loaded definition of the word) in mind. When I read for YBFH I'm
consciously looking for "horror" (broad though my definition may be) and
toss out whatever my initial reaction tells me is not horror, including
wonderful sf/f. And I rarely recall the non horror stories I read while
trolling for horror--one rare exception was Jeff Ford's "Creation" last
year.

When I read for SCIFICTION my first read is for enjoyment and being sucked
into the story. Stories that I enjoy and think are well-written enough (for
me the quality of the writing is an integral component of me enjoying the
story) even if they aren't perfect will pass my internal, semi-conscious
barometer of "do I think this story is something I want to publish on SCIFICTION.
I don't read a story mulling over whether it's "great literature," will
last, will create a trend or anything else. I might occasionally feel that
a particular story I've just read is wonderful and that I love it (I always
have my favorites but I try not to let it show too much --it would be like
favoring one child--or since I'm not the writer--a step removed, perhaps
niece of nephew--over another). Some of those stories have garnered the
praise, the awards, and longevity I think they've deserved others haven't.

A good example is that Bill Gibson's stories (that I published) were nominated
but never won the major awards yet they've influenced (along with his novel
_Neuromancer_) an entire generation of writers, not to mention computer
geeks and through them society. I knew "Johnny Mnemonic" was brilliant when
I received the submission, even though it went through two rounds of rewrites.
But I didn't know it was going to become a touchstone. I don't think that
sort of thing is predictable. One can only notice trends looking backwards.
(IMO).

I'm not sure this answers your question
Ellen>>>>


Yes, there are some 'zines currently publishing stories of all sorts. There always have been, and some of them were slicks that reached millions of readers, not just a couple of hundred.
Ellen


<<Ellen:

I think what's new is that there are publications devoted almost solely to interstitial/cross-genre work. You have published quite traditional work alongside the more adventurous material. It's also a question of what you define as adventurous. I'd certainly define Emshwiller as being in that category. Oates and Cady, on the other hand, excellent as they are, may not be as experimental or pushing as many edges as some other writers. If I'm remembering correctly, by the time you published William Burroughs, he had already become a household name and, in a sense, become his own cottage industry.

You also have to define the kind of cross-genre work. There are certain kinds that just don't appeal to you and that you don't publish.

But you make a good point--it's always been there. It's just been reaching a critical mass. And also, just by the authors you've mentioned and authors others have mentioned...every single damn person in the universe has a different idea of what interstitial means, and what work is more or less interstitial than another.

JeffV
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barth
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 09:01 pm:   

a million years ago, gwenda said:

"I'm really beyond pleased that the new Say.. has more women than men in its TOC and spans so many genres. Very few of the people in it are people we've ever met."

i'm pleased too and can't wait to see the new issue. i think the qualities you mention are admirable.

"Having Alan as poetry editor instantly expanded both the type and quality of poets I think we have been able to publish, because they aren't traditional "SF" poets. That has been wonderful."

though i haven't received my Say... yet, i know you've published cindra halm, who is one of my absolutely favorite poets. cindra's appearance in your pages is, i believe, her first in what she calls a "sci fi" magazine. i think that rocks - for both of youse. (out of curiousity, do you and chris think of Say...as a "genre" publication? not tha tit matters. just curious.)

the other thing that alan brings to the table is his recruitment facility disguised as a writing class. he got haddayr copley-woods into our second chapbook by brainwashing her under educational pretenses.

classes, whether taught or attended, are a great venue for finding like-minded writers who don't yet understand that they really write specfic. or interstitially.

forrest said:

"This also speaks to what I asked earlier - all this supposing and theorizing doesn't mean a damn thing if you can't *do* something about it. This is why I'm posting stories from the non-genre "side" on my discussion board, this is why I seek out authors from the non-genre "side" and solicit stories from them, and this is why I submit to both genre and non-genre markets regularly."

*standing ovation*
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 09:21 pm:   

And regarding Barth's comment:
My apologies to the world for creating Barthenstein!
Do you know how old it makes me feel that you were reading OMNI when you were eight???!!!
Ellen
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Christopher Barzak
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 09:55 pm:   

How old does it make you feel when I tell you I was only three and couldn't read when Omni started?

heheheh...thought that'd cheer you up.
Chris
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Tim Pratt
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 11:33 pm:   

I was two when Omni started. But my mom was a subscriber, and I read all her back issues, once I could.

Personally, I never set out to write something experimental or intersitial. I follow where the story leads, and tell it to the best of my ability, and sometimes the results are odd, and sometimes they're terrible, and sometimes they're completely straightforward and traditional. Sometimes I have to jam strange elements together, because I can't find another way to make the story work. I'm continually building rocketships out of old car parts and discarded junk from the garage, and hoping I can get them to fly.

Ellen's right, of course, about the fact that these things aren't new. (I've been re-reading Theodore Sturgeon's short stories, and he mixed-and-matched with the best of them, and wrote stories with no genre elements at all. His "Die, Maestro, Die!" is one of my favorites, a big influence on me, and he dealt with many of his recurring themes in a non-SF context there.) But these conversations and explorations are new for me, at least, and for many other new writers as well. The fact that some of these realizations are, objectively, old news, doesn't really matter, not to our development as writers, readers, and artists. I wasn't around during the New Wave, after all, and I read those stories in old paperbacks bought from used book stores, just like I read Burroughs and Lovecraft and Chaucer and Shakespeare and Poe. Everything that came before me is history -- isn't that how it goes?
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barth
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 04:52 am:   

ellen,

i started reading OMNI in eighth grade, actually.

just trying to help ya out here.

-b.
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des
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 06:11 am:   

If I can chip in, it is true that cross-genre or no-genre stories have always appeared in genre outlets, but, as I think someone has already said, the genre outlet is still marketed as genre which defeats the object: and rubs off on the contents. Including everything about the story, like an entirely non-genre story by-lined with an author who is previously known only as genre.
I'm trying to think of a new word to cut through this:
noumendipity? ;-)
Des
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des
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 06:18 am:   

"Now that I think about it, maybe Leaves of Grass WAS his blog."
*********
Yes, probably because Walt Whitman originally had it published anonymously. (Can you have anonymous blogs?)
Des

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des
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 06:38 am:   

There was an interesting 45 minute discussion on BBC Radio 3 last night which I heard - about SF and cross-genre, etc., chaired by China Mieville.
Thanks to info on a TTA Board, you can apparently hear it here;
"http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/speech/nightwaves.shtml
then select Wednesday under 'listen to broadcasts'."

I don't know, as I haven't got sound on my computer!
Des
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Forrest
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 07:57 am:   

JeffV said: "Another question that has been on my mind of late: Will we necessarily *recognize* truly mind-bending, original interstitial work as such? Surely there must be sneaking through our midst writers who are not on the radar, or far enough off of it not to have received our attention."

I agree. But what mechanisms, other than word of mouth (or discussion board) do we have to let each other *and* others outside of this discussion know where to find quality interstitial writing? It's a given that much of the great interstitial work has come in through the back door of both genre and non-genre publications and publishers. Would putting IA at the forefront of, say, a convention or a media blitz dilute the underground power of the IA movement? Or is it desireable at all that IA authors have a place to come together or that they market (sorry to swear there!) their work as interstitial fiction?

Here's my problem. I love interstitial work, that's obvious. I like the label, though I hate labels in general, because it is so broadly defined. I'd like to see interstitial authors get more recognition for their work and have loved the time I've spent at various cons talking with those whose work is (self-consciously or not) interstitial. But is the idea of a con or marketing or awards for interstitial work a self-defeating trap? Do we reject these things, like the surrealists, as being too much a part of the "system" (read genre vs non-genre battles) to dabble in them? Or will rejecting these conventions (no pun intended) cause the movement - and I do see this as a movement that is picking up lots of momentum - to go out with a whimper?

Forrest
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 08:40 am:   

I'm not trying to wrestle this discussion back to some mythological "intended purpose", particularly since all that's being said is very interesting—don't mind me while I mull it all over in relative silence—but in addition to this, I'd like to also return to one of the original issues raised by Barth:

"how can "in-genre" zine editors find MORE IA-style writers who aren't publishing in places where we typically read? what writers do people recommend we approach? are there writers' market lists outside the genre where editors might call for submissions?"

In other words, what can we do in specific and strictly practical terms? Some editors here have mentioned how they do this in general terms, but it isn't extremely helpful for those of us who are in less favourable (I will not say fortunate; after all, you/they've all earned it!) positions.
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Forrest
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 09:25 am:   

I guess I don't understand the question, Nicholas. I take it as part of my job as an editor to go and seek out potential authors from outside (outside genre, that is) publications. All it takes is time and a quick reading eye. Take a half hour and plunk yourself down by the literary magazine shelf at the bookstore and skim some things. I can guarantee that something is going to catch your eye about some writer's writing. Then you do a little research on that writer to make sure your efforts won't be a total waste of time for the both of you (easily done through an internet search, if you've familiarized yourself with some of the non-genre markets out there), and ask for a story that might be appropriate for your anthology/magazine. I've had several non-genre authors who are unfamiliar with speculative fiction, who, when I tell them that "element X reminds me of author Y who wrote book Z," will go out and read the book in question. This exposes them to some reading they might not have read before, gives them an idea of what turns your crank, and allows them to digest the "new" material and write in that direction. Ironically enough, I've seen very few mimetic pieces resulting from the excercise.

I like Nick's missive above about not worrying about genre/non-genre - just send stories out to whatever market you feel is appropriate, but don't be afraid to push the envelope of what you think an editor might or might not like. You'd be surprised what some people are willing to take.

So all that rambling shows that I don't quite understand the question, Nicholas. Sorry!

Forrest
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Forrest
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 09:27 am:   

And, incidentally, hearty thanks to Barth for getting the ball rolling on this discussion. This may be one of the most important discussions to have taken place on these boards, IMHO.

Forrest
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ellen
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 09:27 am:   

Des,
But I think sometimes a story that is not strictly genre but related to genre and published in a genre magazine enhances the story and can bring something very important to the table.

I'm thinking specifically of Karen Joy Fowler's "What I Didn't See" which I published on SCIFICTION. The story could have been published anywhere, but it is strongest and has/will reach the audience that can most appreciate it in an sf/f mag/webzine as it's a deliberate continuation of the "discussion" begun by James Tiptree's classic "The Women Men Don't See."

>>>If I can chip in, it is true that cross-genre or no-genre stories have always appeared in genre outlets, but, as I think someone has already said, the genre outlet is still marketed as genre which defeats the object: and rubs off on the contents. Including everything about the story, like an entirely non-genre story by-lined with an author who is previously known only as genre.
I'm trying to think of a new word to cut through this:
noumendipity? ;-)
Des
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des
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 09:51 am:   

Ellen, I agree that effectively or ostensibly cross-publishing genre and non-genre fiction in genre and non-genre outlets, mix and match between, can only be good for all involved, by ricochet. As ever, though, (sorry!) I was struggling to make a point about anonymity : cross-authoring, non-authoring, cross-sexing (as James Tiptree Jr) etc. etc. can only contribute to this ricochet of 'good'.
Des
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ellen
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 09:51 am:   

Nicholas,
I agree with Forrest. It isn't all that difficult. Read widely and as you do, note those writers whose work you'd like to publish. Then contact them, either through the publisher or their agent. I warn you (and others) that it will be difficult to procure short fiction from some writers in the "mainstream" and literary zines and anthos and collections (they or their agents may want more money than you can or are willing to pay or they and their agents may not want to have work published in your publication--for whatever reason) but if you don't even try I can guarantee you won't get anywhere.

When I started at OMNI I read the Berkley Showcases and Roy Torgeson's anthologies of new writers and contacted all of them whose work I enjoyed. I also read lots of literary journals (this was before YBFH, which currently gives me no time to troll for new writers in that way) and mainstream collections and all kinds of mainstream magazines for writers.

There's no "trick" to finding new writers of whatever "persuasion" you want in your magazines. It just takes hard work and serendipity.
I nagged Kelly Link for years while I was at OMNI before she started sending me stories. The first few I didn't buy, then I did, and I'm delighted to be able to publish them in genre magazines and anthologies.

Carol Emshwiller is an example of someone who has been writing on the edges of the field her entire career. First, much of her work was published in sf/f venues, then in the late 70's- early 80s her work seemed to go more mainstream and/or she no longer sold to the sf/f markets (I think)--I don't know if this was deliberate on her part. But for a chunk of time her work languished in relative obscurity in and out of the field. In the mid 80s she started writing short fiction more recognizably sf/f and I published several of those sf/f stories in OMNI. And now her work appears regularly in other sf/f venues. If she had continued to publish only in small press/literary magazines I don't believe she would have had a fraction of the readership she has now (not that it's overwhelmingly large but she is known within sf/f).

So I think it's a mistake to eschew the sf/f field. I personally feel mixing genres in a genre setting is much more valuable and has more potential to reach a large readership than setting yourselves off as a new sub-genre, which is what it seems to me you are trying to do. Century, Strange Plasma, Crank! and the other magazines of their ilk did not proclaim anything. They were happy and proud to publish sf/f/h and whatever. I don't see why what they were doing and you all appear to be doing needs to be "codified" in any way. For Chrissakes! Just do it and don't think about it so much.
Ellen

>>>In other words, what can we do in specific and strictly practical terms? Some editors here have mentioned how they do this in general terms, but it isn't extremely helpful for those of us who are in less favourable (I will not say fortunate; after all, you/they've all earned it!) positions.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 10:09 am:   

Thank you, Forrest and Ellen. That's very helpful; I think I was in need of that sort of kick in the arse. When I reiterated Barth's questions, I was, however, thinking more along the lines of having those of us who're sourcing for such writers share some information on specific good places to look for writers or put out the call for submissions, etc. Pool our knowledge so as to make the process you speak of easier. I realise now that the additional bits I added after quoting Barth's questions muddied rather than clarified my meaning, for which I apologise.
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Forrest
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 11:58 am:   

Nicholas, go to my board and look under the "Fantasy in the Short Fiction Mainstream" thread. I've listed a few of what I consider the best places to look, as have a couple of other writers. I've also placed a couple of links to works that I consider at least marginally fantastical, in ouvre if not in content. Feel free to post any additions to the market lists there.

Forrest
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Gwenda B.
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 07:26 pm:   

Re: do we think of Say... as a genre publication?

I can't entirely speak for Christopher, since he's asleep... But here's what I think. By and large, the stories we get are genre stories and the best stories we've gotten tend to be genre stories too. Although, I do think that the type of genre stories we tend to like obviously come down on the literary/interstitial/whatever-you-want-to-call-it side of the fence, I think most of them are solidly inside the genre. We do try to identify writers, particularly young in terms of age or experience, outside the genre small press circle and invite them to send us material. We've also made an effort to issue invitations in groups that are out there to promote diversity, particularly in the genre, through people we know that hold weight with those groups and also to reach out to people we know or have read who fall outside the usual SF table of contents demographic of old, white, male. (Not that I have anything against old white and male writers -- not in the least, but I do feel it's valuable enough to push against that tendency to try to do so.)

We're particularly interested in publishing "new" writers, even when the stories may be flawed but show promise, and I'm a really big believer in voice. I really like stories that I feel no one else on earth could have written except the writer. It helps if they're good. I find work that is tied to a personal voice like that tends to feel experimental, even if it really isn't all that formally experimental. It just feels fresh. And we will publish work like that, not blinking once if it's not "genre."

I want people that read our zine, which they do have to go out of their way to buy, to enjoy each and every story and I think Christopher would say the same.

The usefulness I see in I/A is completely selfish. I see it as a tool to find out about good things I might be missing and to tell people about the vice versa stuff. Because it really seems to me that what we're talking about when we talk about I/A (at least so far, in a practical sense) is a certain kind of work most of the people in the discussion right now agree is "good." And it's work that has a sense of largesse to it, of being influenced by more than one tradition, of being composed of more than one ingredient and some that aren't even identifiable.

I also think that there's a part of me cringing at seeing "interstitial writer" as a term -- it seems to me that the work is interstitial, part or all of the work is interstitial, but calling the writer that seems as pidgeon-holey and claustrophobic as any number of other terms that get albatrossed around writers' necks, regional, southern, science fiction, literary, etc.

Anyway, I'm rambling. And am not sure I've made anything like sense.
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barth
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 09:16 pm:   

you've made a lot of sense, gwenda. it's great to hear your take on Say's editorial vision. that's one of the things i was hoping to tease out in a discussion of zine editing strategies.

and i totally agree about over-/misuse of the term interstitial as a label. i think folks need to discuss it in order to get a grip on what it refers to, but it would defeat the purpose if we wind up neatly "categorizing" all this "new" sort of "fiction."

that said, i do think the term interstitial is useful in the mercenary means that you describe, gwenda. it's a shorthand that editors in particular can use to describe, not a category, but an approach to writing, a process, as well as the writers who employ it.

which brings me back to dora's point made long ago (was that *yesterday*??). i think she's right that a discussion of process would probably be very useful when it comes to talking about writing between genres and borders (and i hope someone delves into that). that was a slightly different conversation than i was fishing for, but i bet would-be editors as well as writers would find it useful.

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Theodora Goss
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 10:35 am:   

Hi Barth!

I'd love to talk about process. But honestly, I wouldn't know what to say. If someone came up to me and said, "How do I write interstitial fiction," what would I answer?

1. Don't.
2. Read a lot of Russian literature, or any other literary tradition you're not familiar with.
3. Find your individual vision, grasshopper.

I think that for me, at any rate, it's about finding ways of breaking out of various conscious and unconscious constraints. I've heard writers say, "I don't pay attention to genres or categories. I write what I want to and let the marketing people take care of all that." And while I think that's wonderful, I'm not sure I entirely believe it. We've grown up with the genres and categories, and they're part of our brains. (Says the woman who has a first novel, complete with dragons and pseudo-celtic names, tucked safely away in her drawer, where no one will ever see it. Hey, it was college.)

So one question is, how do we free ourselves (or maybe I should just speak for myself) to write in ways that express a truly individual vision (grasshopper)? (I remember a Virginia Woolf passage I wish I could locate describing how difficult it was for her.) If someone could give me the formula, I would be most grateful! (And I hope this doesn't simply constitute public wrestling with my individual demons.)

Finally, I love what Gwenda wrote:
"And it's work that has a sense of largesse to it, of being influenced by more than one tradition, of being composed of more than one ingredient and some that aren't even identifiable."

Yeah! That's it exactly.
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JV
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 10:41 am:   

Jesus. The way this thread moves around from subcategory to subcategory, it's a wonder the momentum hasn't been killed entirely on it.

JeffV
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barth
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 11:05 am:   

yessirree, jeff, this here thread jumps more fences than a jonathan lethem novel.
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Karen Meisner
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 11:15 am:   

It's because nobody really knows what to make of "microbial" in this context anyway, so we might as well just talk about whatever we want to.
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barth
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 11:26 am:   

my bad, karen, i deleted the key metaphor in my original post. sorry to all for the confusion. originally i wanted to get the idea across of many small-time editors and writers working down here at the bottom of the food chain, at zine level, and energizing literary change that way.

i wound up discarding the microbe metaphor and just talking about zines.
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AliceB
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 11:45 am:   

Hello Dora and Barth.

I can't say how the process works, but I can say how it doesn't for me.

When I started out, whenever I went to conferences I was given a set of rules on how to write: follow one point of view; if a gun appears in chapter 1 by golly it better be shot by the end of the story; you need a child's p.o.v. in kid's lit; children's lit has happy endings; adults should have no part in their story; make sure your main character has a buddy/foil to work with; and on and on. I was given a set of rules on how to sell: stick to one genre and make a name for yourself in that one genre; if an editor tells you to make changes, argue with her at your own peril; and more.

I'm a bit slow on the uptake. It took me years to figure out that these "rules" were in fact just a description of what has sold before, and that, in fact, when I looked at what I really liked to read, these "rules" were constantly being broken. My favorite authors had multiple voices, gave me small tangential gems, had adults active in their stories, didn't always have happy endings, sometimes had loners as the main character, switched genre/voice/whatever from book to book, and stood firm on what they thought made good literature. Phew.

When I stopped thinking about these "rules" so much, I was able to start creating much more freely -- and productively.

That isn't to say that I don't pay attention to craft: there is such a thing as drek (much too much of it, IMO). But understanding conventions doesn't mean we should be bound by them. And sure, some experiments will fall flat, but unless we push the envelope how else will soemthing new and fun be created?

(She steps down from her soapbox, surveys the empty room, and quietly skulks away...)

All the best,
Alice
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davehd
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 11:47 am:   

Microbial action is the fundemental assumption of Barth's belief system. Within that he might distinquish between organic (natural) and inorganic (artificial) causes, but as far as he's concerned we're all pretty much bacteria colonies formed to digest and/or produce proteins. Everthing else is just the metaphors we live by.
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JV
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 11:57 am:   

Then, theoretically, a good book might be one with crap prose but the most interesting microbial activity going on within the atoms/cells of the individual pages. And that survivalist paperback novel I accidentally picked up at a flea market eight years ago--weatherbeaten, ash-stained, coffee-ringed, oft-wetted--is probably the most interstitial book I own. In fact, it's possible in another 100 years it'll be a Frankenstein book, giving birth to a communal microbial colony that forms a collective consciousness. Or perhaps I'm just a silly, silly man.

JeffV
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Karen
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 12:28 pm:   

I kind of figured, Barth, but I like these other explanations better. The chocolate milk I spilled on my new paperback yesterday, well, suddenly I'm thinking it's Art. Previously, the book was just a flat collection of pages containing, who knows, some kind of fiction or other. Predictable. Generic. A copy. A tool of The Man! But now it's Interstitial. A dynamic work in progress, diverging from the crowd. Already, the pages are warping in a kind of ripple effect. As if to borrow a style from an unexpected direction: potato chips. You don't see that every day!

Also, there is the potential for odor. Cross-sensory experimentation, very exciting. I feel a creative renaissance coming on...

Okay, the sad thing is that Dora and Gwenda and others have been saying really intelligent stuff in this thread, and it's been diverted by bacteria. Please continue, and ignore us microbes.
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DaveHD
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 12:32 pm:   

JV-That's sounding pretty close to Meme-ian heresy.

So as not to divert the discussion to far:

I'm curious when people start applying the term "interstitial" to their own work. Do you sit down and think, "By god, I'm gonna write interstitially today." Or do you finish a story and say "shit, I just went all interstitial on that story." Or, is "interstitial" writing more a frame of mind that doesn't self-inflict the wounds of genre constraints on a story. I assume for most, it's the latter, a conscious effort to read widely, be influenced broadly, and use all the effective tools and techniques to write with whatever strategy creates the most compelling story. If that's true though, isn't it entirely possible to have a story be thouroughly interstitial yet read like high-genre. I guess what I'm asking is: is interstitial a method or a product? If it's the former, I think the discussion of process is the paramount one. If it's the latter, we better start cranking out the definitions again.

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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 03:19 pm:   

Perhaps I'm looking at this through the wrong end of the telescope, but it seems to me there are two ways (at least) to interpret a so-called interstitial text: either the interstitiality arises naturally from the interaction of various generic influences, or the interstitiality is a consciously-achieved quality within the product, planted there by the writer.

The first reading, it seems, would inevitably force us to back away from Veronica's interpretation of interstitiality as being other than a mere intersection between genres. In other words, Veronica seems to be understanding interstitiality as a category unto itself, while the only way I see it being produced (at least naturally) is precisely as a bleed-through of generic elements into one another.

The second reading begs the question instantly. If a writer, for example, deliberately sets out to place his work between generic identities, what then is he creating? And how can his creation be anything other than a constellation of various generic elements? Or even a new genre? And then we're back to square one, aren't we?

If, on the other hand, we understand interstitiality to be a product of invoking numerous generic modes within the same text (an understanding seemingly shared by many on these threads), then the only way a widely-read writer could avoid being interstitial would be consciously and deliberately to excise generic elements not belonging to whatever ideal genre he or she is after. I'm not entirely convinced that's possible, given the overlapping and imbricating nature of genres.

I'm suddenly thinking of Orson Scott Card's story "Unaccompanied Sonata," wherein a young composer working in enforced isolation from other musical influences tries to hide the fact that he has been listening to Mozart by consciously avoiding imitation, but his crime is discovered because all traces of Mozart suddenly vanish from his compositions.

Another thing that's troubling me here is a rather loose interpretation of "genre." Several times, I've seen things refered to as genres when they seemed to me more like marketing categories. I understand these two things sometimes share a referent, but not always. There are important differences between genres and marketing categories, not least of which is their basic reason for existing -- one, to facilitate a critique of literature; the other, to facilitate the selling of print. This is the proverbial difference which makes the difference.

Am I just being too picky, or should we shoot for a clearer idea of what we mean when we use these terms? It just seems to me if this discussion is going to enjoy any kind of rigor, we should share common understandings of certain terms.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 03:32 pm:   

I dunno Neal, but if you give me $20,000 or so in grant money, I'll have some tentative answers for you in a couple of years.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 03:51 pm:   

Nick, please be sure to frame your answers only in the most qualified and deniable ways, and always as questions. We don't want to foreclose further inquiry. In fact, if you could please produce a book-length work asking us (not telling us, mind you) how we can begin to frame a way to imagine a question, that would be great. If you can do this while quoting every French and Third World theorist on the planet, all the while saying nothing at all, Duke University Press will be glad to present you with the check and a big, wet, slurpy kiss.
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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 09:06 pm:   

Hey Neal,

Just wanted to clear up what I meant--I don't think that interstitiality is a category/genre unto itself. I do think that there's a significant difference between a work that falls between genres (not really a murder mystery, but kind of, not really ghost story, but kind of) and a work that can fit easily into more than one genre (it's a ghost story, it's a coming-of-age story, it's two, two, two genres in one!). Interstitiality, as I understand it, lies in the uncategorizable rather than in the multiply categorizable.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2003 - 06:35 am:   

Veronica, gotcha. This clears up my understanding of your approach, but it doesn't really help me to an understanding of interstitiality as fundamentally distinct from transgeneric work. A part of me (the nagging skeptic) is asking how we can know that a work's "uncategorizability" is not just a function of our own ignorance of how the work falls in with (and perhaps revises) its generic models.

Or perhaps a better way to get after this problem is to ask how many of a genre's elements must be absent from a work before we decide the work does not fall into that genre?

If I'm being unintentionally obtuse, I apologize. It's just that I see a lot of value in studying the workings-out of a creative impulse to build bridges across genres, to trouble and sophisticate generic categories for the purpose of creating fuller and more satisfying works, and bringing those works before the public with confidence and style. But I see less value in the drive to create a theoretical language for a phenomenon which could be settled handily (though perhaps not completely?) by simply naming the new genres which allegedly appear between genres and carefully noting their salient elements, then testing those elements against other extant works. Discovering, for example, that Flannery O'Conner doesn't quite fall into the Gothic, so we call her work Grotesque, and we begin noting what makes a work Grotesque and collecting other Grotesque works as exempla. You know, the dusty old formalist thing -- not terribly transgressive or revolutionary, I know, but it seems to have this nagging endurance about it, like a geriatric vampire who just won't stay killed.

I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, of course, but it seems to me this project is seeking to categorize what it takes up front to be uncategorizable, all the while celebrating that uncategorizability. I'm not entirely sure this approach has theoretical legs, unless it's pursued in a poststructuralist or deconstructive manner. And if that's the case, I don't foresee where we could stop. The end of genre? But that's been tried, and it won't stick because attempts to unseat formalist readings lack praxis, while formalism is positively oozing with praxis. Yet another postmodern trumpeting of the fundamental undecidability of textual categories? Yawn. I think even the French got bored with that route; Derrida, last I heard, was working on the Gospels.

I trust you see my difficulty here, and I also trust you understand I'm not trying to be the wet blanket. Just looking for a little fixity in a world without anchor, y'know? Or at least a set of charts if we must go sailing.
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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2003 - 09:22 am:   

Hey Neal,

I think that some of what you've said is right on--often work that begins as uncategorizable ends up founding its own category that then becomes a home for similar work. I think that Heinz discussed this in relation to cyberpunk in his essay on the IAF website. So, interstitiality may just be transitory in many cases.

I see your point about whether or not the approach has theoretical legs, but since the IAF is not primarily a scholarly project, as I understand it, I think that may be the problem of people like you and me! Anyway, I certainly have no easy answers for it...
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2003 - 10:05 am:   

Veronica: "often work that begins as uncategorizable ends up founding its own category that then becomes a home for similar work"

Bingo! This is really at the heart of my problem, I think. We (meaning mostly -- but not only -- academics) seem to have given up the task of pointing at things and giving them precise names. Instead, we've permitted ourselves to be seduced by the theoretical unthingy-ness of things, to the point where a lot of productive theoretical work is not being done, while a lot of very etherial and blissfully praxis-free work dominates the scene. It's all well and good to recognize the negative spaces in a canvas, but to predicate the identity of the painting solely on those negatives spaces? It's a bit too PoMo for me. "There's no presence like absence."

Not that it isn't fun to engage in a running catalog of works which bridge generic categories, but I'd like to see some attention paid to why this has reached what Jeff Vandermeer refers to on these boards as "a critical mass." What's happened with genre (or more precisely, marketing categories) in the past decade or so that makes this transgeneric work so attractive, both to writers and to readers?

As you say, this is not primarily a scholarly project, so we should expect some slippage. I just think a lot of good thought could come from this little tea-party, but only with some kind of rigor applied. I hope I'm not the only one who feels this way. Non-academics are (at least) as capable of expressing ideas in precise language as their cloistered cousins. :-)
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richard
Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2003 - 11:46 am:   

Not wishing to be hugely cynical about this, but isn't the reason cross-genre writing has this sudden presence simply the jaded state of a marketed-to-death reading public. As with other forms of cool-hunting, the publishing industry is constantly on the lookout for the Next Big Thing (so that it can then churn out large quantities of said NBT, Xerox style of course) - interstitial work offers the possibility of the shock of the new within easy reach. It's not an enormously new marketing technique - I think for at least the last twenty years I've been reading book reviews that said things like "If Ernest Hemingway and Jane Austen sat down to write a novel backstge at a Grateful Dead concert, it would probably read like this..." - but I think what has happened more recently is that under long pressure from the concept of "cutting edge cool" the consumer public have started to become more genuinely experimental in their literary (and musical) tastes (or just more easily led by a massive constellation of marketing machines, maybe). It's great news for those writers working in interstitial space, but I think it will inevitably lead to the categorisation Veronica mentions and then you're back with genres again. It's just the way humans work. The white hot and new cools off rapidly until it can be easily handled and then by definition becomes mundane in its own right. Look indeed at cyberpunk.

Neal - regarding the distressing PoMo avoidance of labelling, I think you're right as far as hard-headed scientific enquiry is concerned, but where we're talking about something as fuzzy as a literary genre, I don't think the same applies. I'm with Jeff here - I'd love to abolish all genre labels in favour of a simple fiction/non-fiction descriptor (and I also suspect that PoMos love of unnaming derives very specifically from an attempt to turn many fuzzy non-scientific subjects (literature, sociology, economics etc..) into fields with the associated gravitas of a science - something which they simply do not have. Ergo, you (generic you, the PoMos, not you, Neal)import your fuzziness into the sciences and insist that the whole universe may not actually exist, thus bringing science down to your level.)

Oops - sliding off the point there into PoMo bashing. Ahem. Back to interstitiallity - I think it's great, but I think the marketing machine is already eating it up...as it will do to us all. Eeek.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2003 - 12:27 pm:   

richard: "I'm with Jeff here - I'd love to abolish all genre labels in favour of a simple fiction/non-fiction descriptor."

The problem here is that Fiction is among the broadest of genre categories in the academic sense, right up there with Poetry and Drama. I think Jeff was really referring to restrictive marketing categories, and in that case, I second his impulse, though I know it will be resisted by many in the publishing industry. Why? Because the common wisdom is that mass reading audiences do not purchase Fiction; they purchase particular types of Fiction -- Westerns, Romances, Mysteries, Literary Fiction, and so on. Sadly, I think the common wisdom is correct in this instance. America has not seen an undifferentiated literary marketplace since the rise of the "little magazines" and the segregation of high-brow and popular literatures in the 1860s, and the increasing compartmentalization of fiction has only gotten more pronounced since then, as publishers find more and more precise ways to bring their product before the public. The correct product; the right public.

Nor can I blame the publishing industry for this phenomenon. If the consumer did not respond positively to this increasing compartmentalization, you can be sure publishers would stop doing it. I think the shocking and new in literature is consumed by a much smaller demographic than the more staid and steady product out there. Few are the readers who enter a bookstore with the thought in mind: "I'd like to find a book whose generic identity I can't even comprehend."

As for PoMo, I think your assessment has merit, though I should point out that much of the follow-the-leader unnaming has been performed not by folks like Lyotard (your exemplary science-hater), but by folks in academia who know less about formal categories than they should. There is something to be gained by questioning formal genres, but in order to do that, we first have to read the actual formalists and the words they actually wrote, an activity which becomes increasingly less common these days (and especially in the wake of The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, whose coverage of formalisms is scandalously scanty.)
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2003 - 01:16 pm:   

Oops. I should clarify something I said in the above post. I didn't mean to put words into Jeff's mouth. If he meant genre, then he meant genre. What I should have said is that I understood his term "genre" to be analogous to my term "marketing categories." There -- I feel better now.
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JV
Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2003 - 01:23 pm:   

No, Neal--you expressed pretty much what I meant.

jeffV
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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2003 - 01:42 pm:   

I actually like the presence of genres, though I know that it's not going to be an incredibly popular position here! I think that genres, even marketing category genres, have often enabled me in the past to find stuff that I enjoyed--whether it was paying attention to which books in the Jefferson Market children's library had a unicorn stamped on their spine (the symbol for fantasy) or realizing that my nerves were frazzled and what I really needed was a series of murder mysteries with a female private detective--I appreciated being able to be sure that I could stroll into a bookstore and locate the group of books most likely to contain said private detective.

Now that I'm an academic, I think that genre is what enables us to talk about literature productively--not perfectly, but productively. It's just intellectually irresponsible to make a statement about "all of literature" (unless it's boring as in "all of literature involves words"), and much as I love single-book or single-author studies, I wouldn't want to miss the forest for the trees either. Genres definitely leave out important things, which is why I think that interstitial work is important, but they also enable discussions of books with certain attributes in common.

Even if we just go w/fiction and non-fiction, we've already got lit that plays around with the boundaries of those, from historical fiction to roman a clefs to Peter de Rosa's book *Rebels*, a history of an Easter Rising told in the style of a novel.

That's all out of my own head of course--not nearly as sophisticated as full-on genre theory!
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2003 - 01:45 pm:   

Glad to hear it, Jeff. And despite my pessimism, I do hope to see a rise in the popularity of cross-genre anthos and 'zines. I'm fascinated with the notion that, after a century and a half, we might finally begin to see the breakdown of the kinds of categories which lead to prescriptive rather than descriptive understandings of genre (and occasionally to literature's control by marketing gurus and academic pedants).

By the way, anyone who's interested in all this marketing-strait-jacket stuff could do worse than to read the works of Richard Brodhead, David S. Reynolds, and Michael Denning. Brodhead's Cultures of Letters and Denning's Mechanic Accents both deal with the mid-nineteenth-century segregation of literature into marketing categories and cultural hierarchies; and Reynolds's Beneath the American Renaissance performs ground-breaking archival and theoretical work on exactly the kinds of literature we are not taught about in high school, but which formed the popular-literary background against which works by the "great" writers distinguished themselves. William Charvat has some good stuff, too. Note: this is all in my particular historical field (nineteenth-century), but most of it resonates with the kinds of practices still followed today.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2003 - 02:21 pm:   

Veronica, your comments are interesting, and they point exactly to the problems inherent in an overly-simplistic approach to genre. Genre does productive work, both within the academy as a tool for describing constellations of literary works, and in the marketplace as the basis (however remote and dislocated at times) for marketing categories.

The problem is that most people take genre to be a normative force in all cases. It can be that, as when certain literary markets prescribe or proscribe generic formulae as a precondition of seeing print.

This was a big idea in the mid-nineteenth century with the rise of story papers and yellowbacks by publishers such as Beadle; Ticknor and Fields; and most notoriously, Street and Smith. Some were so obsessed with control of generic content that they enforced pseudonymity, forcing diverse writers not only to write formulaic pap, but to write it under a house moniker such as Bertha M. Clay, an author invented by Street and Smith.

The stuff sold like hotcakes, and it set the standard for the ethos followed by later pulp publishers (who were still competing with the powerhouse Street and Smith) and even some of the series fiction still being churned out today. Isaac Asimov Presents, anyone?

Anyway, genre is neither synonymous with marketing categories, nor with formulaic writing. Take a look at Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto, Sheridan LeFanu's Uncle Silas, and Toni Morrison's Beloved, and try to make an argument for the restrictive nature of genre as such. It doesn't work, even though all three novels fall easily within the generic category of the Gothic. On the other hand, take any two Harlequin Romances... You get the picture.
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JV
Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2003 - 06:03 pm:   

I tend to think that a view of fiction by theme and by other commonalities and differences more intrinsic and relevant than those imposed by terms such as "fantasy" or "SF" or "horror" or "mystery" or "mainstream" is much healthier for writers. It may or may not be healthier for academics and others who make a living and reputation off of writers.

I hate to keep bringing up Leviathan, but #3 does point out, in certain sections of it, the value of not thinking in terms of genre but instead in terms of theme. We juxtaposed stories with no fantastical element with those that did have fantastical elements, but this did not seem jarring precisely because the stories shared so much else in common.

This, to me, is the point of espousing an interstitial approach--not to give all the genres an umbrella under which to cross-breed (although this could be one point of it), but to begin to explore those elements or "places" in a story or novel that are subjugated to secondary status due to the attachment of a term like "fantasy" to the story or novel.

I'm a practical person at heart. I am not engaged in a quixotic quest to rid the world of fiction of labels or genres. But I think when you *make the attempt* when editing an anthology, for example, or in whatever creative endeavor you undertake, then you make your readers think about the fiction you edit/publish or write in more interesting ways than "fantasy," "SF", "Horror", etc.
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des
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2003 - 12:43 am:   

I'm a practical person at heart. I am not engaged in a quixotic quest to rid the world of fiction of labels or genres.
***************
Jeff - I am, coincidentally, wearing my Don Quixote/Sancha Panza T-shirt today (just got up in UK), a T-shirt I bought on that Spanish holiday a year or so ago. Des
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2003 - 01:11 am:   

Jeff: >> 'This, to me, is the point of espousing an interstitial approach--not to give all the genres an umbrella under which to cross-breed (although this could be one point of it), but to begin to explore those elements or "places" in a story or novel that are subjugated to secondary status due to the attachment of a term like "fantasy" to the story or novel.'

I hadn't thought of it that way! Yes, that makes a lot of sense. However, I'm not sure the "interstitial approach" is the right vehicle for this: what you seem to be talking about would involve ignoring genre and paying more attention to other distinguishing aspects of fiction, but interstitiality seems to be all about exploring genre. The end is the same, I'm sure, but the means are quite different.

[On another note, have you gotten 1) my payment and 2) my emails?]
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2003 - 09:25 am:   

Jeff: "I tend to think that a view of fiction by theme and by other commonalities and differences more intrinsic and relevant than those imposed by terms such as "fantasy" or "SF" or "horror" or "mystery" or "mainstream" is much healthier for writers."

I think this is about as solid an idea as I've heard, though I'm not sure how well it works in the bookstores, which use marketing categories based (loosely and incompletely) on generic identity to organize product.

I enjoy seeing theme-based anthos, and I think they are a perfect vehicle for moving readers around through new generic territories previously unexplored by those readers. Thus they open new publics for writers established in niche markets but unknown outside those niche markets. Very nice for all concerned.

The only difficulty I foresee is one suffered by the publisher: how to market such a chimera. I know it can be done, and some recent efforts prove its viability, but I imagine publishers would resist the notion for reasons of pure market inertia.

Nicholas: "what you seem to be talking about would involve ignoring genre and paying more attention to other distinguishing aspects of fiction, but interstitiality seems to be all about exploring genre"

True enough, but I don't see how a theme-based antho could avoid exploring genre, even if the editor/publisher ignored genre altogether and simply collected solid theme-based work. The mere presence of multiple genres in a single antho, working together and off one another, is an exploration in itself.
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des
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2003 - 09:32 am:   

I prefer gestalts of mixed-genre and no-genre-stories, through subject-matter, as well as through themes and symbols (which many say happens (serendipitously?) in each Nemonymous) -- gestalts that only can be truly accentuated by both no author (with his or her 'fame' or 'genre' baggage) and no artwork (imho).
des
"Music is an interstice
Threading life's ambergris."
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2003 - 09:50 am:   

Des, can you provide me with an example of a no-genre story which I can get my hands on without buying a book? I'll say up front I'm more than just a little skeptical that such a thing can exist.
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des
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2003 - 09:56 am:   

I think I was, perhaps over-glibly, referring to mainstream stories (like Chemo in Nemo~3). I could jokingly refer you to the blank story (4'33") in Nemo~2. I suppose what I meant were stories that you cannot describe as SF, Slipstream, Horror, Fantasy, Literary, Fabulism, Western, Crime, Porno, Magic Realism, Interstitial...
des
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2003 - 10:05 am:   

Neal: >> "True enough, but I don't see how a theme-based antho could avoid exploring genre, even if the editor/publisher ignored genre altogether and simply collected solid theme-based work. The mere presence of multiple genres in a single antho, working together and off one another, is an exploration in itself."

It may be an unearthing, but it is not an exploration; exploration implies intent. This is why I say that while the ends may be the same, the means—the process by which one hopes to achieve this—are different, and so interstitiality (as a concept, I mean) may not be the best vehicle for the concerns Jeff raises.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2003 - 11:29 am:   

Des -- Yeah, I wouldn't call "mainstream" (God, I hate that term) no-genre. It has a genre, though that genre may not scream out at us in neon letters from the cover of the book, as Science Fiction, Mystery, and Western so often do. And incidentally, that's my biggest problem with those categories being permitted to stand in as genre: they tend to shut down generic inquiry too soon, and at too high a level. Here's an illustration:

Q: "Whatcha readin'?"
A: "Um, a Science Fiction book."
Q: "Yeah? What kind?"
A: "What do you mean, what kind? It's Science Fiction."
Q: "Well, what's it about?"
A: "It's about some kid growing up on an alien planet going through all kinds of kid-on-an-alien-planet shit. He kind of has to live by his wits, and he's a thief, and he meets all these aliens and spacemen and stuff. The whole thing's told through the letters he writes to his dead mom, and he gets answers back from this AI who's taken his mom's place and is trying to teach him how to be a man."
Q: "Wow, so it's a picaresque epistolary Bildungsroman?"
A: "No! It's a fucking Science Fiction book!"

The above scene can only take place if Science Fiction (or Mystery, or Western) is allowed monolithically to dominate our understanding of a novel's genre (and I can't even begin to tell you what to do with "mainstream," which is not only a useless descriptor, but also highly misleading and self-important, IMO). Once we realize there are other ways to categorize genre, we can not only find genre in just about any work we look at (so those works which are outside genre would be vanishingly few), but we can do some interesting cross-genre work, as well.

Jeff's suggestion (above) springs to mind, of organizing fiction around something other than the most obvious marketing categories. He mentions themes, which is a proven and workable idea. I would suggest you could also organize around less obvious generic identities.

As an off-the-cuff example, I can envision a series of books which seeks to bring new life to the picaresque novel. Folks from multiple marketing niches -- those whose work is solid and exciting, regardless of what corner of the bookstore they call home -- write picaresque novels, and someone puts them before the public as works in a series. The organizing genre level then becomes the picaresque novel, regardless what other generic identities are also included in the series. Picaresque detective? Picaresque historical romance? Picaresque horror? Some combinations might not be possible, of course, but we never know until we try. Hell, you could even call the series Branching Roads, reflecting both the divergence/convergence of genres, and the road-story aspect of the picaresque.

Nicholas: "It may be an unearthing, but it is not an exploration."

I'll concede that. What about the example I cited just above? Would you call that a proper exploration? Despite the different genres contained in the series, the central focus might be described as an exploration of the picaresque as it abuts and infiltrates other genres.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2003 - 11:50 am:   

I would definitely consider that an exploration of genre, because the theme of that series centres around a genre. However, a themed anthology about, say, bus drivers would not (except by accident) center around genre—since bus driver fiction is, as far as I'm aware, not a genre—and would thus not constitute an exploration of genre. IMHO, as always.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2003 - 12:42 pm:   

Nicholas, I agree. Jeff's suggestion of getting away from marketing categories in organizing fictional product simply suggested to me a good opportunity for juxtaposing more precise levels of genre against broader, looser marketing categories. His use of "quixotic" did the rest of the work for me. The picaresque is written in a realistic mode (though we needn't be too Dreiserean about that word, as Don Quixote aptly demonstrates), an episodic structure (which demands a break with the slavishness to a major contiguous plot which is a hallmark of mass-market fiction), and often a satiric mood (though this need not be a source of humor, as those who understand satire well know).

I don't expect we'll ever see bookstores organized with signs reading "Epistolary Novel," "Erziehungsroman," or even "Gothic Fragment." That would be silly, of course. But wouldn't it be interesting to organize some anthos or series around some of these deeper levels of genre?

I mean new work. There are already college texts and borderline mass-market editions of such things as "Gothic Tales." Why not new anthologies of (e.g.) Sports Tales? A magic-realist's tale of a dreamlike soccer match sits side-by-side with a horror writer's exploration of the disintegrating mind of a well-loved basketball player and a science fiction writer's story of the first baseball game on a hostile planet. The stories need share only the salient elements of the Sports Story genre: prose form, the central presence of a sport or sporting figure, and a theme of human competition. The rest is a delicious smorgasbord.

Just a stray idea, and an attempt to show that looking into the more precise levels of genre does produce practical possibilities. It isn't all academic.
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2003 - 01:12 pm:   

Been done. Nick Royle has edited a series of anthologies for Time Out London that has writers of all kinds writing about one theme--A Book of Two Halves (about UK football),The Time out Book of Paris, Time Out Book of London, etc.
Ellen

>>>I mean new work. There are already college texts and borderline mass-market editions of such things as "Gothic Tales." Why not new anthologies of (e.g.) Sports Tales? A magic-realist's tale of a dreamlike soccer match sits side-by-side with a horror writer's exploration of the disintegrating mind of a well-loved basketball player and a science fiction writer's story of the first baseball game on a hostile planet. The stories need share only the salient elements of the Sports Story genre: prose form, the central presence of a sport or sporting figure, and a theme of human competition. The rest is a delicious smorgasbord.
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des
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2003 - 03:16 pm:   

Neal, I think O Henry stories are mainly no-genre fiction. Des
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2003 - 04:06 pm:   

They are usually, but they've occasionally taken genre fiction. Jim Blaylock's "Unidentified Objects" was reprinted there.
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richard
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2003 - 04:53 pm:   

After a lot of bashing my head against people's genre pre-conceptions (something I think SF/F writers probably get more than the average industry standard dose of), I'm now quietly convinced that genre is above all an *emotional* system of categorisation - that is readers, critics and even some writers look to it primarily for such things as comfort, security, superiority and kinship rather than the more rational descriptive purposes you might imagine. Neal, taking your example of a Sports collection, I think the problem is that a reader (for example) will trundle through a number of these stories until they come to the one that mentions "planet", "forcefield", or "antigrav system" at which point they will smirk in that "Oh, not SF, how puerile can you get" fashion and skip the story. Similarly, a hardcore SF fan may bounce out at the first sign that one of the stories "only" deals with the mental agony of a broken-down middle-aged coach in a 1950s locker room. And then you've got the ones who'll look at the contents page, say "Oooh, a story by >insert A-list name with literary clout here<", read that story and assure themselves it's a work of genius (whether it actually is or not - this opinion will already have been pre-formed on seeing the aforementioned name), and then most likely not bother with the rest. What's going on here is not really genre preference, it's self-definition.

Now you can get in under the radar sometimes - for example the rather excellent "An End to Hunger" by China Mieville in Maxim Jakubowski's "Future Cops" collection, a story that didn't have any cops in it and wasn't really set in the future either - but I don't think the anthology route is going to break down many genre barriers. I suspect the vast bulk of the people who bought "Future Cops" were SF readers, first and foremost, and then some crime fans. The people who will read the kind of collections we're talking about here are those who have already "broken" their emotional genre dependencies. The rest will continue to stick.
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des
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2003 - 10:40 pm:   

And then you've got the ones who'll look at the contents page, say "Oooh, a story by >insert A-list name with literary clout here<", read that story and assure themselves it's a work of genius (whether it actually is or not - this opinion will already have been pre-formed on seeing the aforementioned name),
***************
I'd say this is predominant, Richard, and may need to be addressed in Interstitiality (as I understand Interstitiality) in some way...and in fiction genre and mixed genre presentation generally (imho).
btw, Ellen, I meant O Henry the author - is there a mag called O Henry?
Des
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 03:59 am:   

I think Ellen was referring to the O Henry Awards, which also reprints its winners in an annual collection.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 04:59 am:   

Okay, a round-up before I lose track of everyone.

Ellen: "Been done."

Then it can be done again. And again and again. Until it sticks. Until the best genre fiction begins to colonize the readerships of non-genre product. Why would someone settle for a relatively weak non-genre story when he or she could have a strongly-crafted genre tale? The only answer to this is "genre prejudice," and that's exactly what multi-genre anthologies can help to break down, by creating a market and by demonstrating a demand to publishers. And as you say, Ellen, non-genre outlets can and do print genre product. On another part of the Night Shade boards, I noted that Granta had printed a (not terribly good) SF story. It does happen, as you yourself insist, and it can keep happening. And the more comfortable non-genre editors get with genre work, the more demanding they will be about the quality of that work because they will know which genre elements are fresh, and which are hackneyed.

Des: "I think O Henry stories are mainly no-genre fiction."

Okay, a moment of clarity dawns on me. You are using "no-genre" in the same way I use "non-genre," as shorthand for prose fiction which does not fall into the marketing categories left off of the Fiction/Literature wall of your local Barnes Ignoble. Milan Kundera, Don DeLillo, Patrick McCabe, et al. These are "non-genre." It's a misnomer, of course, but what the hell.

Ellen: "Jim Blaylock's 'Unidentified Objects' was reprinted there."

Blaylock is a perfect test case. "Unidentified Objects" possesses SF elements, but it is certainly not a typical SF story. Some might even say it isn't really SF, and I think a strong case could be made there. Likewise, a glance through 13 Phantasms1 reveals other Blaylock stories which are "genre" only in the way that William Gibson's "The Gernsback Continuum" is "genre": they employ some references to genre topoi in the telling of a decidedly non-genre story. Blaylock's powerful "The Better Boy" is a prime example of this. It carries the reader along with the expectation of eventual genre thrills, but instead of making good on those thrills, it brings all power on line in service of its more human plot, so that by the end of the story, all genre topoi have disintegrated into the warmth and wonder of what it means to be a fragile bumbler with enormous, unattainable dreams. One could argue that Blaylock can get away with something like this precisely because of genre expectations: "Oh, he's gonna build a weird machine like in those other Blaylock stories." So it's Blaylock's situation within the so-called strait-jacket of genre that helps this story to work. Blaylock takes one look at the walls of the genre ghetto and says, "Cool! A canvas!" I think stories like these are important to keep in mind when we begin to lament genre constraints. They are only constraints if we permit them to be so. Now, marketing constraints are another matter, and that's why we need to colonize non-genre readerships (and permit them to colonize us in turn, of course).

Richard: "I think the problem is that a reader (for example) will trundle through a number of these stories until they come to the one that mentions "planet", "forcefield", or "antigrav system" at which point they will smirk in that "Oh, not SF, how puerile can you get" fashion and skip the story."

And that reader would be right to do so. I'd skip that story as well, and I'm a die-hard SF reader. But why must a SF story resort to the most hackneyed, groan-inspiring tropes and topoi of the genre? Why can't a SF story be written with language and images which net the widest audience possible? Why must a SF story shorthand its most interesting concepts in geek-speak? It needn't do so. The best SF stories are those which remind us not of the possibilities of anti-gravity forcefields, but of the possibilities of human beings -- to adapt, to thrive, to suffer, to overcome. Any editor who selects the story you mentioned is demonstrating the depths of his ignorance of Science Fiction. Find a better story, one which, as you say, "gets in under the radar" as being a good story first, and a SF story second.

And anyway, I suspect you're being a bit pessimistic in your assessment of the average reader. Or at the very least, you're underestimating the reader's willingness to choke down even the most disagreeable fare once he's already spent good money on it. That reader who picks up an antho and only reads the one or two stories by writers he knows... well, he's a bit of a wastrel by consumer-culture standards (and especially if he's shelled out the twenty-five clams for the average trade antho). Most of us will read at least a few of the other stories, and if we don't recognize the names, so much the better: we won't bring genre prejudice to bear on the stories.

1. If you have not yet purchased your copy of 13 Phantasms, don't walk, run to your nearest vendor of fine printed material and get it today. Blaylock changed forever the way I look at genre writing.
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richard
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 06:33 am:   

Neal - "planet", "forcefield" and "antigrav" were really only random selections extrapolating your idea of a "baseball game on a hostile planet" - I think the prejudice stands, regardless of the specifics. After all, surely "planet" at least isn't any more an SFgeek word than "mountain" or "moon", yet huge numbers of readers will react allergically to it. And any semi-educated reader at the beginning of the 21st century must be aware of what a forcefield is. Antigrav is maybe more genre-spec, but given context it isn't exactly *hard* to get. The point being of course, that the reader doesn't *want* to get it - they're already jammed in the "Eeek - Star Trek - SHAN'T like it" allergic reaction. It doesn't much matter *how* you write your SF, the emotional lock is already on. There are only two ways to beat it:

1) The Michael Jackson method - disfigure your SF story until all clear resemblance to SF has been surgically removed, at which point your newly acquired readers will chorus THIS ISN'T SCIENCE FICTION, IT'S *SPECULATIVE* FICTION.

2) The Margeret Atwood method - just BE a major literary figure - the "assumption of genius" circuit I outlined above will then cut in and give you diplomatic immunity. You can wipe your arse on a piece of paper and people will read it with joy.

Like I said, this is not about rational assessment and choice - it's about deeply held IRrational prejudices.

You're right about the wastrel thing, though. Mostly people do read what they buy - but equally, people mostly don't buy what they flip through in the shops and discard on account of their emotional prejudices (and remember that in a large bookshop, these anthologies are going to be dumped in what's deemed the appropriate genre corner anyway - certainly this was true with Future Cops. The only way out of that particular ghetto is to enlist the aid of some of those Margaret Atwood type A-list names and hope that, thus adorned, the collection will make it out onto the New Fiction displays at the front. But even then, I wouldn't count on it. I understand Atwood's Oryx and Crake got rubbished in the New York Times *purely* for being an SF book. Never underestimate the power of that emotional current you're swimming against!!

(oh, yeah, and in case I come off sounding like an SFgeek myself, that current runs both ways - at a recent speaking date I found myself up against an irate SF reader who was essentially railing against the alarming tendency in contemporary SF to focus on the human aspects of the story instead of the technological. If you want to read about human characters and interactions, he raged, you shouldn't be reading SF. POST-human is where it's at, man. Hmmm. Like I said - emotional)

Will chase 13 Phantasms and Blaylock. Thanks for the rec.
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JV
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 08:13 am:   

I have begun to realize that my views may be entirely contrary to the ideas behind interstitiality.

My appreciation for all of the commentary above, which has me thinking about all of this very, very hard.

JeffV
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JV
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 08:53 am:   

Yes, "theme" is just one crude example, Neil. I like where you are going with your analysis.

Re how a publisher would market books in such a way...irrelevant to this discussion. Either we're discussing fiction as art or we're discussing it as product. The error often made in such discussions is to combine the two. For purposes of this discussion, I could care less about how publishers would market something.

JeffV
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des
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 09:01 am:   

I think Ellen was referring to the O Henry Awards, which also reprints its winners in an annual collection.
*************
Ooops, sorry. des

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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 09:07 am:   

Richard, I understand what you're saying, and yes, there are people out there whose responses to the slightest whiff of genre fiction is entirely out of proportion to what the genre really means. I still think your focus is too narrow, though. I'll mention two examples, and let it go at that.

Alex Irvine's "A Walk in the Garden," accessible in the SCIFICTION archives, is a mega-powerful example of what SF/F can do when it stops playing with itself and gets down to work. It is a story I could easily envision being printed in any literary-fiction magazine that gives two shits about contemporary world events. It has earmarks of SF (and Fantasy, in the sense of the reality of the supernatural), but its primary thrust is to investigate the experiences and psyches of soldiers in desperate situations.

Nathan Ballingrud's "You Go Where It Takes You," also available in SCIFICTION's archives, is a devastating picture of a very common and very painful moral decision, something we read about with horror in newspapers, but try very hard not to think about if we're not forced to do so. The story uses the imagery of contemporary horror in the Clive Barker vein, but that is most certainly not what it's about. I won't give away too much. If you haven't read it, place it toward the top of your list.

These two examples (and there are many, many others) demonstrate what genre fiction is capable of, and what it is capable of because it is genre fiction, not despite this fact.

Those who turn up their noses at genre perhaps can't be helped. Then again, one lesson I try to instill in my students when I teach political rhetoric is that a speaker can never hope to capture those auditors who have hardened their hearts. We must content ourselves with the idea that most people are not obdurate mulefolk, but reasoning individuals looking for new things to get excited about.

The same goes for those SF readers who lament the humanization of the genre. They are, in my experience, outliers. And they are a drag on the genre's progress. SF will move on. Indeed, it has done so, or we would not be hearing these folks wail and whine. There will always be that product which is produced for them, but they cannot expect to keep an entire genre hostage. Let them enjoy their Hal Clement and Larry Niven; I prefer stories with real people in them, and I think I'm among the majority of SF readers these days.

As for the two solutions you mention, I've heard them before, and I have no truck with them. To me, both sound precious and cowardly. I don't mind Speculative Fiction as a catch-all term for genre fiction dealing with the reality of the unreal. But as a tool to create aesthetic distance between a work and its demonstrable generic roots, I see it as craven and irresponsible.

If you have a response, I'll hear it out, but I'm going to stop talking about this subtopic because I don't want it to hijack this thread, which I think is doing some interesting things all on its little lonesome.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 09:16 am:   

Jeff: "Either we're discussing fiction as art or we're discussing it as product."

Hm. I see them as always intertwined, with the market (especially the perception/creation of demand) providing a space for writers of certain types of fiction, and those writers in turn pushing, shoving, and molding the market in which they find themselves. But I can also see where too much concentration on the marketability of a text could lead to that text never seeing any public anywhere. At some point, a writer (or editor, or publisher) has to let his or her freak flag fly and say a silent prayer. It's not a deterministic arrangement.
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des
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 09:25 am:   

and those writers in turn pushing, shoving, and molding the market in which they find themselves
***************
And does strength of will and/or publicity-scoring count in moulding (UK spelling) the market? Surely the fiction itself should count. des
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JV
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 09:42 am:   

What I'm saying is that for the purposes of discussion, it helps not at all to say, "Well, publishers would never go for that." Who cares? Within the terms of the discussion. It puts a limitation on the discussion that shouldn't be there. The more you mix in that kind of stuff, the less open the discussion becomes.

I wonder if Nathan would agree with your assessment of his story re the Barker influence. I'm certainly not convinced by your using that example (although I love the story).

JeffV
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JV
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 09:43 am:   

In fact, I'd say Nathan's story is only incidentally genre fiction at all. But both of us should probably let Nathan comment on the issue rather than speak for or inspite of the author.

JeffV
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 10:43 am:   

Des -- Of course the fiction counts for something, as does the will and determination of the writer. As I said, this is not a deterministic arrangement a la Foucault, with some immanent and unguessable Market Force hanging around waiting to sanctify or damn a text or a writer. All I'm saying is that there are what we might call constellations of forces, all of which are materially and culturally locatable (i.e. not immanent), and each of which has some hand in shaping a text. The artist is certainly the most powerful of these forces, but he or she is not working alone.

Jeff -- Okay, I take your meaning in the first case, and to the degree you express it, I concur. I thought you were divorcing art and product in a more absolute, aesthetic, New-Critical way. In the second case, I agree as well. I see Barker-esque flourishes in the text, but I won't say whether or not Nathan intended (sorry, Des) to put them there.
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des
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 10:54 am:   

Of course the fiction counts for something, as does the will and determination of the writer.
**************
Of course? Can there be any argument? the fiction is all. The writer a mere cipher. Yet, I agree with you. There are three things paramount in the act of art-thrust: luck, contact and skill. We have not spoken about 'luck' yet, have we? Luck can stem from the serendipity of accepting one's own cipherhood: thus allowing the forces of the fiction (rather than the pushing and shoving mentioned earlier) to take centre stage.
Des


"The nemo is an evolutionary force, as necessary as the ego. The ego is certainty, what I am; the nemo is potentiality, what I am not. But instead of utilizing the nemo as we would utilize any other force, we allow ourselves to be terrified by it, as primitive man was terrified by lightning. We run screaming from this mysterious shape in the middle of our town, even though the real terror is not in itself, but in our terror at it."
-- John Fowles (from 'The Necessity of Nemo' in 'The Aristos' 1964)

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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 11:22 am:   

Des -- I think we're seeing something like the same operations, but from strikingly and insurmountably divorced philosophical positions.

I disagree philosophically with the notion of the author as cipher, as I also disagree with the idea that an as-yet-unwritten text can exert any kind of force. I prefer to characterize that perception as misreading the intentions of the author and the influences amid which he or she lives. Needless to say, I also reject the concept of the noumenon, as well as all New-Critical arguments for the exceptionalism of "great" art as some kind of ding an sich transcending material conditions and the process of production.

I'll happily hear your response, but I don't think it would do either of us any good to debate this at length, as neither of us is likely to go away enlightened, much less converted.
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des
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 11:26 am:   

But what about the luck aspect (in luck, contact, skill)?
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 11:45 am:   

Des -- Sorry, I'm a materialist. "Luck" can be explained in less mystical ways, I think. And I have to ask why, if luck were a real force in the world, it only ever seemed in the past to bring the educated middle and upper classes into print. Even today, the pool of literary writers is only slightly broader, socially, than it has been in the past hundred or so years. The working and lower classes just weren't lucky enough? Nah, I don't buy it. It has more to do with social positioning, education, personal desire, and the state of literary demand. No one factor guarantees a person will become an author, least of all luck, which strikes me more as a willful refusal to look at other forces, rather than as a force in itself.
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des
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 12:09 pm:   

I'd be pleased to take this debate (brainstorming in parts) to a nemonymous thread, but otherwise you're right, Neal. Thanks, anyway, for the chance...
Des

CODA
Aren't shadows on the wall sometimes more revelatory than seeing the people that cast them? CHANCE is a novel by Joseph Conrad. Here, the characters and particularly the heroine are drained of any motive or sympathy because of the layering of narrative: we hear a spoken voice telling an inscrutable narrator of someone else’s view of someone else’s view of certain events, mix and match between. But it does not seem to lessen one’s interest in the book: it is character-driven and sympathy is allowed to take a backseat in preference to exploring one’s own motives for assigning certain motives to certain types of people just on the basis of hearsay and chance. Conrad writes in introduction to CHANCE: “And it is only for their intentions that men can be held responsible” and this novel seeks to show, I think, that any intentions are essentially unknowable. I propose that even one's own intentions are unknowable: being shadows, too. The heart of darkness.

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richard
Posted on Tuesday, November 18, 2003 - 04:53 am:   

Jeff - "Re how a publisher would market books in such a way...irrelevant to this discussion."

I wouldn't say so - the whole concept of interstitial fiction relies on there being a number of genre "somewheres" for the interstitial work to be between. In this day and age, that makes interstitiality at least partly a marketing construct. And while I like to think that writers write what they damn well want, regardless of if and where it's going to fit, I doubt we do actually stand so pristinely outside the arena of publication and marketing - if only because marketing defines product which then goes on to influence everybody, even if it's in a contrary fashion - ie interstitial writers seeing what they don't like about genre chains and deliberately trying to break them (I'm repeating Neal's entwinement line a little superfluously here, so I'll shut up at this point). But I don't think you limit a discussion on creative art by considering how that art is going to be received/handled by its end-users - especially the case with writing which is after all, one would hope, an act of communication with those users.

Neal - not to flog a dead horse here, but just making myself clear - I don't actually *advocate* the Michael Jackson and Margaret Atwood approaches - simply acknowledge their existence and remain pessimistic about the chances of large sectors of the reading public going out to buy "just whatever looks good/interesting". I'd love it to happen but....
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, November 18, 2003 - 08:11 am:   

Arggh. I haven't been back here for a couple of days and I'm way out of date. But first things I noticed were:

>>>Alex Irvine's "A Walk in the Garden," accessible in the SCIFICTION archives, is a mega-powerful example of what SF/F can do when it stops playing with itself and gets down to work. It is a story I could easily envision being printed in any literary-fiction magazine that gives two shits about contemporary world events. It has earmarks of SF (and Fantasy, in the sense of the reality of the supernatural), but its primary thrust is to investigate the experiences and psyches of soldiers in desperate situations. >>>


The story is by Lucius Shepard, not Alex Irvine. Lucius has been writing all kinds of stories in the past couple of years, hopping merrily between ghost stories, sf, mainstream, fantasy, and back.

Des: It was my error. I hadn't realized you were talking about O'Henry the writer. I haven't read him in so long that I can't recall my reaction to them (except that at the time, as a child, I enjoyed them). He was a master or irony. And yes, I was talking about the O'Henry Award anthology series--on par with the Best American Short Stories series (which has also, on occasion, published horror/fantasy/sf--a Harlan Ellison story that I published in OMNI).

Neal: The problem with sorting anthologies by theme that are not within genre is that (for me) I find most mainstream stories incredibly dull. I demand a bit of the fantastic or darkness in my fiction so when I read Nick's sports antho I found everything boring except for the few "genre" stories. I'd much rather read a genre anthology any day of the week than a "straight mainstream" anthology on any subject. You bring this up yourself.

Also:
>>Nathan Ballingrud's "You Go Where It Takes You," also available in SCIFICTION's archives, is a devastating picture of a very common and very painful moral decision, something we read about with horror in newspapers, but try very hard not to think about if we're not forced to do so. The story uses the imagery of contemporary horror in the Clive Barker vein, but that is most certainly not what it's about. I won't give away too much. If you haven't read it, place it toward the top of your list. >>>

I hadn't thought of Barker's work when reading it. Paul Witcover, our copy editor, immediately thought of Raymond Carver.

I've always felt that the literary values of mainstream fiction must be carried over to genre fiction (I mean the craft not the other baggage of "literary fiction") for a story to work for me.

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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Tuesday, November 18, 2003 - 11:09 am:   

Ellen -- Re: Irvine/Shepherd. Yikes, I screwed that one up, didn't I? Don't know why I tried to dress Lucius up as Alex. Deepest apologies to all concerned. And if you (meaning the general poster- and lurkership) haven't read Lucius's story, read it. And if you haven't read Alex's story by the same title, well, there's a good reason for that, isn't there? Sheesh, is my face red.

As for the antho question, I see your point, but I'm hoping you're not necessarily typical of general readers. I, too, enjoy striaght-up genre stories more than I do most of the trendy genres which pass through "mainstream" venues: the Third World philosophical story; the elegy for urban dating; the conflicted sexual confessional; and so on. But hey, Sports Stories have their own built-in readership, which makes them a perfect vehicle for messing with the boundaries of marketing categories, IMO.
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, November 18, 2003 - 04:07 pm:   

Neal,
I agree about the "sports" story anthology--but I'm not interested in sports in general so I would never buy such an anthology, even if it had a few fantasy/sf/h stories in it (I saw a review copy for YBFH).

Which I'm afraid brings us back to commerce and marketing. If you want your work to be bought and read by others you can't totally ignore the market--it's crucial to find the right niche and point your ideal reader to the work you're creating.

Des, Nenonymous is pitched towards a particular audience. That audience must find the mag/antho. In that sense, naming a type of story can be useful whether it be fantasy/sports or whatever. I see Nenonymous as a mixed genre publication and I think that's a good thing.
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Forrest
Posted on Wednesday, November 19, 2003 - 06:36 am:   

Sorry to switch gears on everyone, but did anyone else hear NPRs short interview of Stephen King this morning? He seemed adamant about not being labeled. To paraphrase, he said, in essence: "I reject genre labels in general. While I am a horror writer, I've never introduced myself as such. I'm a writer of American literature."

Interesting.

Forrest
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Wednesday, November 19, 2003 - 07:42 am:   

In an attempt to take in and develop on what Ellen and Forrest just said, I'm going to do something I dislike doing -- I'm going to play devil's advocate.

What Ellen says makes good sense: to succeed, a work must be placed before a receptive public, which means we cannot play the Genius Artiste and hope to revolutionize the world from our garret rooms. We need help, and that help often comes with strings attached. On the other hand, King's comment calls to mind something I read in Disch, to the effect that marketing categories take in a bewildering array of their own smaller publics. Science Fiction alone is rife with niches which almost never overlap, a fact which gives the impression that nearly anything goes, and yet the words Science Fiction on the spine of a book can lock out certain portions of the market, as others have said. Marketing is a complex issue, as I'm sure no one here would deny.

That aside, when we talk about marketing categories and what falls between them, how much of this "interstitiality" is a wish-fulfillment illusion? How much of this drive to carve out a new niche, hitherto unknown and unseen in the world, derives from our anxiety over the perceived sameness of genre fiction? And how much does the reading public really care about our perceptions of marketing categories? What if we held a revolution, and nobody came? Or is it just about us (as editors, writers, and would-be writers like myself)? After all, the New Wave in SF didn't really stop people from buying metric tons of space operas and alien-contact stories; it just gave writers some new tools for the toolbox, and a new kind of creative license.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned his followers to purify themselves before trying to purify the world. In other words, he wanted any who joined him to be certain their motives were free of moral and ethical taint before they jumped on his bandwagon. I'm asking whether the champions of "interstitial" fiction, myself included, who harbor some drive to produce/consume something which gives the finger to Literature, Incorporated, don't need to do the same thing -- purify themselves.

What is really at issue when marketing categories are discussed as constraining? Is it the declining quality of the literature being produced? Marketing categories come with built-in restraints which dumb down literature for a barely literate reading public. Really? There are good books being released all the time, and many of them are snugged down safely within standard genre marketing categories. Even if only after the fact. Even if insiders proclaim loudly "That's not genre!"

Even if we broke apart the walls of genre, would that mean suddenly that someone whose diet consists solely of Patricia Cornwall would bother to pick up a kind-of-mystery/kind-of-surrealism/kind-of-psychological-thriller novel by someone we admire? Hell, Barbara Hambly writes historical mysteries; so why haven't floods of her readers crossed over into Fantasy? Or have they? I don't know, and I'm not sure any of us does.

Or is it something else? Maybe a desire to be seen as breaking new ground when we're really not. Or a disguised cry: "No one is writing the book I want to read, but can't yet envision." Or worst of all, a desire not to be tarred by proximity to Sword-and-Sorcery hackwork or Star Trek novelizations -- a variety of the same snobbery which keeps genre writers, for the most part, off the Fiction/Lit wall, while permitting big-L darlings such as Richard Powers and Don DeLillo to market science fiction and ghost stories alongside college novels.1

Forrest's reference to King struck a chord because I've always considered King a horror writer, even when he was releasing books which squirmed inside that generic boundary. I like thinking of King as a horror writer for two reasons. First, it lets me group him with other horror writers for the purpose of comparison and contrast: "Well, you can't say all horror writers are like that. Look at Stephen King, for instance." And second, it gives me some kind of hope that, even within a seemingly inescapable marketing ghetto, good work might be done which disregards the lowest generic common denominators (Misery, I argue, is Horror, but not in the same way Clive Barker's Hellraiser film is Horror).

As I said starting out, I hate playing the devil's advocate. It's too easy to slip from productive provocation to bad faith. I hope I haven't done that here. My challenge is sincere, though the note of pessimism and cynicism in this post is designed to provoke. And I recognize that posters here have wildly different takes on the whole "interstitiality" concept. I just wanted to field a question and see if I could spark some introspection and self-purification before we charge ahead yelling "Free at last!"

1. Powers's Galatea 2.2 features a seemingly self-aware AI, and DeLillo's The Body Artist employs elements of a surreal Gothic.
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Delia Sherman
Posted on Friday, November 21, 2003 - 11:05 am:   

What a time to come in on the discussion.

Neal brings up a lot of interesting points, and I’m looking forward to what you all say about them, but I thought it might be useful at this point for me to get on record about where the Interstitial Arts Foundation is coming from. I can do this because I’m a founding member, and I’ve taken notes on what all the other founding members have said at many, many meetings.

When we began talking about Interstitiality, we were responding to a phenomenon we were observing in the books we were reading and the stories we found ourselves writing. We have never thought of Interstitial as a genre of its own. We have always thought that it was a moving target, a way of talking about the cutting edge of fiction, wherever that edge happened to be. We didn’t work out all the details because we thought that pinning everything down would be a good way of limiting the discussion. Besides, we did not consider ourselves arbiters of what could and could not be called Interstitial.

The other thing we don’t want to do is equate Interstitial with cool stuff we happen to like. Not all good writing is Interstitial, nor should it be. Works like Suzy Charnas EARTHFAST series and Laurie J. Marks’ LOGIC series and almost all of Patricial McKillip’s novels are well-written, thoughtful, and certainly show that their authors are familiar with literary tropes and conventions outside of Fantasy. But they are unlikely to appeal to anyone who hates Tolkein or believes that anything that isn’t grounded in observable reality is stupid at worst, frivolous at best.

But those people, who may read BELOVED or WINTER’S TALE or Alice Hoffman’s RIVER KING or Patrick Suskind’s PERFUME without blinking, might also like Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s RED HEART OF MEMORY, but they’ll never know anything about it because it’s marketed, reviewed, shelved as Fantasy. How famous do you think Greg McGuire’s WICKED would have been if it had been published as a fantasy?

And it’s not all about SF & Fantasy, either. Heinz Insu Fenkl’s GHOST BROTHER was published as fiction because his publisher wasn’t able to wrap their heads around a memoir with ghosts in it, and Korean fiction at that, which is a ghetto much smaller than ours. Nor is it all about writing, but that’s what this thread is about, so I won’t go there.

What it is about (or at least what we’d like it to be about) is finding new ways to present new fiction to publishers, bookstores, libraries, reviewers, and readers. Some of us have written reviews on Amazon, even in the Globe, using the term, and it’s been picked up by people who aren’t us because it’s useful. No one, least of all me, wants to see an Interstitial section in the bookstores, but I’d love to see a shelf that brings together a constantly-changing selection of cross-genre work of all stripes and lists and interactive computer stations that guide readers into sections they’ve never entered before. I’d love to generate lists that librarians can work from to get readers they know to be a little adventurous in their tastes to look outside the tried-and-true. And I’d welcome any ideas that anyone else may have that we haven’t thought of yet.

We like theory, but we like practicality too. Artists will always make whatever art their muses lead them to make, without (I hope) paying too much attention to how they do it or what they’re doing. But they also have to live. I’d like to make it a little easier for the Out-There to sell what it is they’ve made, and a little easier for lovers of the Out-There to find what they like. I’d also like to create a place for all the various flavors of cross-genre, experimental, slipstream, Ethnic-Feminist-Mystery, Gay-Romance-Western-Sports writers to come and feel a little less alone in the world.

Which is idealistic of me, but there you are. And I’m old enough to know better and everything.

Delia
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Pat O'Connor
Posted on Friday, November 21, 2003 - 12:15 pm:   

(I post this message on this stream because it's about writing, but also I think the essay in question is the sort of essay Delia would like. )

I have been subscribing to the new literary magazine The Believer, because I like the McSweeney's Magazine people who helped found it, and because some students I used to teach have published in it. I even wrote an essay for them about the IAF, comparing a representative sample of the works of the writers around the table at the New Paltz symposium with the stories in the McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, with the current issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I hadn't read the Conjunctions anthology of "New Wave Fabulists" or the Trampoline anthology, or else I might have tried to squeeze them in too. The Believer people took forever to tell me that they aren't going to print the essay, but I harbor them no grudge.

Meanwhile they keep producing issues. This month's issue has two essays of interest, I think, to an IAF discussion. (It also has a swell interview with Tina Fey of SNL, among others.)

First, there is an essay about the life and work of Cornell Woolrich, an important-tragic pulp-noir author from the 20s through the 40s, about whom I knew absolutely nothing. The author of the piece, who has culled an anthology of Woolrich's stories and is re-publishing them, moves without apology between Woolrich's serious fiction and his "pulp," and seems to understand what noir fiction does and doesn't do in a society. Good comparisons are made to Alfred Hitchcock, both as film-maker and TV anthologist.

Second (not so interstitialist, but as I say, I think it's the stuff Delia likes), there is an essay by an older creative writing professor in Minnesota on (the end of) physiognomy in literature, on (the reluctance among cutting-edge writers to use) the observation and the description of faces as a springboard for the analysis of character. Quotes from Montaigne through Hardy through Flannery O'Connor through Bellow through Paula Fox, versus Delillo. He begins it all with an analysis of a Goya painting in a Minneapolis museum. I liked it.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Friday, November 21, 2003 - 01:31 pm:   

Only slightly relevant, but Pat, if you haven't yet found another home for that essay ("comparing a representative sample, etc."), it would be nice if you could let the Whatnot have a look at it. It sounds very interesting.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Friday, November 21, 2003 - 08:07 pm:   

Pat -- This is completely off-topic, but I just have to say I'm glad to know anyone who can use the world "swell" in a sentence, and continue to write. Good on ya!
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Terri Windling
Posted on Saturday, November 22, 2003 - 02:47 am:   

Pat, I'm a believer in The Believer too. Damn shame they didn't take your essay. Could I persuade you to send me a copy if I ask really nicely? I'd love to read it.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, November 22, 2003 - 04:49 am:   

Delia -- Regarding the IAF's position, and its goals: I'm pleased to read that you don't consider Interstitial a category in itself, though Veronica's and Dora's previous posts on this forum had already eased my mind on that score to a great extent. Given that, what seems called for, besides spreading the Gospel, is finding ways to get bookstores excited about the possibilities of separately shelving what most will doubtless see as merely genre-bending F/SF/H. Any luck with that so far? Any projections on how useful it will finally be?

I wonder if it might be more worthwhile to work locally rather than nationally or internationally. I flippantly tossed out the term "guerilla marketing" on another thread here (or I think I did -- I might have deleted the line). But giving it some more thought, it occurs to me that smaller bookstores with limited shelf-space (such as those here in metropolitan New Orleans) might either be among the hardest sells on this idea ("Oh, it's Sci-Fi. We don't really carry that, but here's five shelves filled with Cajun cookbooks."), or the most promising targets available. They're small; they're hip; they're not Barnes & Noble; they might attract a more amenable readership. I don't know the numbers related to this, so I'll defer to anyone with experience in pushing print product through the machine. But I get the half-formed impression that such a tactic of guerilla marketing/merchandising might work in certain small stores. Got rack slots for only twelve SF/F/H books? Why not make them books your Fic/Lit folks will like, and then advertise them as such? It seems to make sense to me, but then, as I said, I haven't thought it all the way through, and I don't know the biz as well as others on these boards.

One problem occurs to me. Well, okay, several problems occur to me, but I'll mention one. You say: "Not all good writing is Interstitial." True enough. The reverse is also true. Is there any guarantee, once these special "interstitial" shelves have found their way into bookstores, they won't be colonized by a kind of high-concept transgeneric work? That the cross-genre shelf you mention won't become a de facto Next Big Thing, with all the dross NBTs produce? "Check this, yo! It's Philip Marlowe meets Frodo in Dante's Inferno! It's Interstitial, baby!" You get the picture, I hope. On the one hand, publicising and making dedicated space for knowingly interstitial work opens up and holds open a new kind of market niche for writers (or at least foregrounds something which has been going on in the background for a very long time), which will perhaps encourage more writers to take greater liberties with genre, besides of course providing merchandising possibilities for those writers already doing it. On the other hand, it will almost certainly become its own category, will we, nill we, and then it will go the way of all categories: hacks will write high-concept and fill more rack slots than more accomplished writers. Maybe we can't get away from that. Still, the idea is intriguing.

Okay, I know I said "one problem," but tough; here's another problem: What happens when a writer already established in a genre niche writes something interstitial, as many established writers do from time to time, including members of your own IAF? Does it go alongside that writer's other books, making it available to his or her established readership? Or does it go on the shelf with other cross-genre work? Or does it go in both places at once? I guess what I'm asking is, how discretionary and arbitrary is this cross-genre shelf you speak about? Will Borders employees one day receive a FedEx package containing the newest page for their three-ring manuals: "Titles for February Cross-Genre Event"? Or will it be more of that nature of "Employee Recommendations" slots?

Perhaps you've already come up with answers to these questions, or perhaps I'm missing a piece of the puzzle. I look forward to hearing what you (and others here) have to say.
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Delia Sherman
Posted on Saturday, November 22, 2003 - 11:16 am:   

These are really good questions, Neal, and I don't have answers for them.

We're a very new organization, and mostly what we've been doing for the past year is jumping through all the hoops the Government sets up for new organizations to jump through and setting up a complicated and (though I say it who shouldn't) beautiful website, due to go live sometime in December. We're just now getting breathing space to start figuring out what projects we need to set up and find funding for. One of the purposes of this discussion board is to raise questions and garner suggestions that we haven't thought of before.

I hasten to say that we're not so naive that we haven't considered both the difficulties you've brought up. We have. And we haven't come up with satisfactory solutions. We do try to talk about Interstitial works rather than Interstitial writers, since A.S. Byatt's VIRGIN IN A GARDEN is not at all the same kind of book as ANGELS AND INSECTS or A DJINN IN THE NIGHTINGALE'S EYE. And we try to talk about Interstitiality as a continuum rather than an absolute state, since books like Sarah Water's TIPPING THE VELVET are on the mainstream historical end of Lesbian Romance, and would need some study to figure out how it differs from historical/lesbian/romance classics like PATIENCE & SARAH--apart from being better written, which is certainly is.

But I digress.

We hope that developing a new way to talk about books is going to change how people market, distribute, and display them. At the moment, we don’t know whether this is going to work or how. We have some ideas. With the help of people like you all, we’ll get more. Some of them will work and some of them won’t. But already we’re having a discussion that’s a little different than the ones I grew up with, the ones I had in my graduate school days, the ones I left academia to get away from. And that’s all to the good.

Delia

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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Saturday, November 22, 2003 - 02:41 pm:   

Some users w/browsers or computers that are less than perfect are having a very hard time loading this thread because of the number of posts! Yay us.

As a courtesy to those users, I've created a new thread on which we can all continue these conversations unimpeded. It's here.

Thanks!
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Adrienne Dessel
Posted on Tuesday, December 02, 2003 - 06:43 pm:   

wow folks. I have just tuned in, connecting to IAF through Ellen Kushner's website, and read Eve Sweetser's piece, and now am scrambling to process all these ideas in relation to writing about identity. I do cross cultural dialogues and dialogues on hot topics, and work towards helping people find a middle ground. You would think that wouldn't be so difficult, us all being humans and such, but since we are slowly self destructing due to categorization, it seems only wise to educate myself in all areas about middle grounds, which is why I find myself here on this web page. Whether it be the middle ground of sexuality or politics, I will continue to read about this Interstitial idea and how it relates to helping people uncover the overlapping truths in their lives.
Adrienne

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