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Theodora Goss
Posted on Friday, July 30, 2004 - 09:47 pm:   

And a final post for tonight. (Kendrick has been on a business trip, and I've been taking care of Pip for the last week. Which is why no posts and then a sudden flurry. But which explains also the less-than-articulate quality of what follows, because I'm tired beyond tired.)

So, I found the following in my inbox recently:

26th Annual International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts

Blurring the Boundaries: Transrealism and Other Movements
March 16-20, 2005
Wyndham Fort Lauderdale Airport Hotel

The focus of ICFA-26 is on the Transreal and other movements that encourage and embody the breaking and blurring of the boundaries between genders and genres, between reality and illusion, between the 'real' world and the possible worlds of the imagination. Such movements include the New Wave, Cyberpunk, Steampunk, the Interstitial Arts, Slipstream, the New Weird, and many more. In addition, we look forward to papers focusing on the work of Guest of Honor Rudy Rucker, Guest Scholar Damien Broderick, Special Guest Writer John Kessel, and Special Guest Poet Albert Goldbarth. As always, we also welcome proposals for individual papers and for academic sessions and panels on any aspect of the fantastic in any media.

And here is the less-than-articulate part. I'll be there, of course, not only because ICFA is always great fun but because I want to be part of this conversation. But I have two reactions to the above. First, a sort of wistfulness, because I would just love for my writing to fit into one of these hip new categories, or even (why not?) make one up myself, so everyone could talk about and criticize the New Whatever. But, despite being involved with the IAF and thinking that the people writing the New Whatever are excellent writers, whatever they're writing, I have to conclude (wistfully) that what I write is fantasy. Period.

And second, it seems to me that fantasy (as a literary genre, though I'm not sure that's what it is really) has always blurred the boundaries between fantasy and reality (as modes of perception). This gets into why it may be not-so-useful to call fantasy a literary genre, and Aristotle and all that, which I'm far too tired to write about tonight, but may tackle in the near future. But if anyone wants to talk about Transrealism, I'm listening!
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Saturday, July 31, 2004 - 03:37 am:   

I've always thought the point of Fantasy was to be trans-real. All these catagories just get confusing.
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Kathy S.
Posted on Saturday, July 31, 2004 - 02:07 pm:   

"And second, it seems to me that fantasy (as a literary genre, though I'm not sure that's what it is really) has always blurred the boundaries between fantasy and reality (as modes of perception)."

To complicate things further, there are many different species of fantasy. Some of it would probably fall under 'transrealism'. Unfortunately, the most common perception of the genre is that it's all about quests and dragons etc. The latter type is more often concerned with world building and other neat stuff, while failing to examine human condition, and thus becomes a mere exercise in special effects.

Far as I'm concerned, term 'fantasy' is just not informative enough -- Italo Calvino and Conan the Barbarian could both fit into this category. If I hear that the book is 'fantasy', I'm still no closer to knowing whether it's something I want to tead.

Transrealism would probably best describe the type of fantasy where fantastical is filtered through human perception, and this perception and its impact constitute the focus of the tale. Otherwise, it's just eye (or mind) candy. Just my two cents.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, August 08, 2004 - 09:24 am:   

Hmmm. I'm going to my trusty Latin dictionary.

Trans: across, over, beyond.

"Across realism" makes no sense. "Over realism" makes some, but not perhaps what the writers of the CFP were looking for ("We are, like, so over realism!"). "Beyond realism" does make sense to me, although again in a way that the CFP writers may not have been intending.

What they're talking about is the blurring of boundaries between realism and fantasy, in contemporarty literature. But "beyond realism" suggests something else, something that Tom Shippey suggests when he says that fantasy is the important literary mode of the 20th century. It suggests that our literary culture is moving beyond the emphasis on realism that accompanied the developement of the 19th century novel. It also suggests, as a subsidiary issue, that this movement beyond realism reflects what is happening in our world, that we live in a world that can best be written about by using the fantastic.

I'm very interested in this second point, so I want to say something about it rather quickly, and probably not so coherently. I think we live in a world that is much harder to represent through purely realistic writing, because our reality involves so much that is fantastic. For example, I've long thought that the stock market operates on the Tinkerbell principle: it lasts only as long as people believe in it.

So, "Transrealism" seems, to me, to not work as a term if it's supposed to mean the blurring of boundaries. There's nothing blurring about "trans." "Trans" is about movement across, over, beyond, not about finding some middle ground. But it works very well to describe what I think is happening to literature in general, which is moving relative to the realism that has been at its center since the 19th century.

Just a quick statement about what I think fantasy is, if not a genre. I think there are two equal and opposite impulses in literature: mimesis and fantasia. Mimesis is the impulse to represent reality (as we understand it) as accurately as possible. Fantasia is the impulse to depart from realistic representation. Both are, rather than genres (which have their own traditions and tropes, like the gothic or the western), ways of looking at the world. All literature contains both impulses, but in different quantities. You can represent these impulses as a continuum:

mimesis_______________________fantasia

We're living at a time when it seems, to many writers, more appropriate to move toward the fantasia end of the continuum.

If this seems wacky, very little of it comes from me. I'm drawing on what scholars who study these things have said. I say that to point out that it's not just my individual wackyness. But it is what I fundamentally, wackily, believe.

So, "Transrealism." I think it's important to talk about. This is going to be a very interesting ICFA.
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Eric Marin
Posted on Monday, August 09, 2004 - 08:05 am:   

Dora, this thread has me pondering the nature of my own writing. If I take a step back, I can see that my fiction, even when I'm writing "fantasy" (that wonderful not-category) leans toward the mimetic, while my poetry sits squarely on the fantastic side of the continuum you described. Perhaps the rigidity of prose brings out the rational side of me while the endless flexibility of verse does just the oppostite.

As for transrealism, my work bounces around so much that it's possible that some of it might be considered "between boundaries" while some of it might be looked at as "beyond boundaries." Of course, the problem with analyzing my own work is that I can't really do it effectively. I'm too close to it. In your case, you might think your work falls outside transrealism, but others might think the opposite.

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Richard Parks
Posted on Tuesday, August 10, 2004 - 08:39 am:   

"But, despite being involved with the IAF and thinking that the people writing the New Whatever are excellent writers, whatever they're writing, I have to conclude (wistfully) that what I write is fantasy. Period."

Sigh. You say that like it's a bad thing.

What we call fantasy now (and I don't mean the marketing category) has been around for thousands of years. When New Weird and Interstitial and whatever other shiny new name we attach to one movement or another is gone, it'll still be around. We can argue over whether the name is specific enough or what it really means and there's no reason not to do so. It's all good fun and helps us clarify what we're thinking when we say the word "fantasy," but it's just part of a continuing story that we're carrying on now and others will carry on when we're gone. We tell the stories and, for a while, make them ours.

You do beautiful work, Theodora. Whether it fits in a particular hot/now category or not is beside the point.
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Eric Marin
Posted on Tuesday, August 10, 2004 - 11:12 am:   

Well said, Richard, especially the part about Dora's "beautiful work." :-)
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Niall Harrison
Posted on Wednesday, August 11, 2004 - 04:19 am:   

Rudy Rucker's transrealist manifesto was published in 1983, and can be found here:

http://www.mathcs.sjsu.edu/faculty/rucker/transrealistmanifesto.pdf
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, August 12, 2004 - 09:17 pm:   

Thanks, Richard and Eric! And I think you're absolutely right about the breadth and permanence of fantasy. In a funny twist, the Times Magazine article on Susanna Clark's novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, which I want to read, treats fantasy itself as a movement, something that seemed to be "out" a decade ago and is evidently now "in."

"It's all good fun and helps us clarify what we're thinking when we say the word "fantasy," but it's just part of a continuing story that we're carrying on now and others will carry on when we're gone. We tell the stories and, for a while, make them ours."

Yes! What Richard said.

Niall, thanks so much for posting a link to Randy Rucker's manifesto. I didn't realize the term had come from him (makes sense, of course, since he's the ICFA GoH). That said, I'm actually less comfortable with the term as he uses it than with a broader definition. I want to spend some time thinking about what I find problematic in his argument. Hopefully I'll post about it here in the next few days . . .
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - 10:42 pm:   

Still haven't gotten around to thinking about transrealism, but I wanted to post this link to the Interstitial Library, which I think is the cleverest thing ever. And I really, really want to check out some of the books.
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philipfoster
Posted on Thursday, October 28, 2004 - 04:51 am:   

Hi, this seemed the right thread to post this message on - I was reading your piece on interstitial fiction on your web site and what you were saying about fantasy. I was wondering who your favourite genre fantasy authors were and what kind of genre fanatsy you like and dislike. I ask this because I've been trawling through a collection of Tanith Lee's - 'Dreams of Dark and Light' - and trying to figure out why I don't really like it. It may be that it is still only six weeks since I finished John Crowley's Little Big, the influence of which, like morning dew, rests on everything else I try to read. (sigh...)
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, October 31, 2004 - 12:10 am:   

Hi Philip! So, an easy question! Lordy.

I'm going to have to think about this one. I will say that I like Crowley a lot. I don't know if I already mentioned somewhere reading his collection of short stories? And I liked Little, Big very much, though I think I have to read it again. I'm not sure I got its full impact the first time, since I was reading to see what happened, and not paying much attention to the writing itself. I was on a panel at Worldcon on Interstitial Arts where I mentioned Crowley, and several panel members chimed in to say that Little, Big wasn't, of course, interstital. I indignantly asked why not, but was sort of drowned out. I mean, if interstital means on the border, then this is one of the most bordery books I know.

So, how is the book making you see everything else? I'm curious.

I have to think about what I like, but I'll try to write something in the next few days. I have been meaning, for a while, to write about Tanith Lee. It occurred to me one day that I was deeply influenced, around the time I was twelve to fourteen, by Tanith Lee and Anne McCaffrey. McCaffrey first: I really, really wanted to be a dragonrider. And then Lee, the series that included Night's Master, Death's Master, Delirium's--Mistress? I don't remember the titles exactly. But I was madly in love with Azrharn, whose name I probably haven't spelled correctly. (I was madly in love with a lot of literary characters . . .) Now, for me, she's variable. Some stories of hers I like a lot, others not so much.

So, let me think. Especially about the "what kind of genre fantasy" issue. That's a tough one.
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philipfoster
Posted on Sunday, October 31, 2004 - 10:33 am:   

Hi, sorry for the (little) Big question. I agree with you about Little, Big being an interstitial book , so much of it taking place on borders after all.

The book is effecting everything else I read in the same way that Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan did when I first read that, in that I still feel its influence when I try and read something else, like a kind of literary drunkeness.

Happily today I read a story by Ian R. Macleod - 'Green' - in his collection "Voyages by Starlight' that acted as great 'hangover cure' (hair of the dog!). And in relation to all this talk of genre, interstitialty and slipstreams, I came across a passage that beautifully describes for me, the place that the fantasy writer now occupies within the 'borders' of literature.

"In strange and unexplored parts of the garden, the distinctions between the permitted and the outlawed became deliciously vague. Not knowing whether he was allowed to be there was part of the joy of discovering new places, of getting lost, of crossing a stepping-stone stream into a bluebell wood, of finding a marble chair engraved with seahorses overlooking a waterfall in a ferny dell."

Maybe we create labels and borders because we are like tending gardeners, bringing different areas to bloom, creating hybrids, and all the while cultivating the rare and the beautiful.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, November 30, 2004 - 09:15 pm:   

So, so sorry it's taken me forever to answer! I love your quotation, and feel that way sometimes when I'm writing: deliciously vague, discovering things as I'm walking along, not at all sure where I'm going. I think we create labels and borders for books and gardens for the same reason: we are labeling and bordering creatures. Our minds classify--they evolved to do it, and it's that evolution that allowed us to do everything else. I really think the play of genres and the spaces between them is absolutely necessary, and rather wonderful.

Talk about genre constraints: the complaints of a fantasy writer who feels he can't sell in the mainstream are as nothing to the complaints of a gardener who can't produce a blue rose.

I thought about what sort of genre fantasy I like or dislike, and realized that I can't categorize it by subgenre. So, I'm generally not a fan of barbarian swordsmen, but I've heard Samuel Delaney's Neveryon books described as sword and sorcery, and I think those (though I've only read a few stories) are brilliant. And I generally like fairy tales, or stories that sound like them, but I've read a lot of retold fairy tales that I don't particularly like. In the end, for me, it comes down to the the individual writer; if I like a writer, I tend to like most stories by that writer.

And it comes down to style. I can read anything at all, if the writing is amazingly good. (From my perspective, of course. I know everyone will have his or her own list of the "amazingly good" writers in this field.) So all I can really do, I think, is list the writers that I think are that, the ones I would read if they were writing cereal box covers. (I've deleted and rewritten so many parts of this email that I'm not entirely sure it still says what I want it to. I honestly have a hard time writing about what I like in genre fantasy. The easiest way to do it is to give a list of names. I think I'd have a hard time describing what I like in gardens as well, without simply giving a list of flowers. Fritillaria, for instance. My sort of garden has fritillaria in it, and no begonias.)

So I guess I'll list? In a separate post, since this one feels like a cat's cradle.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, December 09, 2004 - 12:52 pm:   

So sorry, it's taken me a while to write this post. I'm going to list, in no particular order, fantasy writers that I like. This doesn't mean that I like all of their stories, just that I've read at least one novel or story of theirs that I thought was really, really good. Actually, I often like some stories and dislike others from a particular writer. But these are writers whose stories I would read first if they were in an anthology. Again, the order is completely random, and I'm going to keep adding to this list as I think of more writers.

Jeffrey Ford
Andy Duncan
Delia Sherman
Susanna Clarke
Patricia McKillip
Kelly Link
John Crowley
Jeff VanderMeer
Stepan Chapman
China Mieville
Elizabeth Hand
Terri Windling
Tim Pratt
Greer Gilman
Sarah Monette

And two writers I like a lot, who have written fantasy but usually write SF so I feel as though I shouldn't include them in the above list:
Ted Chiang
Alex Irvine

These are the writers I thought of immediately, but I'll have to add to the list as I remember more!

And if anyone wants to suggest favorite writers to me, feel free!
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Greg Wachausen
Posted on Saturday, December 11, 2004 - 09:47 am:   

"And if anyone wants to suggest favorite writers to me, feel free!"

Neil Gaiman?
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Saturday, December 11, 2004 - 11:13 pm:   

Greg:

What would you recommend by Neil Gaiman? I ask because I've read several of his stories, as well as Coraline and Stardust, and while it goes without saying that he's a good writer, I haven't yet read a story of his that makes fireworks go off in my head. But he's recommended so often that I'm sure one is out there. So, anything particular of his that you like?

Two more to add to the list:
Joyce Carol Oates
Chris Barzak

(On the other hand, I did love the illustrations to Stardust by Charles Vess, which are what I remember most clearly. I did like Stardust a lot. I'm just not sure whether I liked it so much because of the story, or whether the illustrations had a lot to do with it. I guess I'd have to read the story without the illustrations.)
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Em Tersoff
Posted on Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 05:00 am:   

I really loved Neverwhere, personally. Coraline and Stardust were fun, but I think Neverwhere was the first writing of his that really jumped out at me. (Then again, I read Stardust after Neverwhere, and the friend who gave it to me threatened the lives of my unborn children if I didn't like it as much as he did.... My friends are fun.) I also really love the Sandman graphic novels, as do an awful lot of my friends, and people in general. -Em
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Sarah Miller
Posted on Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 08:13 am:   

"What would you recommend by Neil Gaiman?"

Some of the stories in his collection Smoke & Mirrors really stand out for me. I do love his novels and the graphic novels, but there was a period of about two or three months last year where I read "The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories" practically every night, trying to figure out why I liked it so much. (My three other favorite stories in that collection are favorites because they're humor, and I admire well-done humor because I know how hard it is to do.) I'm still not completely sure why it has such an effect on me.

Other favorites? I have one Jonathan Carroll book I'm very fond of, and I plan to keep an eye out for more of his work. I bought a book of Gene Wolfe short stories at Worldcon, which I am slowly working my way through.

I also really like Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. I've read a lot of Bradbury, some of it for school and some of it on my own, but Something Wicked really stands out in my mind above everything else. If Bradbury's style frustrates you, you probably won't like it, but I read most things in terms of story and characters. I have only recently become conscious of how style works.
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Greg Wachausen
Posted on Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 11:38 am:   

"What would you recommend by Neil Gaiman?"

That's a tough one. Without really thinking about it, I would say either American Gods, or the Sandman comics. For shorter works, my favorites would have to be The White Road, Baywolf (both of which are actually poems) and Snow, Glass, Apples. They're all in his Smoke and Mirrors collection. He does have a bunch of stories out in zines and anthologies that I haven't read yet, (at least not all of them) so I may be missing out on some. This may be a biased recommendation because he is my favorite writer.

Star Dust is my favorite, and I think that the prose really stood out to me the most. Charles Vess' illustration also added alot more depth to the book as whole as well.
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Greg Wachausen
Posted on Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 11:47 am:   

Dora:

Since you said that like some stories of one writer and dislike others, are there any particular stories or books you would recommend from your list of writers? I'm familiar with all the writers you've listed but for some I've only read a little of their work.

Another writer I just thought of is William Hjortsberg. He just had some of his early Sci-fi work reprinted in a collection called Odd Corners. From that collection I would recommend Gray Matters. I'm not a big Sci-fi fan, but I really liked that story. It's a novel, but it's pretty short, and it's a fast read.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 03:04 pm:   

Dora, I loved Hjortsborg's Falling Angel but really hated Grey Matters. FA is not sf it's the suspense/horror novel upon which the movie Angelheart is based.

I prefer Neil's short stories to his novels, overall (except I did love Coraline).

"The White Road" is a great poem, "Eaten" a wonderfully disgusting horror story (if you go for that sort of stuff :-) ), "A Study in Emerald" his Holmsian-Cthulhu story, "Keepsakes and Treasures," "Closing Time", "Feeders and Eaters," and "Bitter Grounds."

However, the above are all horror stories (that's what I love).
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Greg Wachausen
Posted on Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 09:04 pm:   

"Dora, I loved Hjortsborg's Falling Angel but really hated Grey Matters. FA is not sf it's the suspense/horror novel upon which the movie Angelheart is based."

Falling Angel was great! If I had to play the naming game, I would say that Falling Angel could possibly, maybe, perhaps be considered interstitial.

Neil Gaiman's short story "October in the Chair" is another good one.

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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Monday, December 13, 2004 - 10:15 am:   

Greg,
Why the below? It seems to me to be firmly supernatural horror.

>>>If I had to play the naming game, I would say that Falling Angel could possibly, maybe, perhaps be considered interstitial.
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Greg Wachausen
Posted on Monday, December 13, 2004 - 08:57 pm:   

"Why the below? It seems to me to be firmly supernatural horror."

I think it's because I started reading the book thinking it was a mystery/detective story (I even got it out of the mystery section of my library) but by the end I realized it could have been catalogued in the horror section as well.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Monday, December 13, 2004 - 10:10 pm:   

Ah. I read it a long time ago. But yes, it's certainly a mystery story. But mixing genres doesn't seem to be necessarily "interstitial."
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Monday, December 13, 2004 - 11:13 pm:   

Thanks all! I think I'll look for Neverwhere and Smoke and Mirrors next. I'd really like to read more of his short stories. And I've wanted to read "A Study in Emerald" for a while now. I just have to find it. (It may even be on my shelf, in some anthology.)

Greg, here's a list of some stories I've liked a lot, though compiled rather quickly:

Jeffrey Ford: "The Annals of Eelin-Ok" (In The Faery Reel.)
Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
Patricia McKillip: Ombria in Shadow
Kelly Link: "The Girl Detective" (In her collection--and several others, but I have to look up the titles.)
John Crowley: "Missolonghi 1824" (In his collection--I think this is one of the best short stories ever written!)
Jeff VanderMeer: City of Saints and Madmen
Stepan Chapman: Arg! I can't remember the title. Story I mentioned on another thread about Ariadne.
Terri Windling: The Woodwife
Tim Pratt: "Annabel's Alphabet" (In an old LCRW, but also I'm sure in his collection from Prime.)
Alex Irvine: "Akhenaten" (In his chapbook from Small Beer Press.)
Joyce Carol Oates: A story called something like "Autobiography of the Goat Girl"? I have to look this up, though I'm not even sure where to find it.
Chris Barzak: "Born on the Edge of an Adjective" (In an issue of LCRW.)

Sorry, these are off the top of my head, without the proper resouces. I'll try to find some of the information I'm missing.

Meanwhile, I also really like many of Isabel Allende's stories. (If I spelled her name correctly?) There's one in particular I want to mention, but surprise, I don't have the title in front of me. I'll have to look it up as well . . .

But mixing genres doesn't seem to be necessarily "interstitial."

Delia and I are finally back to working on the IAF anthology (we had to put it off for a few months because of our schedules). So I have to figure out what interstitial actually means. Ellen, I agree that simply mixing genres isn't interstitial (for example, an SF romance wouldn't necessarily be). I hope I have a better sense for what it does mean as I go through the process of editing the anthology . . .
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 09:56 am:   

Dora,
Neil's "A Study in Emerald" was reprinting in YBFH #17, if you have that.

Dora,
Oops. I hadn't realized you were co-editing the book with Delia. Excuse the personal email I sent you yesterday :-)
Good luck with it. I sincerely hope that the IAF anthology CAN indeed clarify the term interstitial as related to text.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 04:45 pm:   

Thanks, Ellen! The YBFHs are currently in the room where the baby is sleeping, but I'll check to see if I have it when she's awake (which will hopefully be tomorrow morning)! (She's surrounded by the history of English literature, and has already tried to eat Eudora Welty.)

And no excuse necessary! I agree with anyone who's troubled by the term and how it's been applied. I feel as though I spoke about it blythely on panels a year or two ago, and then found that other people had completely different interpretations. I hope the anthology can clarify something--but if not, then at least I hope we publish really good stories. I dunno, maybe no editor should aim for higher than that! (Though you and Terri are so amazing at discussing fantasy and horror, and showing not only what they are but how broad their definitions can be! :-))
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2004 - 09:12 pm:   

I love "A Study in Emerald"! It's brilliant. Put Neil Gaiman on my list. Also, by the way, Tamar Yellin, whom I forgot to include!

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. I wonder if the name Sherry Vernet is either a joke I'm not getting or a reference to a Holmes story that I've forgotten? I'd love to know why Gaiman chose that name specifically as S.H.'s alias.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Thursday, December 16, 2004 - 09:01 am:   

Dora,
Thank you for the high praise. If I've corrupted any minds at all by broadening what is considered material in the fantastic/horrific realm, I'm happy :-) It's a dirty job but someone has to do it.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, December 26, 2004 - 05:09 pm:   

Arg! I thought I had posted a message, but it must have disappeared into the Abyss of Lost Posts. Here's what it contained, to the best of my recollection:

1. Thanks to Ellen for corrupting--I mean broadening--our minds! :-)

2. A paragraph on the risks Gaiman took when writing "A Study in Emerald." I mean, his reader would have to be relatively familiar with the Sherlock Holmes stories (at least the ones where Holmes meets Watson and the later ones about Moriarity and Moran), and also relatively familiar with Lovecraft's stories about Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones. And although there are probably a fair number of readers in that category among SFF fans, it's not a significant subset of the general population! Of course, as I understand it, the story was published in a Holmes anthology, so that audience is much more likely to get the story. But still, it's a magnificent risk to take.

3. That I'd found the titles of two of the stories I'd mentioned above:

Joyce Carol Oates: "Secret Observations on the Goat-Girl"
Isabel Allende: "If You Touched My Heart"

Both in The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales, ed. Chris Baldick.
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philipfoster
Posted on Thursday, March 10, 2005 - 06:08 am:   

Hi, I asked you to list your favourite genre writers a while back and was wondering which writers you like to read from outside the genre.

I notice from various posts that you like the work of Isabel Allende and Isak Dinesan. I've been thinking of trying both writers, any recomendations on a good place to start?

Hope you are well.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 09:23 pm:   

Hi Philip!

Sorry it's taken me a while to respond. It's been sort of a crazy month . . .

Do you mean contemporary writers, or any non-genre writers? I ask because I tend to read lots of dead writers and not many living ones. I guess doing a PhD has a lot to do with it: there are all sorts of writers I need to have read, like Dickens, and it's hard to keep up with contemporary literature when there are always more Victorian novels to read. (I'm not sure how, since they're not being written any more, exactly, but there are always obscure things to dig up, and my dissertation is on obscure things anyway . . .) And when I do read contemporary fiction, it does tend to be fantasy, since I want to know what's happening in the field.

But maybe I'm overthinking your question. Do you mean which writers, of whatever era, I like to read outside the genre?

For Dinesen, I recommend Winter's Tales, a short story collection that I think contains many of her best short stories. For Allende, I think I would start with House of the Spirits, which was the book that first drew attention to her. Honestly, I haven't read it in a long time, but I vaguely remember that it was good, and it's a good introduction to what she does. If you don't like it, you probably won't like her later works either.

Hope the above doesn't sound too confused . . .
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 09:27 pm:   

And as an example of obscure Victorian literature: I just started Selected Stories of H.G. Wells, a new Wells collection edited by Ursula Le Guin. So far it's very interesting, not because Wells always wrote great short stories (he so didn't), but because the stories tell you a lot about who he was as a writer. For example, he couldn't do fairies. Dunsany and Tolkien can write about fairies in a way that makes you believe in them. Wells can try, but you can tell that he doesn't believe in them himself . . .

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philipfoster
Posted on Sunday, March 20, 2005 - 04:35 am:   

Hi, thanks for the reply. In a wierd moment of syncronicity, I've just bought that very same Wells collection. I love 'The Time machine' and I'm going through a process of buying everything I can by Ursula Le Guin at the moment. I love it when one favourite writer works on another.

About the earlier post, I guess I meant writers of fantastic fiction who operate outside the boundaries of genre. I tend to only really like reading ficion containing some form of fantasy or magic. But this can be the way the story is told or constructed, just as much as what actually happens within it. Magic realism and other similar forms of fiction interest me a lot. I'm trying not to confine my reading to genre writers. I guess it comes down to what the definition of a fantasy story is and leads us back to the question of 'transrealism' again. That's why I love the Endicott studio so much, the way it helps broaden the accepted definitions of fantastic fiction.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, March 31, 2005 - 09:22 pm:   

Hmmm. I should read more writers who are fantasists but outside the genre. I guess I tend to read the most famous ones. Milan Kundera, for example, though it's been a while. Kafka. Hesse. I'm trying to remember. Borges of course (running through my bookshelf). Joyce Carol Oates. Angela Carter (another of course). Allende and Dinesen. Marquez. Sorry, this is sounding so canonical, not at all inventive. Shirley Jackson. Thomas Hardy and Henry James, to go back a ways, wrote some really strange stuff, while remaining more or less respectably in the mainstream of their day. One of my favorite books, Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (Modern Library Edition), includes stories by Edith Wharton and E.M. Forster, both of whom I like no matter what they write. Chekhov wrote a wonderful story called "The Witch," though it's about the idea of a witch rather than the actuality. There's a wonderful book edited by Borges called The Book of Fantasy that I found in an old book shop years ago, which includes fantasy by all sorts of writers, a real mix. Also Toni Morrison.

But I also want to mention some poets who wrote fantasy, in a way: H.D., Anne Sexton, Edith Sitwell, Charlotte Mew. And Czeslaw Milosz, if I've spelled that correctly. This is so random.

And Virginia Woolf. She actually wrote a ghost story.

Sorry this isn't more coherent. I'll add more names if I think of them. You can see, though, that I don't get to read enough contemporary fiction . . .

Anyone else have good suggestions?
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philipfoster
Posted on Thursday, March 31, 2005 - 10:33 pm:   

Yeah, I don't read a great deal of contemporary fiction either. I guess it's harder to track down the right books and follow a writers work - and - there's also so much good genre stuff to read! (and only so many hours in the day when we can find the time to read them). I was thinking about this in regards to both how we classify a book as genre and also in regard to the 'greatest fantasy stories of all time' debate.

When I read 'Little, Big' last year it was not long after reading '100 Years of Solitude' - a beautiful book and yet I loved the Crowley so much more and found myself annoyed in some ways at the fact that so many people know and love the Marquez but so few the Crowley. Also, in my opinion, it was just as well written in terms of prose style, narrative etc. Sometimes you just feel like shouting at people 'Look! this is really good okay, just bloody read it!'

And a year later it's the Crowley I'm still thinking about. On the subject of Marquez, have you read 'Love in the Time of Cholera'?

Thanks for taking the time (from babies and dissertations and writing cool stories?) to write. :-)

PS Speaking of 'little, Big'. One of the advantages of having to do a 'normal' job is occasionaly being able to splurge on an expensive book. Be sure to check out the forthcoming anniversay edition of 'Little, Big' due for release in September 2006, it looks like it's going to be beautiful and will be illustrated by Peter Milton whom I confess to never having heard of before, but who's work is amazing (there's a link to his work on the web site http://www.littlebig25.com/).
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Friday, April 01, 2005 - 07:52 am:   

We should analyze this. What about "realistic" fiction doesn't satisfy us? Or I should say contemporary realistic fiction, because I love early 20th century realism: Forster, Wharton, Colette, Fitzgerald, etc. Maybe because their worlds are distant enough from ours that they seem like fantasies? I remember a famous film reviewer saying, about Lord of the Rings, that he didn't usually like "fantasty stuff" before giving it a good review. I can see that point of view: if you're someone who wants literature to be relevant to your life, to show you what your reality is like and help you understand it, then you're not going to be into fantasy. But the people I've met who are into "fantasy stuff" are really into it: when I was a child, I wouldn't read a book without magic in it, and if it pretended to have magic and turned out not to (the characters were just playing a game or something), I would throw the book down in disgust. I hated the books so often produced for children back then, which were about contemporary children living contemporary lives (that was the trend in the 70s and 80s).

So, what is this taste for fantasy? Where does it come from?

I agree with you about Little, Big. I would put Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell in the same general category. My personal opinion is that the best and most significant literature of this century is going to be on the borderline between fantasy and mainstream. What's being written there now isn't read by many people, but it's got something that neither strict realism nor genre fantasy seem to have. When I read either, I feel like I'm missing something, but when I read Jeff Ford or Kelly Link or Jeff VanderMeer, for example, I feel like I've found what I'm looking for, something deeply satisfying.

I think I read Love in the Time of Cholera long ago? But I don't remember the details. Ugh. I liked Marquez a great deal, and it's probably time to reread his books! Crowley resonates with me more too, I think because I come from the same literary and historical tradition that he does, so I understand a lot more of what he's trying to do. I can see where the references come from . . .

"Thanks for taking the time (from babies and dissertations and writing cool stories?) to write."

I wish I were taking time from writing cool stories! I have a handwritten manuscript sitting on my desk that I haven't been able to look at for a month now. It really is driving me slightly mad. I suppose other writers get that way as well . . .

And thanks so much for the Peter Milton link! I'm going to post a link on the art thread. Great stuff.
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Em Tersoff
Posted on Saturday, April 02, 2005 - 07:19 am:   

What about "realistic" fiction doesn't satisfy us?

A lot of the contemporary fiction I've read is stuff from the Childen's Room at my library. I don't read very much, though, largely because it just doesn't strike me as being worth the time. A lot of the sort of usual teenager stories don't have much resemblance to my real life (to be fair, my life is fairly dull) while I sympathize much more easily with someone like Meg from A Wrinkle in Time. And really, if I'm going to read a book that doesn't directly relate to my real life (and why would I want to?) at least fantasy and sf and mystery and historical fiction have other cool things going on.

It's also just difficult to know what contemporary fiction I would like. I know that, as a general rule, I like fantasy and science fiction and mystery and historical fiction. I can look for those particular types of books and be relatively assured of finding something interesting. With contemporary fiction I tend to only read stuff that leaps out at me from the library shelf.... -Em
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Em Tersoff
Posted on Saturday, April 02, 2005 - 07:28 am:   

The other thing that occurred to me, and I seem to remember this being especially true of fantasy written for children, is the idea of being special. It's not always fun having people at school think you're weird, but in fantasy stories the weird kids are the ones who usually get magical powers, or who get to go on adventures and do exciting things, while all of the "normal" kids don't get to do any of that. When I was little I didn't want to be a ballerina, I wanted to be a Jedi Knight, and while part of me knew that that really wasn't likely to happen, the other part of me still just couldn't give up on it. -Em
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philipfoster
Posted on Saturday, April 02, 2005 - 10:10 am:   

"I've found what I'm looking for, something deep and satisfying".

I think that's absolutley spot on. I think it's about the balance of two styles - the style of the writing and the style of the story being told. We like fantasy stories, but not those which sacrifice great writing. Or an the other hand we need magical writing and stories, not writing which is just good technically. The best of both world's (and why not?).

It reminds me of when we discussed Tanith Lee. Sometimes I get frustrated when the story is interesting, but the writing let's it down, blowing the sometimes delicately suspended disbelief (like intricate spiderwebs in a sudden breeze). I have the same problem with Charles De Lint sometimes - have you read his work? (here for me, it's the case of loving his stories and ideas, the feel of his work, but then sometimes been let down by the writing).

I love what you said about not liking stories which are 'rationilzed fantasies', (I think that's the term) which reminded me of what M.R. James said about rationilized ghost stories. It's kind of like the end of an episode of Scooby Doo, where the ghost always turned about to be someone in a costume!

For Em: "my life is fairly dull'', it's often the inner life, of the imagination, of dream, of art that is the richer than the outer
life. As Ursula Le Guin says in her translation of the Tao, "it's the inner eye that sees the world".

Fantasy: the landscape of the inner eye.
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Greg Wachausen
Posted on Saturday, April 02, 2005 - 04:10 pm:   

"I can see that point of view: if you're someone who wants literature to be relevant to your life, to show you what your reality is like and help you understand it, then you're not going to be into fantasy."

Well what about mythology? I think that mythology can be considered the earliest form of fantasy, and it was certainly used to help understand reality.

Of course, people have advanced since then, and instead of mythology to explain reality, we have religion and science, while mythology/fantasy has become more removed from reality as it goes through Tolkien and Jordan and the the like.

Then there is the hot topic of this forum (and others): the blending of realism and fantasy (which I think is like a modern mythology) in these borderline stories such as Little, Big or the works of Kelly Link and Jeff Ford. Fantastic elements such as Fairies or ghosts can be used in "realism" stories to help understand and explain life.

(I also don't know why stories like "The Specalists Hat" or "Born on the Edge of an Adjective" or "Empire of Ice Cream" are considered borderline/interstitial/unclassifiable and not Magical Realism--or Slipstream, as you've mentioned in your journal--but that's another discussion, and I'm not very good at organizing things, especially fiction).
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Friday, April 15, 2005 - 11:18 pm:   

I've been thinking about this . . .

I think there's a difference, too, between reality and realism. Literary realism purports to show us reality, but I remember reading a story by Raymond Carver (I think that's the author) about four people having a conversation, and thinking, even my life is more exciting than this. Reality is stranger than realism. Actually, whenever I watch NOVA I realize that reality is really, really strange. Stranger than fantasy, even.

(I watched a NOVA episode recently about the research into the myths about Amazons, and the real warrior women of the Russian steppes who were probably the basis for the Amazon myths. Fascinating! They were actually able to link one of the skeletons they found genetically with a young Mongolian girl, and establish that one of the women found in the archaeological dig was her direct ancestor.)

It's sort of like Jane Austen (whom I love): while her stories are taking place, Napoleon is in the process of conquering Europe. Reality is large and strange; literary realism, in order to seen "realistic," shows one small domestic, representative slice of it. But it can't show reality in all its strangeness, even its alieness: it shows us the part of reality most familiar to us. We recognize that and call it "realistic," which really means "what we're already familiar with."

In a way, I want to argue, the richness and strangeness of reality can be represented just as well by fantasy as by realism. It's just that fantasy represents it differently, or represents a different part of it. And the other part of my argument is that realism, particularly when it's not that well written, can be unsatisfying because we know it's reductive and false, that reality is stranger than it's telling us. That reality contains more things, and more interesting things, than four people sitting around talking about divorce or whatever.

"The other thing that occurred to me, and I seem to remember this being especially true of fantasy written for children, is the idea of being special. It's not always fun having people at school think you're weird, but in fantasy stories the weird kids are the ones who usually get magical powers, or who get to go on adventures and do exciting things, while all of the "normal" kids don't get to do any of that."

I think there's actually a lot of truth to this. It is the weird kids, the Megs of the world, that get to do the interesting stuff, that get special powers (like creativity) and the ability to do things other people can't (like travel around the world). At least that's my experience. The people who were weird in high school are the ones who ended up with interesting lives . . .

"I have the same problem with Charles De Lint sometimes - have you read his work? (here for me, it's the case of loving his stories and ideas, the feel of his work, but then sometimes been let down by the writing)."

I think I've read some of his short stories? But I'll have to go back and look . . . Any recommendations?

"Well what about mythology? I think that mythology can be considered the earliest form of fantasy, and it was certainly used to help understand reality. Of course, people have advanced since then, and instead of mythology to explain reality, we have religion and science, while mythology/fantasy has become more removed from reality as it goes through Tolkien and Jordan and the the like."

Greg, lots of people have said this, so you're in good company, but I wonder whether it's so clearly an advance? There was an example a professor once gave me in an anthropology class. Anthropologists studying a certain culture assumed that the tribal people they were studing were more primitive than they were. Every once in a while, one of the huts they built on stilts would fall on top of someone, and the tribesmen would explain that it was caused by witchcraft. The anthropologists said that of course a more "advanced" and "scientific" man would see that the huts fell because termites had eated through the stilts. But my professor said, the tribesmen knew perfectly well about the termites. They used witchcraft to explain not why a hut had fallen, but why it had fallen when it did, and on that particular person. They were just as "scientific" at answering the "how" question. They referred to magic to answer the "why" question.

I think that, in our modern society, we still do that. We don't have a scientific answer for "why," or aren't particularly satisfied with the true scientific answer, which is randomness (why? well, for no particular reason . . .). So we (I mean our society, not us as individuals) go to religion, which is mythology. Mythology is religion we no longer believe in. The Greeks believed in their religion as much as we believe in any of ours.

So maybe one of the problems with genre fantasy is that it's answering questions that are no longer really pertinent to us? That's it's remove from reality? Though I would exempt Tolkien. I mean, the questions "What do you do with a weapon that could destroy all of civilization?" and "How do we act in the face of ultimate evil?" were in fact the questions of Tolkien's time. (Also, "Is it a good idea to cut down all the trees?")

"(I also don't know why stories like "The Specalists Hat" or "Born on the Edge of an Adjective" or "Empire of Ice Cream" are considered borderline/interstitial/unclassifiable and not Magical Realism--or Slipstream, as you've mentioned in your journal--but that's another discussion, and I'm not very good at organizing things, especially fiction)."

I dunno, I think they're all in the same basket, and I would certainly call them slipstream. Magic realism is tougher because academics have used it specifically to talk about Latin American literature, but I've called literature like that American magic realism before. I think the problem is that "stories that somehow exist between the (social, domestic) realist literary tradition of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and what we have come, in the second half of the twentieth century, to consider genre fantasy" doesn't roll that smoothly off the tongue. I guess I could argue that there are differences between slipstream, magic realism, and interstitial fiction, but ugh. What I really want is a word that expresses the description I wrote. I'm tempted to just give it a name, like "Molly."

Please forgive this late-night ramble! The point I really wanted to make was the difference between realism and reality: that realism only pretends to represent reality, and can never encompass it in all of its strangeness.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Friday, April 15, 2005 - 11:22 pm:   

Ugh, sorry, I tried to get the typos out of the above message, but my computer was acting up and I was afraid I would lose the message entirely if I didn't post it. Please excuse typos in the last four paragraphs . . .
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des
Posted on Saturday, April 16, 2005 - 03:40 am:   

Fascinating stuff.
Is 'Transrealism' related to John Clute's 'Equipoise' described here:
http://www.ttapress.com/discus/messages/1151/1169.html?1113590778

des
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, April 24, 2005 - 12:30 pm:   

Des--

I'd have to go back and read the transrealism article, which I meant to comment on but never did. But I like the idea of "equipoise." To me, in its simplest sense, it describes a story that hovers between realism and fantasy, that never lands in either territory but keeps both possibilities open. For me, John Clute (who's brilliant . . .) is rewriting Tzvetan Todorov's theory of the "fantastic" to open it up. Todorov said that the "fantastic" happens when you're not sure whether to read a story as fantasy or realism, but that most stories resolve themselves in the end into one of those two things. Clute, if I understand him right, is talking about stories that hover between those two things and never resolve themselves. Like Heart of Darkness, which I keep wanting to reading as a sort of gothic fantasy, although it's also intensely realistic. (Conrad is the example he brings up, but I'm actually wrestling with this issue, trying to decide whether or not to include Heart of Darkness in a dissertation on Victorian gothic fantasy).

So, I'll have to go back and look at the transrealism stuff again. But it does seem to me that "equipoise" is different from something like magic realism. In magic realism, there's no hovering: you don't wonder whether to read the story as fantasy or realism. Reality is simply different than you imagined, it includes fantasy, and you simply didn't notice it before. Magic realism asks you to accept that the reality you know includes fantastic elements.

I'm going to get tangled in my own statements here, and I wish someone would come along and straighten them out. But it does seem to me that what we're talking about when we say interstitial, magic realism, slipstream, and even equipoise, are all slightly different ways of existing between fantasy and reality. They're slightly different because they describe different attitudes toward fantasy and reality, different ways of negotiating between them or bringing them together.

The most important thing for me, in this discussion, is the fact that we are focusing on the literature between those territories: we're no longer in the days when critics could call Charlotte Bronte's or Dickens' novels flawed or inferior because they had elements of the sensational or supernatural. I really believe that the border between fantasy and realism is where the interesting stuff is going to come from in the next, say, century. (But of course, that's a bit of a self-serving supposition . . .)

Sorry, that doesn't actually answer your question . . .

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