Tuesday, October 30, 2007

In Which I Refuse to Get Involved in Debates To Which I Was Not Invited in the First Place

Originally, I was going to post something about how I, like apparently everyone else in the absurdly Livejournal-oriented SF writing community, had recently read with interest Jeff VanderMeer’s post on the “contentedness” of modern fiction; that is, that it no longer “pushes the envelope.” I was then going to discuss my take on the state of modern short fiction, what I thought the goods and bads were, apply it to my own writing, and generally be a pretentious schmuck-hole about the medium in which I hope to make a name for myself.

But then I thought about it for a minute.

And the reality is, I don’t really care what everyone else is doing. I love to read good stories, and I love to get inspired and learn from them, but if the bulk of genre fiction being produced today degenerated to pure crap, I would still being trying to write the best stories I can write. And as long as there are writers out there doing the same thing I’m doing, and I know there are, then we’re going to be fine. If a writer believes that the envelope isn’t being pushed enough, then he should go out there and push it himself. In fact, I am going to try and do just that, personally (now whether I succeed or not is another issue). If you don’t think the envelope needs to be pushed, then keep writing the stuff you write now and be happy with it.

I don’t mean this as a dig at Mr. VanderMeer, whose work I greatly respect, nor to say that the topic should be off-limits. I just mean it as I said it: as a writer, I don’t care what everyone else is doing. I’m going to write envelope-pushing stories, and non-envelope-pushing stories, and, Editors willing (which they usually are not), both will be published some day (editorial control is, of course, another key issue which I am carefully skirting). My unasked for advice to other writers is to ask yourself not “could my work push the envelope more, in whatever fashion,” but “do I want my work to push the envelope more, in whatever fashion?” If the answer is yes, I would love to be part of a dialogue with you about how to do it. I eat that type of stuff up. If the answer is no, then keep writing what you want to write. Not everything has to be earthshattering to be enjoyable, and if you’re not enjoying the writing in some way, then it really isn’t worth the excruciating effort we have to put into it.

For the time being, I will refrain from the greater debate on the death of short fiction magazines, upon which much has been written, largely because I am completely unqualified to pass an opinion. JP, you twit! you cry. This is the internet! Being unqualified to pass an opinion is virtually a requirement for expressing one! Very well, then, I will hazard a guess. I would say short fiction isn’t flourishing because people aren’t buying it (Revelation! Let the trumpets and allelujahs resound). Why aren’t people buying it? Probably a lot of reasons, but I would wager that two of them have to do with it being easier to buy a novel or turn on the TV than buy a subscription to a magazine. Has anyone checked the sales on anthologies, especially Year’s Bests? It would be curious to know if those are taking hits, or if it's just magazines. I have no clue what this will find, but I don’t know anywhere that’s looked into it off the top of my head (though someone may have) and it seems like a good starting place to unpuzzling this mystery. Let’s approach this scientifically, people.

So to sum up: I think everyone should be fluffy-bunny flower people who write what they want to write all the time and receive instant gratification for it, I am staying out of the debate on whether our current bumper crop of short fiction sucks, and I am also staying out of the debate about why short fiction markets are failing, though with a smart-sounding but essentially vapid side comment to make myself seem like I really have all the answers. Now, for future reference, a few other debates I will be staying out of: Nature versus Nurture; The ultimate fate of Viscount Nightshade; Number of licks to reach the center of a Tootsie Pop; Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take up arms against a sea of troubles and by resisting end them; and Green: the New Black?


At 12:45 PM, Blogger Carrie said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 12:46 PM, Blogger Carrie said...

I think you raise some great points -- especially regarding what writers should and shouldn't do. I always try to stay away from the "shoulds" like "should an author always comment on societal issues..." It's up to the writer to write what they want.

But I do wonder about whether an issue is that writers are pushing the envelope and editors aren't buying it. I guess if you believe that editors have their fingers on the pulse of their readership, then they know what's best. If you think that editors are afraid of alienating or ticking off their readers by publishing something envelope-pushing... well, that's an interesting conundrum. Is it the editor's job to broaden our minds? Or just give us what we want? Or both?

The third possibility is that editors don't know what their readers want, in which case it is important for readers (not necessarily writers) to talk about the lack of envelope pushing in a "that's why I don't read your mag" way.

And maybe, if short story magazine subscriptions are falling -- could it be that editors are missing their mark? I don't know. But I do know that I don't tend to read short fiction -- even though there's TONS of it around the house :)

(I deleted my previous comment because you couldn't read the top part cause of the title).

At 1:05 PM, Blogger Carrie said...

Everyone should worry about Vicount Nightshade. Things aren't looking good for our many-thumbed hero.

(how funny is it that I accidentally typed "food" instead of "good" above?)

At 7:07 PM, Blogger Jp said...

It's a very good point (about the editors, not about Viscount Nightshade, no offense to any lesser aristocracy or poisonous plants in the audience). I had actually written a decent portion of that post on editors, but decided to take it out because it wasn't terribly entertaining.

But of course the elephant in the room is that the 'envelope-pushingness' of modern writing is not determined by the writers, but by the publishers. If your ground breaking psycho-homo-anarchist Lord-of-the-Rings-meets-Vonnegut-on-crack masterpiece doesn’t get published, well, then it is not part of 'modern writing' and doesn’t get counted, no matter how many envelopes it pushes along the way.

The way I see an editor's job, in a demystifying-the-devil sense, is that he is basically a guy who tries to figure out what his readers want to read. So to that extent, if the editor is misreading the market, he is seriously screwing up, and there's no two ways about it. An editor who gives readers more of the same, assuming that they like the same, is doing his job. But the real visionary editor picks the things his audience doesn't know they like until they read it. He broadens minds while still serving his number one goal, which is getting work to readers that readers are interested in.

I don't know where we stand today. I think alot of editors fall into the middle ground, but that should surprise no one. I also know that some exceptional editors still do exist. I'd love to hear more from folks about those, and what makes them different from the rest of the pack.

At 11:15 PM, Blogger Patrick said...

I think it makes more sense to just pick up the envelope rather than to push it. It's less likely to get sticky from left over chinese takeout.

At 9:40 AM, Blogger Jp said...

Man, Patrick, it's like you've been to our house.


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