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?