On Brevity (And Writing, And Genre, And Quiet Breakfast Table Revolutions)

Well, alright. More on the subject of brevity than the actual engagement of …


I’ve tacked up a new piece in the Free Fiction section. Still putting up Micro Fiction at the moment, and “Curdled” is no exception. Incidentally, speaking to that particular story:

I dislike classifiying my fiction. I find the entire notion of genre delineation extraordinarily irritating. I do not argue that it is a necessity when creating a publication’s or publisher’s identity and defining the market in which they wish to work and sell their products. Far from it. Marketing in modern publishing = survival (if you are a publisher you argue this point at your peril). I do, however, find that as a writer who does not like working within one genre, that when I create fiction the general publisher’s emphasis on defining a story in terms of genre (if I’m submitting it to you, you can assume that it falls under at least one of the genres you claim to work with … ) can lead to difficulty in finding a way to sell that work. Because by and large what I’m submitting doesn’t fall into neat genre lines.

Take “Curdled”. That piece is largely humour, probably qualifies as slipstream, sure as hell fits under satire. It is allegory, a fun house mirror reflection of relationships gone wrong (across multiple cultural and gender representative lines), and vituperative rejoinder. It is breakfast table tragedy, writ large. Or, uh, small, technically. But, here’s the snag: It’s not Lit, nor SF, nor F. It is that delightfully chimeric beast Spec Fic (worse still, I suspect it might actually be Spec Fic’s bastard brother – the one we’ve secreted in the attic because it’s simply too hideous to deal with, but from whom we nonetheless grudgingly accept whatever raving scribbles our caged younger brother shoves down the grimy slits of the segregating air vents between its floor and ours – Spec Lit). Do many publishers state they will consider Spec Fic work? Well, of course they do. The problem? Our concensus definition of Spec Fic (decided on and codified by a nebulous body of authors, writers, editors and readers spread across more organizations, countries and continents than makes for a truly sensible ability to form concensus discussion) is … disjointed.

The notion of genre bending/blending/blendering is not, by any stretch of the imagination, new. It is a staple of the way fiction is written. It informs the act of writing and the salability of the work produced. It is manifesto and function, raison d’etre and execution.

Yet still we argue. “Genre” is by its very nature a highly limiting function. It demands codification of nodal structure as opposed to a focus on network functionality and the tearing down of liminal walls. Spec Fic was supposed to free us from the borders of genre ghettoization, but all it has done is create a better looking ghetto. We are still bordered and confined by walls we ourselves have built and agreed, communally, to inhabit.

So, what the hell does this have to do with “Curdled”? Nothing in terms of having problems selling it. Nor anything concerning putting it up on the website (save the fact that I like the piece and thought I would share it). Indeed, the only thing that relates to “Curdled” in the aforegoing is a sense of sadness that we do not possess the words to speak of those things which do not fit neatly into square pegs (and conversely have far, far too many small and limiting words designed to make them fit). 

In actuality, the foregoing is merely a lamentation over the fact that we can’t get our literary shit together about genre borders and definitions (as in ignoring them as necessary).

But, this is the problem with dream versus reality: the dream is an end to the (often mis)labeling of published fiction, while the reality is that genre labeling is what does a hefty amount of the work of selling fiction to people.

So, much as I would care to see an end to genre delineation it’s not going to happen. There can be no proper call to arms, no demand for a revolution when the status quo is profitable. Unless, of course, we are to implement a quiet revolution. Let us begin with the breakfast table. Let us put the coffee and the tea and the cream and the milk – and yes, even the JD – together. Let them be a microcosm of our rebellion. Let us cease delineating based on colour, taste, aromatic, and sensory lines. Let us approach them as a unified whole.

Let us find a proper definition for the unified structure of that which pleases and fortifies us.

One has to start small.

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