No Award

WRITING 02

First, let me get one thing out of the way up front–no one does or should care what I think about the Hugo Awards, m’kay? Any interest I have in the subject has more to do with my awareness of the history and traditions of science fiction as a genre than anything that connects to me personally. I’ve attended exactly one Worldcon, and that was San Antonio in 1997. I haven’t been to a convention of any sort since World Fantasy Con in Austin, 2006. I’ve enjoyed most of the ones I’ve attended, but time and the expense of traveling have kept me from being a regular at such things. All by way of saying that I have readers—and bless you all—but no profile or presence in sf fandom to speak of. This is not a complaint; it’s just the reality of the situation, so when I say that I have no emotional investment in who does or doesn’t win a Hugo, it’s mostly true. Yes, when a friend of mine is up for one, then of course I want them to win. Simple human nature, that. None of which stops me from having an opinion, just that no one should care about the fact that I do even if I feel compelled to share it. You have been warned.

This year, a group with a political agenda attempted to game the system, with block voting for a slate of “approved” works. If you don’t already know about this and you’re curious, just do a web search on “Hugo Awards” plus “2015” and “controversy”  and you’ll find out probably more than you ever wanted to know. I’m certainly not going into it here. It’s not the first time someone tried to game the system. It’s most likely not going to be the last. For whatever it’s worth, I’m glad the attempt failed, partly because it was extremely wrong-headed, but also because I want any such attempt to fail, no matter who is doing it or why. I’m just idealistic enough to consider that important. Continue reading

The Children’s Hour

None of what follows negates what I said in the previous post, “The Selfish Meme,” but as with anything more complicated than a carpet tack–say, for instance, a human being–there’s always more to the story. I was recently reminded of a writer friend who had asked a question in her journal about early influences. Lots of people contributed but I wasn’t much help. It occurs to me that’s because the biggest very early influence–so early it was many years before I even thought about writing–wasn’t necessarily a single author–it was a collection of books ( I said I couldn’t hold it to 15). Specifically one of those cheap sets of children’s books they used to sell to young mothers back in the fifties and sixties. My mother was a hard working single mom with not a lot of cash back in the day and she was certainly the target audience, so to amuse me and my sisters she bought one.

This one was called The Children’s Hour  edited/compiled by Marjorie Barrows, and I have to say that Mom got her money’s worth. The set had everything–A volume of folktales. A volume of adventure stories. A volume of myths and legends. A volume of poetry. A volume of science fiction, for gossakes. This was my introduction to fairy and folk tales, which took a while to sink in properly but re-emerged as a dominant theme in my work. It was my introduction to poetry, of which (poets) I’ll never be one, but learned to appreciate. Also to The Song of Roland and the Arthurian cycle, and to sf (stories by Asimov & Heinlein, plus “Miss Pickerel Goes to Mars,” and “Lancelot Biggs of the Saturn.”) In hindsight it’s obvious to me that almost everything I do, nearly everything I’m interested in as a writer has a precedent in that one set of books.

It’s also probably why I’m not a proper “Southern Writer,” for better or worse. By the time Faulkner and Welty came along for me it was too late–I was already imprinted with a different strain of the fantastic, and remain so to this day.

Worry, Worry, and Wasting Time

Idle musings while waiting for the storm bands of Isaac to swirl by overhead, and triggered by a question on another board. A writer (a new one, I hope) was fretting about his work having aspects of more than one genre, and how did he tell which category it fell into? Oh, the confusion! What was he to do?

My short, seemingly flippant but honest answer was “That’s not your problem. If a horror mag publishes it, it’s horror. If a fantasy mag, it’s fantasy.” Yes, I know that genre has taxonomic uses but as it is currently implemented, and as a strictly practical matter, genre is primarily a collection of marketing categories. When I was writing “Moon Viewing at Shijo Bridge” I knew very well that it had as much claim to being a mystery story as a fantasy. Didn’t care. I was reasonably sure that Shawna would buy it, and she did. But if she hadn’t, I might very well have sold it to a mystery magazine. Would that have changed the story in any way? The audience, perhaps, and perception, but the story? It is what it is, and when the time comes to market, then it’s “place your bets” time. Not before.

For another example—way back when Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine was being published, I submitted what I considered very appropriate fantasy stories to that magazine on a regular basis, and on an equally regular basis Marion Zimmer Bradley rejected each and every one of them. Now, I know very well that any given writer is not always going to connect with any given editor and I’ve talked about that before, but it was the reason she gave for rejecting those stories that caused me such bewilderment.

She said they were all horror.

This was something of a surprise to me, but for a reality check, no other editor ever thought so, at least for stories I hadn’t pegged as horror myself. And, even though I sold enough stories of the sort to qualify for membership in the Horror Writers Association, nobody ever labeled me a horror writer…except for MZB, and MZBFM didn’t accept horror. And there we were–the editor thought my fantasy stories were really horror stories (not to be confused with horrible stories, which is another problem altogether). I thought they were not horror, and frankly never understood how she was reading them that way, but the point remains that it was of course the editor’s opinion that decided the fate of those stories. (And, for the record, I never did manage to break into MZBFM.) In short, how your stories are classified is, for the most part, completely out of your hands. It’s a somewhat different story for novels, where your career plan and your publisher’s requirements both may dictate that you stick with work that can at least be reasonably classified in the same general area, which is one reason writers usually change bylines if they’re writing both, say, urban fantasy and space opera. For short stories, not so much. 

So as a general rule, wasting time worrying about what category your work falls in is, well, a waste of time.

SF vs Fantasy, or “Do I Really Care How Many Angels Can Dance on a Bar?”

 Every so often, you know it’s going to happen. Like a dormant virus, it waits until conditions are right and then there’s the sudden outbreak, often triggered by a particular novel or story—“Is Deadbeat Downbelow really sf? I mean, its tone is very sfnal, but where’s the speculation?” or “Magic Wind Fairies reads like sf, I mean, everything’s very logical and thought out.” I follow the conversations with interest (it’s nearly always interesting when intelligent people discuss matters near and dear to them) but I don’t really have much to contribute. Maybe there really is a line, maybe there isn’t. Yet even those who agree that you can draw a line and say, “This side fantasy, this side sf” are never going to agree on where that line is going to be drawn. Continue reading