In praise of the idiosyncratic …

All writing is genre writing, literary fiction is just another genre. And genre is just a way of working out where to put the damn thing on the right shelf in the book store. One day, I keep promising myself, I’ll write a series of posts on comfort food, the books I have come back to time and again. When I was young I thought my tastes obscure, yet when I look at those books, they are 70s blockbusters and old genre favourites and things easily found in second hand bookshops. My taste isn’t special, its just that at school, there were only two of us who read books, and in my adult life, that figure has not increased very much.

But of course I get sick of the ‘same-same’, and look for bright shiny things. There is little chance I will find that novelty amongst the self published and independently published, because I like to haunt book shops, and I no longer have the time nor patience to hunt things down. I need them to be shoved into my face.

In his review of ‘Black Wolf’ by Steph Shangraw in the most recent ‘Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction’, Charles de Lint writes of books independently or self published, rather than traditionally published, that

… sometimes, like the book in hand, it’s simply that it’s not the kind of book a legacy publisher would be interested in. The pacing doesn’t match that of titles currently doing well in the marketplace. There might be too much description, or the plot moves in odd directions, lacking the strong forward momentum that’s come to be expected in pretty much every genre.

If an editor did work on a book like this, they’d probably cut a lot of what some might consider unnecessary description, subplots, and backstory. They’d rearrange the plot elements into a more linear narrative, with more forward drive.

Which makes me glad there’s now a ready outlet for authors with a more idiosyncratic way of telling a story.

The key word here is idiosyncratic. Steph Shangraw’s … prose is lovely in parts, she’s good at bringing her characters to life, and her dialogue is excellent. But she has her own way of telling a story.

…I enjoyed it from start to finish—though first I had to accept that it was going to be told at Shangraw’s own pace. Would a legacy editor’s hand have made this a better book? Possibly… Mostly it would have made it a different book.

From the subject matter described by de Lint, this is probably not a book for me. However, I relish de Lint’s emphasis that Shangraw has her own way of telling a story. There are only so many plots, and alleged originality in idea can be soooo undergraduate. Isn’t that what we crave, new approaches, novel voices, different ways of telling a story?

(For more on rejection by traditional publishers, see Henning Koch’s most recent post.)

And while still visiting over at Fantasy and Science Fiction, their current spotlight reprint is a 1981 article by the late Thomas Disch, where he refers to ‘the Labor Day Group’. He instantly states “I don’t mean to suggest that anything like a cabal is at work, only that a coherent generational grouping exists”, however it is interesting to read, especially in light of the recent bizzo at the Hugo Awards.


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