Saturday, January 5, 2008

What Do I Write?

Publishers want marketable traits, preferably one per writer. Variety confuses things and versatility in a writer is a curse for sales.

Knowing this, I wondered what I write.

What fix do you come to Gene Stewart for?

My wife once suggested I call myself the Paladin Prince of Paranoia. She swears she wasn’t joking.

My general topics usually include the unseen, the covert, and the occult. My work reveals what’s hidden and explores behind the scenes. Much of it deals with espionage in some way, usually indirectly. Gothic Realism is one of the terms I’ve coined, but that is inadequate to cover all my work. I rarely write straight genre, but Slipstream is too vague. The New Weird isn’t even a hint fateful enough. Yes I can be transgressive, but only in flashes. I am a mainstream monster, a literary lark, a genre jerk, yet ineluctable. Call me TETAR: The Exception To All Rules.

Bodes ill for a career, such blurring.

‘Jack Ketchum’ has that problem. He writes superbly, but if you like one of his books, you may not automatically like another. They vary that much.

On the other hand, Dean Koontz’s books vary, too, yet he has something consistent running through all of them that brings readers back. A voice, a tone, or perhaps just an outlook or viewpoint. I think it’s optimism.

In theory, the use of different by-lines solves this problem. Different kinds of books can be sold under different names. Try telling an agent that, though. Or you could pull a Graham Greene and label some works Entertainments, thereby implying the others are Serious. You have to be a writer of status before you can do that with a straight face.

One friend suggested a label for my work: The Bitter Truth Will Set You Free. Much of it is about discovering and facing up to the cold, hard truth, after all. It’s an odd quality for fiction with so many imaginary and speculative aspects, but it rings true for the most part.

But who wants the truth? Who can handle it besides Jack Nicholson? Don’t most of us spend most of our free time avoiding the truth like roaches dodging light?

Escapism’s what sells. Whether it’s labeled sf, fantasy, horror, mystery, or romance, or even politics, Fortean, or fringe, it takes people away from their everyday concerns for awhile.

If most readers want escapism, fine, but this writer wants more. I want my work to matter.

Translation: I’m too fucking serious. I need to lighten up, but can't.

Is this a legacy from having begun in mainstream / literary fiction, early in both my reading and writing?

I was born on Dickens’s birthday and he is my favorite writer, so maybe I got it from his work, all that social conscience.

I once read an encomium from Norman Spinrad, I think it was, about PKD.  It said, "He wrote serious fiction in popular form; what higher praise can there be?" And that's been my ambition.  Well, it describes what comes out of me, anyway, I should say it that way.  It's not as if I sit and plan to be overbearingly serious.

To me, fiction matters, so I want mine to matter, too.  In order to matter it has to address truth, no matter how bitter, inconvenient, or uncomfortable.

Make sense?

And escapism evades truth. It ducks the heavy and goes wide around what’s prickly.

I am not referring to factuality. Facts are for nonfiction and the nerdiest hard sf.

Truth is more elusive. It lives, and hides, in stories. Only fiction can reveal truth in its fullest form, by touching upon the ineffable.

To matter, fiction must deal in truth.

I wrote an essay called Happy Endings: More Than A Cancer? addressing this very thing. It concluded that happy endings don't like the truth much. They prefer easy lies. They prefer delusions, propaganda, and nonsense to anything like real, pointed truths.

Next time you're confronted with a happy ending, ask yourself why you're not angry about being treated with such contempt? Are you a child who needs protected from anything harsh or upsetting? Must you be lied to in order to be seduced, enticed, or otherwise strung along?

But escapism relaxes us, you cry. It lets us rest from all the important stuff. It offers breathing space.

All true, which is why entertainment is the first principle of all good fiction. Beyond that, though, lies what matters. It is possible to entertain and tell the truth at the same time. In fact, writing that seeks to enlighten without entertaining does neither, as someone once wrote.

In jazz, the best don’t play trumpet, sax, piano, or drums, they play “the truth”.

You know it when you hear it. If you have to ask, you’ll never know.

William S. Burroughs said, “I write reports.” He was not kidding. He reported in from where ever his head took him, and did the best he could with difficult material.

What do I write? The truth as I see it. Come to me and I’ll tell you bluntly what I see.

If I’m not the type to lie about everything working out okay, what else can I do?

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