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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

If I was with my love, I'd live forever

I broke these posts up because they were a little too erratic to link into one big post.

From my comment on ursalav's call for more fabulousity in fantasy, and truepenny's comments thereupon:

I come at it from a different angle. I adore that kind of mad fantasist stuff, but I can't write it.

I'm a synthesist. My brain is very good at looking at standard fantasy or science fiction tropes and going "Well, here's the logical implications of that that haven't been explored--" so that's what I write.

But I love me some bug-headed women. Just can't write 'em, because when I do, I find myself looking at what I'm writing and going "Bug-headed women? I don't believe this shit." I would love to do the verbal backflips and Weird Idea Generation that M. John Harrison does, or Alfred Bester did, or--good lord--R.A. Lafferty. I love that stuff. Lafferty! Yeah! That's the STUFF!

It's not what I write.

When I try it, it comes out contrived at best, and nonsensical at worst. We can only write the stories we get.

Now, I think it's incumbent on us to push the boundaries of those stories, to force them as far as we can. I think the craft of good writing--this came up in a conversation with arcaedia the other day--demands we try to do everything to the best of our ability. This means maintaining artistic integrity, to me, while also striving for accessibility. (And by accessibility, I don't mean dumbing things down. I mean making them as transparent as possible, *within the limits of maintaining artistic integrity.*)

Because I think accessibility is an artistic value, too. (Which is not to say that stick figures or throwing words at a wall are art, if you know what I mean, but there's something to be said for work that's utterly pellucid on the surface, and underneath, layered and craft-ful and possessed of vision.)

Artistic integrity means, to me, not taking the easy way out. It means working your ass off to do it all well. And failing. Of course. And being better at some bits than others. But pushing your limits, every time.


It's very much horses for courses with me. I don't think that what I write is all that accessible. I do work at accessibility, but if it's a choice between that and a difficult idea, then I have to stick with the latter and the reader will just have to put the work in if they so choose. The two aren't mutually incompatible, BTW - I'm here referring to my own limitations rather than some objective criterion.

With some writers, I love their accessibility. With others, I love the impenetrability and the difficulty involved in reading their work. I wouldn't want to choose one over the other - I agree with you, I think accessibility is an artistic value. And there's the issue of why one reads as well as why one writes. I am reasonably confident that few people read my stuff for comfort reading. But I comfort read all the time myself. As I say, horses for courses....
Well, I think inaccessible ideas can be handled in a work that's still accessible. That's the layering thing I'm talking about.

But yeah, I love stuff that's mad and playful just for playful's sake--Bester, who I just mentioned, and Kelly Link, and yanno. That.

This is part of the reason I waffle over attending another writer's convention (other than the whole "sit down at a table of strangers and try not to look anti-social") -- if the convention isn't for genre, it does engender a certain feeling of inadequacy in me. Yegawdz. One of the editors I met in Ohio explained that genre (specifically sf/f) doesn't really care much about character development; it's All About The Action. I feel awkward for having a story that's 90% about character development, and 10% Little Bit of Action -- but it's not nearly as graciously worded or poetic as the literary fiction (or magical realism) I've read.

Accessibility is a huge part of a good story. I have read stuff that was quite intriguing -- including a number of probably drug-influenced or -inspired stories from the 60s and 70s -- but upon finishing I could only say, "that was cool, even though I have no frickin' clue w-t-f it was about." Who knows what possessed me to keep with it, but those works certainly weren't accessible.

We must push our limits, but all the industry folks I've asked seem to have the impression that this doesn't necessarily mean readers will appreciate or support those pushed limits. Sf/f readers want the story to be All About The Action, or to be Utterly Fantastical, or to Load Up The Romance a la modern girl in medieval times, or whatever's the author's take on the romanticized medieval world doing double-time as a short-cut for worldbuilding. The industry folks seemed a bit dubious that readers would be interested in a story of a person finding himself, with a bit of fantasy-in-the-world thrown in to whack the scales.

Gyah. Maybe I'll write more at length on my own journal, once I've pondered.
In a world where Patricia McKillip, Samuel Delany, and John Crowley are in print, I think there's room for beautiful, literary, innovative SFF.

And if you're literary enough, you're Anthony Burgess.

The breadth of what's being published in genre today is tremendous. I don't think accessibility and beauty are mutually exclusive either. I mean, I try for both--if I were writing to my ideal, I'd be writing the best-characterized, best-written, most pulse-pounding, most philosophically cogent, and funniest books around.

Of course, that's impossible. So we play to our strengths, and try to shore up our weaknesses. I really believe that if a book is good enough, it will sell, eventually, whether it suits the market or not. It may wind up being a critical success rather than a commercial success, and it may not earn the writer a tenth of what it's worth.

As ccfinlay likes to say, "There's always room for excellence."
I think it depends on the publisher in question. I always found Bantam very willing to take the weird, wet 'n' wild on board, and my other US publisher, Night Shade (mainly sorta horror, and smaller press) are positively encouraging of bug-headed women etc, which is just as well given what they'll be publishing of mine (although, curiously, that trilogy is probably more accessible than some of the other novels).

I began to look at this issue more closely when a review in Publisher's Weekly said: "Williams has finally gone too far." I was ever so pleased and still am, but it probably hasn't done me a whole lot of good commercially.

In the UK, Macmillan are seriously stretching the envelope with books like Hal Duncan's VELLUM and Neal Asher's work, not to mention some of Mr VanderMeer's. I love the stuff they do and I love working with them. But who knows whether it'll pay dividends in the long run?
Artistic integrity means, to me, not taking the easy way out. It means working your ass off to do it all well. And failing. Of course. And being better at some bits than others. But pushing your limits, every time.


Oh yes.

And did I mention: Yes!!
I have similar feelings about Fantasy. I have a half-written book (hoping to get back to next year) with a working title of "A Science Fiction Fantasy". I started by wondering how I would actually believe in the fantasy I was writing. So I had to approach from a science fiction angle.
Artistic integrity means, to me, not taking the easy way out. It means working your ass off to do it all well. And failing. Of course. And being better at some bits than others. But pushing your limits, every time.

This is just what I needed to hear this morning. Thank you so much. *hugs*
Hee. You're welcome!
:: And by accessibility, I don't mean dumbing things down. I mean making them as transparent as possible, *within the limits of maintaining artistic integrity.* ::

Accessibility and transparency. Speaking as someone who dabbles in interface design, curriculum design, and human factors issues, let me say: hallelujah. Accessibility is not about making things stupid, it's about making things so subtle, transparent, and elegant that pushing the wrong button never even occurs to the user. That's hard.

And yeah, writing a story feels a lot like designing a user-interface. Guiding attention, highlighting some options and camoflaging others, making sure that all the information (direct or implied) is consistent.

I'm not sure that I agree with you that artistic integrity and transparency/accessibility are in conflict with other, but that may be a difference in how we understand the terms. In my mind, a good interface is invisible, which means making it appear to be transparent. Usually that requires some artifice -- hiding some things conditionally and hiding other things all the time. And it's the conditionally hidden bits inside of a "transparent" structure that are so much fun.
I don't think I said that they're in conflict with each other. They're on different axes--you can sell out completely and stil be incomprehensible--but balancing one against the other sometimes requires sacrifices in both.

Much as sometiems you have to sacrifice a bit of character for plot--or vice versa. *g* Trade offs. Balancing them is where the craft comes in.

I like your metaphor, by the way. I generally think the principles that apply to one thing also apply to most others.