Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sans Support?

When Jeff VanderMeer told how he wrote a novel in a mere eight weeks, he explained that family support proved vital. "I can't tell you how easy Ann made this experience, since I rarely left the house and she did a lot of things I usually do for the household," he said on his blog. "I can't thank her enough for that, and I owe her big-time." Indeed, most professional authors name the backing of friends and loved ones as the bulwark that bolstered their success.

So what happens when an author doesn't have it?

Those close to me are, God bless them, awesome folks, kind and loving and gracious to a fault. Yet they rarely get my interest in genre fiction. In fact, it positively perplexes them. Futuristic speculation, fantastic dreaming, grim grotesquery -- at best they tolerate such things, at worst openly wonder why anyone would waste his time with them.

I don't think I'm alone in facing such skepticism. Fantasy, SF and horror hardly receive high praise from the culture at large. Even literary fiction seems to have slipped in perceived influence, moving from being the firer of men's hearts to residing in an academic backwater. Could it be that Plato was wrong, that we really don't need to exile the poets from the perfect republic because no one notices them much anyway?

Surely not. Narrative remains a powerful shaper of the mind, even if no one recognizes it as such. In his "Defence of Poetry," Shelley famously argued that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." Perhaps we simply need to convince others of the truth of it.

(Picture: CC 2005 by Clearly Ambiguous)


Jim Murdoch said...

The thing you have to contend with is the past. All you have to do is look at how a thing is marketed to see the damage that can be done. Case in point: Batman. The Batman was trundling along quite nicely until 1966 when ABC broadcast their new version of the character and from then on the comic spiralled into a horrible camp universe which it never truly recovered from until 1986 with Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight. Suddenly the character was brought back into perspective and he’s never looked back since even if Bat-Mite never completely went away.

And it’s the same with science fiction only worse. We have decades-worth of B-movies and pulp novels riddled with B.E.M.’s stacked up again a relatively small number of great science fiction novels and I’m sure that fantasy and horror suffer even more. It take time to change people’s opinions and Joe Public has a long memory.

It was like when the respected literary novelist William McIlvanney wrote Laidlaw, a detective novel! A lot of people shook their head at the time but he was onto something, something that a few years later Ian Rankin acknowledged. He also regarded himself as a serious novelist but he also recognised the potential of the detective novel because who else has an open door to every stratum of society?

Loren Eaton said...

Yes! I see the dynamic you're talking about, especially when I look at horror. Most everyone think of horror in terms of slasher flicks (or perhaps their nasty cousins the torture-porn movies), largely worthless ghettos in the greater genre neighborhood. But trying to convince others that horror as a whole has some worth is almost impossible when they think in terms of Freddie or Jason or the Hostel series.

AidanF said...

I've never thought of myself as enjoying the horror genre. However, after briefly talking with a woman at a con, I began to wonder if I'm just not realizing the wondrous extent of horror. I have enjoyed the Drabblecast & the little bits & pieces I've seen of HP Lovecraft. More recently, I realized that Let the Right One In, while vampire fiction is more properly horror (I don't think of vampire/werewolf/zombie fiction as horror) and I really enjoyed it. My avoidance of horror is I'm not interested in being scared, but I am interested in how people react in horror-like situations and what it brings out in the people.

Loren Eaton said...

Let the Right One In is a great example of what horror can do well. Much of the genre is junk, but a few pieces really illuminate human condition in amazing ways.