I had this feeling that literature from the ground up was dead. Maybe I’d just been scarred by the continuous proposal that I should write for free and receive no perks in return. Content fodder for clickbait is a lovely concept for the site owners only. While self-publishing via e-book seems an interesting effort, for the most part self-published e-books like…well…self-published e-books. Worse yet, is the spam requests from Twitter writers advertising the 14th entry in their dark fantasy series, now available on Kindle, with each tweet being a link to Amazon and their suspicious 54,000 followers.
Speaking of Twitter, this is where I learned the literary journal is alive and well. Better yet, the genre literary journal is alive and well. I had this romantic notion that the sci-fi anthology had died with Julie Schwartz, a bygone era of picking up a dollar issue at the newsstands with a ray-gun cover and ten feature length short stories of wonder on the inside.
It’s been a joy to discover magazines like Uncanny, Apex, and Lightspeed. Run by people who pay their writers, who are genuinely excited to publish new fiction, who at the very least offer perks and complimentary issues if they can’t pay their writers. I’ve even found a use for my Kindle again, having each monthly issue downloaded onto my device for the price of a coffee. I’m excited to write and read, it looks fun.
Not that I haven’t been excited to write and read my entire life, but literary academia means you can’t read anything without considering the critical context, and everything must be written with the rules of Robert McKee in mind. Have I started my story with a captivating line? How many acts do I have? Is this character serving only to push the plot forward, or have I characterised them well? Is their name symbolic? Sometimes it’s enough to make you not want to touch your keyboard.
In his 2012 interview with Kevin Smith, Scott Snyder recalls that he was weighed down by the expectation of a six figure book deal with Random House, which dragged on for years while they continually rejected his working manuscript. He ended up writing a short story in a superhero anthology “for fun”, and now he writes Batman. That’s not to say everyone who submits to an anthology ends up writing Batman, but sometimes throwing the rule book out the window and just writing to let off steam can lead to some interesting places.
I didn’t face my first rejection this week per se, but I did. The literary journal I submitted to sends a wonderful canvas e-mail stating that, if you hadn’t heard from them personally by now, you haven’t been successful. It takes the personal sting out a little, but it stings nonetheless. My first rejection was actually about six years ago, when I submitted to McSweeney’s of all places. I can’t even remember what I wrote, it was probably awful. I didn’t feel weighed down by expectation though, I just sent it. I need a bit of that spirit again.
Which has all led me to the question…what do I want to write? When looking through submission guidelines for different magazines, I’ve realised the possibilities are as limited as they are endless. Maybe I’ve been kidding myself into thinking I can write a short story about aliens and then one about two people on a boat, but I think for the sake of my own sanity, if nothing else, it’s time to pick a struggle. Margaret Atwood wrote a wonderful series of essays, In Other Worlds, about defying classification, but I’m not Margaret Atwood. And…if Margaret Atwood has to write a whole book about not wanting to be put into a box, what hope does anyone else have?
So, genre. As it’s called. That dirty little word that sounds like it doesn’t bear any merit, except the age of the geek is upon us and everyone wants to write the next genre franchise. More so than writing the next filthy S&M mommy porn, anyway. I am perfectly comfortable with genre. I proudly put Stephen King next to Toni Morrison. In fact, I argue that in certain instances Toni Morrison could easily be placed on the genre shelf, except the highbrow invent terms like “magical realism” and “symbolism” to make it all sound more acceptable. Like Beloved isn’t a ghost story, and Shakespeare doesn’t write about fairies and witches.
As a writer, I’m excited by ideas more than I am about crafting a beautiful paragraph. I believe if you can write something in five words instead of twenty-five you should (Tolkien makes me want to cry). That’s not to say everything should be easy, or practical. I’m certainly not proposing everything should be a James Patterson novel. To misquote Neil Gaiman, art should also be good.
I was watching an episode of Supergirl the other day, the one where she meets The Flash, who is from an alternate universe. There’s a throwaway joke about there being a Mariah Carey on both their versions of Earth. That got me thinking parallel worlds, doppelgangers, if each world has a double or not. It almost led to a story, it’s still in my head somewhere, waiting to be formed into something. That’s what excites me, that’s what I want to write about.
So from here, I continue to submit, to write, to think, to plan, to dream of parallel Earths, and to try and remember to have some fun.