February 13th, 2008


[links] Link salad hump day edition

karindira with a thoughtful meditation on the homeless who congregate outside her office

Steve York rocks the house asking what science fiction really is

What purpose does short fiction serve? — The SF Signal mind meld is at it again. My name comes up a couple of times.

American National Unimotorcyclists Society — Yes, A.N.U.S.

Do All Companies Have to be Evil? — Enron, Google and the evolutionary psychology of corporate environments. Scientific American with a loaded question.

Mexican Dino May Have Made Music — Must... not... comment...

Why the Right is behind online
Erick Erickson, editor of the popular conservative megablog RedState, conceded that progressives currently enjoy an advantage over conservatives online-though he attributed it to an asymmetry in free time, since conservatives "have families because we don't abort our kids, and we have jobs because we believe in capitalism."
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahah. It's so cute, what conservatives think about the rest of the world. Too bad about that whole reality thing.

Making Light on sympathy for the Clintons — A very thoughtful statement about Hillary and Bill.

Time in saddle: 18 minutes at varying speeds (working my way back to 30 minutes due to knees being NSF last week)
Last night's weigh-out: 270.6
This morning's weigh-in: 269.6
Currently reading: The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image, by Leonard Shlain Powell's | Amazon ]

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[process] Mainstream and genre

will_couvillier asked in comments:
A Mainstream fiction story as compared to a SpecFic. Is there a real difference in methodology other than the setting?

For some reason I've had the impression that a mainstream work is essentially a snapshot of a life situation.

Some thoughts on that...

Remember that genre is really a marketing artefact. That being said, to my view the biggest difference between mainstream and specfic is the contrast between First World and Second World assumptions.

A mainstream story doesn't have to define anything outside the character and conflict embedded in the story. Which is not to say mainstream stories don't range far more widely, just that their genre doesn't inherently bear that requirement. These stories live in the world that the reader already understands, or at least a version of it.

A genre story has to define everything, at least by implication. (Not on the page, though!) These stories live in a world where the reader is consciously expecting novelty, and generally is watching for the appearance of that novelty.

To go back to a very simplified example I've used before, when John Updike says "Rabbit is rich," any modern American reader knows that he means someone named Rabbit is wealthy, either in money or in some metaphorical manner.

When a genre writer says "Rabbit is rich," "Rabbit" could be a person, an animal, a spaceship, a civilization, food, or something else entirely; "rich" could be wealth, a state of humorousness, fuel/air mixture, fattiness of the sauce, and so on.

Mainstream fiction does often use genre tropes — The Time Traveler's Wife and The Lovely Bones spring immediatey to mind as recent, highly successful mainstream works which are undeniable embedded in the fabric of genre. But when mainstream uses those genre tropes, their are introduced as exceptions to the assumed norm within the narrative. They're not present to satisfy the novelty-seeking expectations of a genre reader, they're present to provide a lateral illumination to the dramat expectations of a mainstream reader. This is how Magic Realism works, for example -- introducing the miraculous into a set of First World expectations and experiences.

Genre fiction uses its own tropes as the default. An important aspect of the story experience for the reader is how explicitly those tropes are revealed or explored. It doesn't make sense to speak of introducing mainstream tropes to genre, because the First World is already embedded in the Second World. The Second World exists as a response to the First World, after all.

This argument becomes slippery when you have genre set in the First World — hence the blurry boundary between urban fantasy and paranormal romance. "Urban fantasy" is a genre label which implies Second World story characteristics through the use of the term "fantasy", while "paranormal romance" labels a First World story with unusual exceptions. Different set of reader expectations.


[process] Obligatory writing and finance post

There's been a lot posting around the intarwebs the last few days about the financial life of the writer, day jobs, and freelancing. [ETA: Plus arcaedia on first book advances.] Career stuff are good.

Reading the posts, I had an interesting insight. I've got it made, right now.

I have commented from time to time that I wish my life were organized such that I could be a full-time fiction writer. That's not happening, and probably never will no matter how well my books sell, barring a profound reform in the way American healthcare delivery is funded. I must have non-qualifying group health insurance.

But after reading comments such as ellameena saying, "I'm always kicking my fiction to the curb in order to get nonfiction work done" I've realized the gift my solid white collar job gives me.

I can write whatever I want, whenever I want. The constraints on my writing are the ones I choose — signing a book contract means accepting a deadline. Even if I were a full-time writer, I wouldn't write that much more than I do now. My time would be spent on marketing, career work, family time and hobbies. These are things I want very badly to do, but they aren't more writing.

But when I do write, I'm not compelled to write anything in particular. I'm not working for the money — my mortgage gets paid otherwise. In fact, I'm not working at all. I'm doing what I want, and doing what I love.

In that sense, the economics of being a writer are irrelevant to me. Sometimes things are ok they way they are.