Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

The shield of genre

At Christmas Eve dinner chez tillyjane and AH, their friend G was talking about a book of essays about writers who had reached deep into themselves and exposed their core. Her exemplar was Gerard Manley Hopkins and his "Terrible Sonnets."

I talked a little bit about the genre critique concept of "stepping into the blade", but one of the things which occurred to me is that genre writing is rarely about cutting to the core of the writer. My two most difficult stories are "Changing the Game" and "Chewing Up the Innocent." "Changing the Game" will be in The River Knows Its Own (Wheatland Press, February, 2007), while I've only had the nerve to send "Chewing Up the Innocent" out twice -- it was rejected both times. Both of those stories are non-genre, and both are more or less directly about my decision to leave Mother of the Child, and by extension, the_child, back in the spring of 2004. To this day I really can't look at them.

But I've never reached so close to my own heart in explicitly genre work. Not to say that I haven't got deep a few times, maybe even more than a few, but outright confessional writing, or blood-letting, hasn't generally been on my menu.

I can't figure out if this is a failing on my part or a failing on the part of sf/f itself. Our conventions, our tropes, our classic inferences and nods, provide a sort of shield which protects both the reader and the writer from having to step all the way into the blade and swallow it whole. Genre swaddles its stories in an insulating layer.

I'm perfectly mindful of the fact that many stories, even most stories, aren't and shouldn't be confessional plumbings of the deepdark within the writer's soul. I'm not arguing against our layer of genre-ness. But the thought does make me wonder if there are sf/f stories which would be clearly and undeniable genre even when stripped of all those tropes and layers and furniture.

The answer to that must be "yes", but as I sit here I'm having trouble calling any novels or short stories to mind where that's true. The converse is certainly the case -- Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life" could not be anything but a genre story. It would be meaningless, even nonsensical, without the genre layer. And there are certainly genre stories, some very good ones, which could be stripped of their layer and still function.

Still, even in the lightest of humorous fantasies and silly excursions, there must be a kernel of meaning, of passion, a drop of blood pearling at the edge of the kiss exchanged between writer and reader, between story and subconscious.

Where do you fall? Examples, counterexamples?
Tags: process, writing
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