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Defining genres

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  • Defining genres

    In recent monhs I've found myself trying to define my own work, mainly because of questions asked at readings or in interviews. I chose to write mainly fantasy because it seemed to me to be a more flexible form than sf, yet my instincts are in many ways those of an sf writer -- tendency to engage with social issues and so on. Books like Winds of Limbo and The Sundered Worlds simply weren't flexible forms enough for me to develop the kind of ideas I wanted to write about. One response was to begin the Jerry Cornelius series. It was the literalism of most sf of my day which put me off the form, in the end. Today the form can encompass far more than seemed possible in the early 1960s. These days I'm inclined to think of my books as 'science fantasy' since even the most recent Elric books tend to try to examine ideas in a way which most regular fantasy doesn't. I suspect that this particular kind of sensibility informed much of the work of, say, Zelazny or Wolfe, too. Both those writers started off as unconventional sf writers whose main body of work became what most call 'fantasy'. Fritz Leiber also springs to mind. Also Ballard, of course. It's probably no coincidence that so many of the 'new wave' writers appeared more regularly in Science Fantasy and Fantastic Science Fiction in the UK and US. I still have a lot of trouble with 'hard' sf and space stories in general. The modern sf I liked best was highly romantic, like Bester's Stars My Destination, or the kind of social satire identified with Pohl and Kornbluth and others. I found it very hard to get on with Astounding, for instance, the more so when it became Analog. Indeed, the more seriously sf took itself, the harder going it was for me. Also I preferred the lyricism of fantasy fiction, whereas most sf, even the best, tended to be written in rather flat prose (Brackett, Bradbury, Bester and Ballard were the exceptions rather than the rule). Maybe that's why I enjoy the heightened, highly indiividualistic prose of Peake, as opposed to what I see as the rather flat, cosey English of Inklings. Might also be why I prefer the gritty muscular theological examinations of Charles Williams over the work of his fellow drinkers at the Lamb and Flag...

    Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
    The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
    Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


    Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
    The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
    Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses


  • #2
    Way back in high school, everyone was reading LOTR, but it bored me. A long girl suggested I read the Elric books, but I brushed it aside for several years. Then I came upon WAR HOUND AND THE WORLD'S PAIN, and it blew me away. Needless to say, I began my Moorcock collection thereafter (and luckily at the time, ACE was still releasing them, with the Gould covers, for the most part). I've been hooked ever since.

    Mike -- as to your post, blending genres as you do is what I like most about your writing. I do prefer the more lyrical (or melodramatic) "fantasy" tales over the more experiemental SF pieces you've done, however. I guess it's my addiction to pulp writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard that tainted me at an early age (not to mention too many comic books). Or perhaps I enjoy the tragic endings more :)

    Best,

    Jeff Stadt

    Comment


    • #3
      Although Tolkien and Lewis weren't snobs about the fiction they read (see Tolkien's remarks at Fantastic Metropolis) many of their readers seemed to distinguish between their work and that of, say, Leiber and other outstandingly good American fantasts. For me, the American school was always a stronger influence, so we have that in common!

      Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
      The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
      Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


      Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
      The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
      Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

      Comment


      • #4
        Fritz Leiber is still utterly fantastic and highly readable today. Unfortunately, most of the best and classic fantasy has trouble selling (with the exception of LOTR and Narnia). Ibooks recently reprinted Leiber's Swords books, and they didn't budge, were stripped and sent back under the "not selling" catagory. Not certain how well the White Wolf editions went, but they lasted a bit longer. The newly repackaged Howard books are doing better; I've hand sold quite a few copies of Conan (a recognized brand name), and the Solomon Kane editions. And it's hard selling even the last few Elric novels, but recommending them to the vast majority of Brooks, Jordan, Salvatore, etc. fans.

        Unfortunately most folks seem to play it "safe" with the current trendy writers, and see the classics as "old school." One would think that if you are a fantasy fan, you'd want to check out the classics -- but I guess it's too much like required school reading for the twenty-five and younger set.

        But I have peculiar tastes, I suppose.

        As for Brits VS Yanks when it comes to classic writers, I've never given it much thought. I suupose it can be seen in the writer's style, but then again Lovecraft always appeared to be British, and James Triptree, JR always appeared to be a man, so what do I know :)

        by common law,

        Jeff

        Comment


        • #5
          Cabell aside, there's a tendency to see UK fantasy as somehow a bit posher.
          Fantasy Masterworks discovered what you say -- apart from the Howard titles, pretty much all their pre-WW2 titles did badly, including Eddison, Smith and so on. My stuff sells okay, they say, but then I've always tended to have a higher profile in the UK, where they also publish all my non-fantasy/sf and the omnibuses have been in mass market editions. I'm lucky in keeping a 'core' readership, so stuff tends to stay in print, even in the US (the reason for holding the books back at the moment is my agent's decision) but a lot of brilliant writers just don't seem to get the audience they deserve. Probably a common enough problem across the board, where many of my own favourite non-fantasy writers are almost never reprinted any longer, in spite of my own efforts to get them back into print.
          That said, Leiber and Vance should be kept in print no matter what, in my view.

          Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
          The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
          Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


          Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
          The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
          Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Michael Moorcock
            the reason for holding the books back at the moment is my agent's decision
            put this person on the phone with me, i'll straighten them out in no time! 8)

            It's my impression that the book store chains are driving what's out there. As you said, the brilliant writers are being overlooked and it's our loss. Makes it hard as a reader to find something really great in a pile of cookie cutters.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Poetgrrl
              It's my impression that the book store chains are driving what's out there. As you said, the brilliant writers are being overlooked and it's our loss. Makes it hard as a reader to find something really great in a pile of cookie cutters.
              You're absolutely right, which is why I support independent bookstores when I can. They are much more likely to give you more choices than the chains, who are terribly driven by the big publishing houses. For instance, you'll never see a book from Nightshade or MonkeyBrains at Barnes and Noble, so you may never get exposed to some authors who depend on smaller companies to publish their work. The process turns into a viscious cycle, of course. Some writers can't find an audience because they are ignored by big publishers, so they are in turn ignored by big retail chains who could expose them to a wide audience.

              We've had this conversation on the board a few times before, so I apologize for the interruption. I had an opportunity to step on my soapbox...

              Comment


              • #8
                Increasingly POD companies are keeping books in print others don't.
                However, most readers aren't psychologically prepared to 'browse' the net in the same way we like to browse bookstores. That said, with a little effort, it's possible to find a lot of stuff electronically which one can't find easily by any other method. We are still in transition, I suspect, in this particular part of our economy. Maybe what we'll get eventually are POD browsing stores -- where we can see a physical example of the book and order it to be delivered.
                Still doesn't deal with that instant gratification one sometimes wants when we go to a bookstore. But it's better than coming away disappointed.
                One problem is that many of the older books still in copyright have not transferred to POD editions because the owners of the copyright don't altogether know what it's all about, or the estates are wary of the technology or whatever. House of Stratus does all Aldiss's books and all Angus Wilson's, for instance, so fans can get what they lack. The only problem there is that nobody impulse buys and you don't get attracted to an unfamiliar writer the way you can in a library or bookstore. Public libraries, to my knowledge, have yet to combine their service with a POD
                service, which might help them survive as well as helping the reader.
                I suspect the dynamics of the book trade will change remarkably in the next few years.

                Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
                The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
                Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


                Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
                The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
                Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

                Comment


                • #9
                  Mr. Moorcock's comments about print-on-demand publishers sounds right on target.

                  As the large book publishers have become increasingly focused on the bottom-line,
                  small circulation books have become less and less available in the U.S. It used to be
                  that an s-f book that sold 50,000 copies was considered very successful here.
                  Now, it's an abysmal failure in financial terms, and the large publishers have
                  1) tended to let such books lapse into out-of-print status and 2) been disinclined
                  to publish books that don't have the possibility of achieving large sales.

                  The problem is that quality s-f and fantasy are to some degree an acquired taste
                  and a niche market. The projected sales figures for, say, a reissue of a book like
                  E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros aren't too high; the case is similar for
                  a lot of what we think of "classic" s-f from the '40s - '70s. (This problem isn't
                  limited to s-f. Marginal "classic" authors, especially ones that require translation,
                  suffer a similar status.) Thirty-five years ago and more, publishers periodically would come
                  out with an edition of a quality older book of limited appeal. They'd stockpile the
                  unsold print-run in warehouses and bookstores would keep the books on the
                  shelves for years until they finally sold out.

                  A landmark court ruling in the '70s changed the inventory tax rules so that publishers
                  and bookstores had a hard time justifying this behavior; it's a financial burden when
                  you need to pay taxes on unsold book inventories. Bookstores and publishers now
                  seem less interested in selling books and more in producing and moving "commodity."
                  The quality of what's available has gone down, as well as the breadth. This is a case
                  where I think the U.S. tax laws could use some adjustment. ;) Unfortunately, I suspect
                  we've gone too far down the road to return, even if the laws changed. This has
                  contributed to the demise of the mid-list, producing a weird sort of literary amnesia
                  here. Alas.

                  Technological advances that permit print-on-demand have shown signs of addressing
                  this problem to some degree. The catalogue of books that a publisher possesses
                  is now just a list of books that these small companies are able to print copies of when
                  an order comes in. A lot of good older books have come back into "availability"
                  (rather than "print") because of this. There are signs that these small publishers
                  are branching out to produce new writers' books. For s-f and fantasy not only
                  to stay alive but to thrive, this is absolutely necessary.

                  So I'm hopeful about the future of this situation. Time will tell. Let's hope
                  the U.S. tax code isn't changed to consider the catalogue of these POD people
                  taxable like inventory. I jest -- I hope. ;)

                  LSN

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    POD is a curse and a blessing, Mike.

                    As you point out, many authors find that if the mainstream (or even some of the indies like Nightshade or Wildside) won't keep their books in print, they can do it themselves for "little cost," and make the profit directly.

                    One of the downsides of POD are the chain bookstores, which unfortunately, outsell and dominate the market. I work for one, and they won't carry POD titles, simply because there is no profit to them for the company, and that the books are not returnable. The internet stores, like Amazon.com, will carry them without hassle (of course Amazon also allows used books to be sold through their site). Since most corporate, mid-size companies like B Dalton and Waldenbooks limit their on-hand stocks to the better selling titles, most customers chose to visit the online stores instead of in-house special orders, so the market is there. And a writer/publisher I know is making a living off his POD company and self-authored titles mainly through Amazon (and good publicity).

                    As a whole, POD is a godsend to small name writers (myself included), and smaller press companies. In fact, many African American authors getting huge mainstream exposure these days started out of Vanity and POD operations. Ellora's Cave, an erotic/romance POD/E-book publisher is even now breaching the bookstore market after dominating the E-book internet market. So the Internet markets ARE getting more and more attention, due mainly to the "safe" practices of the chain bookstores and the mainstream publishers.

                    The largest downside to POD, is that anyone can self-publish a book for a fraction of the cost it used to be. Once again, a blessing and a curse. The Curse aspect is when a casual customer looking for something new or different will then have to browse thousands of titles from new, un-edited writers. I have sampled many POD type books, and have found some really bad writing. The best advice would be to stick with established POD or Ebook publishers, who actually strive to present the best the writer has. This will save one time and money.

                    As for classic writers, Bison Frontiers of Imagination has an excellent line of public domain SF/F books available through their website and most online bookstores (and placed in larger corporate stores). Some of the small press editions can get a little pricey (like Nightshade), but SFBC has a great collection of great Classic authors, such as Leiber's Grey Mouser series, Poul Anderson's fantasy, and Nightshade's editions of the Kane books by Wagner, to name a few.

                    So, as always, let the buyer beware when it comes to POD. Stick with the classics, or try out the established Ebook places that offer POD editions on their better selling titles for fresh authors.

                    My "first" novel will be released buy a small press sometime in the future, and the corporate bookstore where I've worked for over 5 years WON'T set up a book signing for me because it's POD. I'll have to go to the local independent store for that. Gratitude, eh?

                    In the trenches,

                    Jeff

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Maybe someone should package up Lieber's Lankhmar stories with a cover that has a big gold ring on it and some blurb to the effect of "epic fantasy in the tradition of Tolkien's LOTR...". Seems to work for Stephen R Donaldson (okay, he's the best of the Tolkienites out there, but he is still a Tolkienite when you get down to it).

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Jeff,

                        Congratulations on the novel. Your comments about the quality of original POD books
                        raise some questions about the industry that I've been wondering about.

                        The best book publishers, historically speaking, have had top-notch editors, too.
                        These editors actually spent a lot of time and effort working with writers to
                        help them make their books better. I'm not talking about any of the horror stories
                        one hears at times about heavyhanded editorial book-butchering that seemed oblivious
                        of the author's intentions. Very experienced writers often seem to know what they're
                        doing perfectly, and don't need much more than copy editing. But beginning writers
                        sometimes benefit enormously from give-and-take with a good editor in the prepartion
                        of a book for publishing.

                        Since POD publishers are run on a shoestring, and often don't exert much (if any)
                        editorial control, to what extent do young writers benefit from the association,
                        other than by having their books published. My suspicions from the mechanics of
                        the scenario are that the answer is "not much." Your own experience might provide
                        us some insight.

                        I speak as an interested reader who wants to see more good books and less
                        commodity published.

                        LSN

                        P.S. I loathe large book chains, for many of the reasons you outlined.

                        Originally posted by Jeffrey Stadt
                        ...
                        The largest downside to POD, is that anyone can self-publish a book for a fraction of the cost it used to be. Once again, a blessing and a curse. The Curse aspect is when a casual customer looking for something new or different will then have to browse thousands of titles from new, un-edited writers. I have sampled many POD type books, and have found some really bad writing. The best advice would be to stick with established POD or Ebook publishers, who actually strive to present the best the writer has. This will save one time and money.

                        ...

                        My "first" novel will be released buy a small press sometime in the future, and the corporate bookstore where I've worked for over 5 years WON'T set up a book signing for me because it's POD. I'll have to go to the local independent store for that. Gratitude, eh?

                        In the trenches,

                        Jeff

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          The comments of Jeff and Mr. Moorcock anent Tolkien/Lewis versus people like Fritz Leiber
                          raises an interesting idea. Back in the '60s and even early '70s, there wasn't that much
                          fantasy available -- the Tolkien-inspired genrification of the form was just beginning.

                          When there aren't many books available, the best books tend to stand out. Leiber was
                          widely recognized at the time by a large number of discerning readers as a master within
                          the confines of the s-f, fantasy, and modern horror genres. The Fahfrd and Grey Mouser
                          books were readily available in garishly-covered Ace editions, and most of his other books
                          were easy enough to get from Ballantine and Ace. He didn't make much money from the
                          books, but that was the hard economic reality of writing within these confines.

                          Nowadays, it's difficult to get a wide selection of books by Leiber or writers of near-comparable
                          stature without searching the POD people. These books don't usually show up in the book
                          chains, either, so young readers don't even know about them, much less come into
                          contact with them.

                          I've got a pretty extensive collection of Leiber's work, having been a teen in the '60s
                          and early '70s. I've got other writers from the same period in abundance. As my daughter
                          has reached the teen years, I've taken to handing her these books; I read some of them
                          to her aloud when she was smaller. Her interest and enthusiasm have been gratifying.
                          It's funny to hear her tell her friends about a book, then caution them that they'll need
                          to check second-hand bookstores to find copies. It's sad but true. The positive thing
                          is that she and her friends are actively seeking out excellent writers who've been
                          unfairly marginalized by the publishing industry's obsession with moving Tolkien-derived
                          commodity.

                          My vague, arm-waving point is that if there are those of us who think the work of
                          writers like Leiber or Blish or Vance is unjustly neglected, there are things we
                          can do about it in a small way. If you have kids, don't forget what opened your
                          eyes and made you excited when you were that age.

                          (Falls backwards off soapbox. ;))

                          LSN

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by L_Stearns_Newburg
                            Jeff,

                            Congratulations on the novel. Your comments about the quality of original POD books raise some questions about the industry that I've been wondering about.
                            The best book publishers, historically speaking, have had top-notch editors, too. These editors actually spent a lot of time and effort working with writers to help them make their books better. I'm not talking about any of the horror stories one hears at times about heavyhanded editorial book-butchering that seemed oblivious
                            of the author's intentions. Very experienced writers often seem to know what they're doing perfectly, and don't need much more than copy editing. But beginning writers sometimes benefit enormously from give-and-take with a good editor in the prepartion of a book for publishing.

                            Since POD publishers are run on a shoestring, and often don't exert much (if any) editorial control, to what extent do young writers benefit from the association, other than by having their books published. My suspicions from the mechanics of the scenario are that the answer is "not much." Your own experience might provide us some insight.

                            I speak as an interested reader who wants to see more good books and lesscommodity published.

                            LSN
                            As I mentioned in my post, stick with the more established names of actual publishers, and not vanity presses. I'm loathe to name names, but try to beware of places that start with a capital "I" or "Al.." If you visit a POD type internet store, you can click on links for "writer's Info" or submission guidelines, and most of the time you can tell an actual publisher from a mere Vanity press. Basically, if they'll publish your book, even make a snazzy cover for it for cost, and encourage you to send it in without regards to "acceptance" or "rejection" then stay away and find a company that cares. Many Ebook/POD places are making it known, right up front, that they have a staff of editors to select what they wish to have under their company name, and what they don't. And they'll edit it, with approval by the writer, before taking it to press.

                            Some good places to start for Ebook/POD are DoubleDragon Press and Cyber-Pulp.com, Hard Shell Word Factory and Eraserhead Press (bizarre SF/F/H), or Raw Dog Screaming Press (horror). I've checked them out, and my book is coming out from Eraserhead Press, and I've a short story at Raw Dog Screaming's e-zine site, and I've dealt with all of these places.

                            Unfortunately, even major publishers lack editing experience, and the editor's sole job is to find new material.... and that's about it. They normally won't "waste time" if something needs a major revision, leaving that up to the author and agent; instead they cull the POD and Ebook sites for up and coming authors. EREGON was a self-published book before mystery author Carl Hiassen's son discovered one the author had placed in a local store, and Hiassen brought it to his agent/publisher. And the success of the Divinci Code has prompted editors into recalling (probably) previously rejected manuscripts that have a similar flavor to churn out to feed the Trend.

                            The more legit Ebook/POD online stores give you a taste with virtual dustjackets, excerpts, and Encourage reviews (author submitting work for reviews), which help make the process a bit more foolproof.

                            I've purchased some (mostly non-fiction) POD books, and found the writing terrible, let alone the typos, etc. Some fiction as well. Depends how much of a niche market you'd like to crawl into ;)

                            I've been in the small press speculative fiction field for over 10 years, and have found, recently, more hope in the accessibilty the Internet has provided, and what POD can do to help small press zines and books and authors reach a global audience, with about as much money and time it used to take to print it at home. Some times money does extinguish passion, and sometimes passion makes up where money falls off.

                            The (non-formulatic) writers of tomorrow ARE out there. Sometimes you just have to hunt to find that gem.

                            I hope this helps.

                            Jeff

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I'll offer this example, too, re. House of Stratus. A major publisher I know wanted to publish six titles by an established 'classic' writer, an outstanding name in the sf world. But House of Stratus got to him first and said 'give us all your work' and we guarantee to keep it in print. By 'keeping it in print' they meant they would POD it and list it on their home site and through Amazon etc. But, of course, they couldn't do what the regular publisher was going to do, which was to put the book into as many shops as possible and thus offer a showcase of the authors considerable talent. Now that author has virtually no books in the shops and is entirely dependent on people who are willing to check out the POD publisher on the net -- those people largely being people who already know his work. Another friend of mine, a major UK literary novelist, went out of print for a little while after he'd died. HoS came along and offered his heirs to put all his books in print. Again, an interested regular publisher can't buy his books. I would say that some POD publisshers misrepresent themselves to authors (or their heirs) and work against the author's best interests. My old maxim used to be 'a book isn't published until it's remaindered' -- based on the fact that many of the books which have become my favourites (Peake, for instance) were originally remaindered. I bought them cheap and bought the rest of Peake thereafter. I can think of several other fine writers who take a while to find their public. Sometimes remaindering, which offers good quality books at a price almost any reader can afford (and can therefore take a risk on buying), is the best way through to a public. With POD, of course, there aren't such things as remainders. My favourite bookstore chain is still Half-Price Books here in the US. Remainders and second hand books. Naturally, I never leave there empty-handed.

                              Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
                              The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
                              Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


                              Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
                              The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
                              Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

                              Comment

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