Tag Archives: genres

Writing: Demographics of Tesseracts 17 Part III

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17 will be out in October, with tales from Canadian writers that spans all times and places.

I’m sorry that I’ve been so busy that I’ve had little time to write. In about a month I’ll be on my way to Europe and before that, Tesseracts 17 will be released. We’ll be doing a promo interview session on Bitten by Books so stay tuned for more information there. Plus, a reading is scheduled at Bakka Books in Toronto on Oct. 19 and David Jon Fuller, one of our authors will be reading at the Chi Reading Series in Winnipeg on Oct. 9.

Now, I’ve spent a great deal of time working out the demographics of Tesseracts 17, mostly because I was curious. Should I edit another anthology I would track from the beginning. Here I’ve tried to map the genres of the submissions. This is the most subjective list of all. One, I didn’t track all of the stories  so I may not remember what the story is about from the title and the notes. On top of that, every reader and writer will see a story differently. Is a zombie story a horror story, a science fiction story or fantasy? In fact, it can be any of those and sometimes more than one. And I don’t remember all of the stories that well, so the table has an added inaccuracy.

I found as I was starting to list the stories that I couldn’t just say “fantasy.” That’s far too broad a genre umbrella, so I started to list what type of fantasy.  Some of these are tropes more than genres. Was it fairies or mind control or shape shifting?  What about the steampunk wendigo story? Fantasy and SF or just fantasy? And yes there were a few themes that showed up more than once. While the wendigo stories could fit under the subgenre of mythic creatures, they are a specific type of beast, like zombies and vampires, and because there was more than one, they deserved their own heading. Interesting to note, of the three specifically Canadian mythic beasties (wendigo, sasquatch, ogopogo–and there may be more I don’t know about. Maybe Steve can fill in others from the opposite coast) only wendigo appeared in the submissions. ,You, dear reader, can add up the numbers yourself, because yes, I’ve probably spent over a dozen hours on all of the demographics.

This table could have been bigger or smaller. For instance, tales involving gods got shoved under mythic beings/other creatures. I didn’t single out the three tales that involved wine though you’ll read Claude Lalumiere’s tale of wine in the anthology. There were Western flavored tales and hillbilly talk, several brutish husbands with chickenshit wives (these were too cliche), cartoons, historical/alternative histories, Jewish and Asian fantasies, dragons, winged cats, chickens and cows. Yes, even vengeful cows. We do have a historical fantasy with Patricia Robertson’s beautiful tale, and a couple end of the world stories. If anyone is interested I will break down the stories in the anthology into the genres I think they are. It would be interesting to see how Steve would classify them.

The table is read from the left column first. So if I thought a story was predominantly bizarre or metaphorical with a dollop of descent into madness, it went in the left-hand spot for bizarre. If I thought it was descent into madness with a dollop of bizarre it would go into the left-hand spot for madness. Rhea Rose’s story fits in that second category. I’ve colored the table to differentiate the categories: yellow=SF, green=fantasy, blue=horror. So Rhea’s story is colored horror.

WordPress is not easy for inserting tables and spredsheets,  so I’ve attached it. Click on  Genre chart and you’ll be able to see the list. Remember, the numbers won’t match the original demographics because I didn’t include the poems, nor about 35 stories where I couldn’t remember if they were SF, horror or fantasy.

I’m done with the demographics and will be starting to put in short interviews with the authors that will probably span the next few months. I’d like to say I’ll get two in a week but it all depends on time. So in the meantime, enjoy the demographics and look for Tesseracts 17 in October.

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Writing: What is Dark Fantasy?

In the world of speculative fiction there are many genres and sub-genres and son of sub-genres. In fact, it seems every two years someone comes up with a new term whether it’s slipstream, horror, dark fantasy, metafiction, mundane SF, dark fiction, hyperfiction, splatterpunk, steampunk or the next new catchphrase.

Dark fantasy is indeed like fantasy but came about, you could say, when the term “horror” fell out of favor. Publishers quit printing horror because the books weren’t selling. You’re probably thinking, “What about Stephen King?” Well, for one he’s a mega star so he could write a shopping list and it would sell. Some of his writing is considered…other, maybe science fiction or thriller, though really most of it falls under horror or dark fantasy.

So what, you ask, is the difference between dark fantasy and horror? Besides DF being the more acceptable term for publishers, dark fantasy may not be as horrific as horror. It might be disturbing, it might have intonations of darkness and it might have an unhappy ending. Remember, many of these terms really are shades of gray under the greater genre umbrella that is often called speculative fiction. But even that is a sub-genre of fiction. Under the horror fiction umbrella lurks dark fiction, psychological horror, dark fantasy, splatterpunk, thrillers (sometimes) and bizarro, again sometimes. Dark fantasy of course needs an element of otherness, something fantastical and strange. It will be less in your face gore and terror and more under the skin, crawl into your mind disturbing.

Is dark fantasy faeries and elves? Yes, if they’re gutting each other and stealing your mind. Yes, Lord of the Rings is dark fantasy. In fact LOTR is so epic it falls into many categories. It’s partly why I’ve used it as an example. However a story about a girl who finds a bright red lollipop that influences her to commit monstrous deeds is also dark fantasy. It is also psychological horror. While terms can define a story, there is great overlap.

Is it a chickpea or a garbanzo, a hazelnut or a filbert? Like food items that may have more than one term so do the genres that overlap and cozy up to each other, sometimes sharing the same bed. It all depends on how a publisher believes they can market the story. A reader who likes psychological terror may not pick up something labeled dark fantasy, or may prefer dark fantasy over horror. A story by any other name is still a story but it might have the slightest tinge that leads you down a different path. Dark fantasy is definitely not for the light of heart…unless they need some balance.

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Writing: What is Horror?

As I write up these different definitions there will indeed be crossover as there are genres and subgenres and sub-subgenres for each type of writing. The world of publishing is taken up with labeling, much like the world in general. We like things to fit into neat categories. For marketing we want to appeal to a certain demographic so although I might write a story and not put any tag on it, someone else will: either the reader, the publisher, or the reviewer. And they may all tag it differently.

Horror in essence is meant to do one or more of these things: terrify, scare, gross out, disturb. At its simplest horror revolts and scares. At its most complex horror is disturbing and thought provoking. I did an earlier review on the novel A Fall of Angels by Stephen Gregory, which presented an insidious horror of a disturbing life that included murder and incest. Horror has an interesting niche. If you think of movies, there are those ridiculous (in my opinion) teen slasher movies with really dumb plots and lots of Freddy Krueger gore and murder. And stories can range too. Recently, doing a panel at Orycon on gore versus terror, we talked about when gore is appropriate (the satisfaction of seeing or reading about a zombie’s/bad guy’s head exploding) and when terror is effective. Gore is throwing a bunch of intestines in your face. Terror is me telling you that there is something alien eating its way into your brain right now, can’t you feel it? All of this is horror. Horror includes tension and suspense. It keeps you on the edge of your seat or wriggling with moral or psychological discomfort. Sometimes it lulls you into a false sense of security until it unleashes the terror.

Most mainstream publishers no longer publish horror, just as they don’t publish westerns anymore either. It fell out of favor, meaning the sales dropped because the publishers were probably marketing it as gore and guts. In fact, horror, like any of the major labels or genres, encompasses many subgenres. Some of these include dark fantasy, psychological horror, splatterpunk, gothic horror, supernatural horror, and others. (BTW, this is my take on the genre; you are bound to find other or varying definitions.)

  • Dark Fantasy–these stories involve anything fantastical. It could be a person who extracts blood from their victims to make plants grow, a man-eating troll, an insidious worm that crawls into your pores and makes you see corpses, or a host of other hobgoblin nightmares. Lord of the Rings, interestingly enough can fall into a lot of categories and the whole story could be considered dark fantasy. The anthologies I’m in, either Evolve or Horror Library Vol. 4 could both be considered dark fantasy though some of the stories in the latter may be straight horror with little fantasy. Whereas Evolve is all about vampires and almost all of them are dark fantasy.
  • Psychological Horror–these stories deal with the twistings of the mind. The novel I mentioned, A Fall of Angels, is definitely a psychological horror. It is both the horror of a man sliding farther from the norm and his feelings as well as the horror of seeing this decline. It may be that the person imagines something but it’s not real, or maybe it is, or perhaps they’re crazy but instead there is a conspiracy against them. These can be very insidious and subtle to outright living hells in one’s mind, or the prison of their bodies that can drive them insane.
  • Splatterpunk–I haven’t read the Resident Evil books but a lot of that shooting and gory mayhem, bodies and heads exploding, blood gushing on a rampage of carnage falls into the splatterpunk category. It may include punky or trendy people but it will definitely include lots of gore and splatter although the story can also be a dark fantasy, splatterpunk psychological horror. What defines a story’s genre or sub-genre over another is that the emphasis or main theme is more in one category, or how the publishers think they can market the story.
  • Gothic Horror–such stories could involve hauntings, old mansions, vampires, strange brooding towns and people. Think Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and any H.P. Lovecraft story whether about the Great Old Ones or the darkness of the human soul. Gothic can be set in the past but is just as likely to be in the present or even the future. The mood and atmosphere is always very important, where the setting itself can be as oppressive as the creature. Victorian sensibilities can abound. And thankfully Lord of the Rings is not gothic horror.
  • Supernatural Horror–involves just that. Whether its ghosts, Great Old Ones, witches, vampires, mages or some other sinister sword or hat that takes over a person’s mind, it is all supernatural. And the biggest area in supernatural would be religious themes; demons, devils, angels, saints, priests; heaven and hell feature very big in the supernatural. It’s the most popular sub-genre for movies. If the devil’s involved it’s most likely supernatural horror.

There are of course, other categories and the definitions will blend and change as they evolve. Like the horror genre,which was blacklisted by the major publishers, like a sinister demon that they thought they had killed, horror has resurrected itself in numerous small but professional presses, coming back stronger, more diverse and respected for its tenacity. The World Horror Convention, and the Horror Writers Association continues strong through the dark imaginings of writers in horror.

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Writing: The Ghettoization of Speculative Fiction?

CBC, ghettoizing SF, bad science fiction, badly written fantasy

From a 50s B-movie. Unfortunately some people think SF novels are still like this.

Yesterday on CBC Radio’s Q, Jian Ghomeshi talked with Clive Thompson about the ghettoization of speculative fiction or whether William Gibson was the next Tolstoy. Thompson was extolling the virtues of SF, sort of. Or damning with faint praise. Below is the response that I sent, which I also put here in case CBC decides they have moral rights on my opinion.

Dear Jian,

 

I’m not quite sure what to make of the speaker Clive Thompson you had on talking about SF, science fiction, or speculative fiction since it encompassed both science fiction and fantasy works.

 

I write here as an individual but also as the president of SF Canada whose members consist of professional writers and others in the speculative fiction community. I missed the first part of Thompson’s conversation but I also express here views of the members of SF Canada.

 

Although Clive was supposed to be regaling the virtues of SF, he sounded uninformed in many ways. As a reader he seemed to exhibit huge gaps in knowledge when he said that most SF is badly written, misogynistic, dominated by men. And he gave Heinlein and Dick as examples. Robert Heinlein and Phillip K. Dick were in their heyday in the 60s and 70s; that’s at least 30-40 years ago. Taken in context, Heinlein was no different than many authors (whether SF or not) of the day, and some of his views on relationships were far reaching for the time.

 

Thompson did mention Cory Doctorow, who is a Canadian but there was a huge gap in between. (Doctorow’s book has been nominated for this year’s Nebula awards.) Some of the bigger names in speculative fiction may be men but there are many women writing and of merit: Ursula Le Guin, Kij Johnson, Pat Cadigan, Pat Murphy (of old, Andre Norton, James Tiptree, Anne McCaffery), Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Kris Rusch, Nalo Hopkinson, etc.

 

If he was talking Canadian speculative fiction, then he was all over the map with his observations so I must presume this was about SF in general. There is very little that is published these days that would be misogynistic unless it was showing a particular culture. Much is extremely well written and if you ask Michael Chabon, winner of both SF awards and the Pulitzer, he places more value on his SF awards.

 

Basically Thompson picked some of the worst or most dated examples for his points. It would have been better to see more current knowledge that goes beyond Margaret Atwood.

 

As for ghettoization, well there is good and bad writing in all genres. He spoke about the issue of whether one would place Oryx & Crake on literary or SF shelves and how it was confusing for publishers. I spent 20 years in the book industry as book rep and book buyer (for a store). This doesn’t confuse the publishers as they are the ones that came up with the categories through their marketing departments. A book will be marketed to the group that they think will buy the most copies. The cover will be changed accordingly. So in essence it is the publisher that has ghettoized all genres.

 

As to the attitude toward SF, well it depends. What sells the best in movie theatres, and is often based off of a book? There is indeed a snobby attitude that only literary is real writing and many of those writers who do write speculative stories adamantly say that it is not of that ilk. My creative writing degree did not include speculative fiction because of the attitude at the university that the only good writer was a dead white man. I would argue that erotic fiction and romances have a lower spot in the old world thinker’s eyes of “genre” and ghettoization, even though they may sell better. Harlequin romances have some of the highest sell-through rates of any books. Are they good? I don’t know as I haven’t read one.

 

Thompson also mentioned that SF is doing quite well. On one level yes, on another, not so much. Fantasy still outsells science fiction and in many cases editors are begging for science fiction stories. But sales of speculative fiction? Yes, the Harry Potter series can speak to that.

 

Next time, when talking about SF and whether William Gibson (an expat American living in Canada) is the next Tolstoy, it would be great to have someone up to date on current speculative fiction trends. Heck, try Neil Gaiman who you talked with a couple of weeks ago, or contact SF Canada and we’ll send you a boatload of opinions by Canadians.

 

Regards,

Colleen Anderson

President

SF Canada

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Writing: Cover Letters

I’ve written far more cover letters than I’ve seen, and various publications and/or editors do have their particular whims. Some want no cover letter. Some want them, listing publishing credits and some don’t care either way because they never read them. As an editor, I tend to read the cover letters after I read the story because I don’t want to be influenced by fame or credentials but hope that the story will merit its own attention. This will differ depending on editors.

Still, there are a few rules that hold true for writing a cover letter and for any genre. They’re simple. First, check out the publisher’s guidelines and follow them. There’s no faster way to annoy an editor and not have your piece read than to go against their rules.

Second, get the address and the editor’s name correct. If you don’t know the editor’s name or there are multiple editors, then just say “Dear Editor(s).” No one will get in a tizzy over that.

You want to then tell them what you’re sending. This does not, emphatically does not, mean recapping the whole story. That’s what your story is for. We don’t want you to tell us anything about it except if it’s racy and you’re not sure the magazine accepts erotic elements. I usually put something brief ; I can remove the explicit sexual elements if needed (but it’s rare that I need to specify). Writing, “I’m submitting ‘Hatchet Job,’ a 1400 word piece, for consideration in Real Life Tales” will suffice.

Oh, and you never need to say, “My name is Joe Smith.” After all, you’re signing your cover letter, right? And you’re putting your name on your manuscript, right? So why tell me your name in the beginning? That already will make me think you might have a tendency toward redundancy in your story.

You should include a short paragraph of your most pertinent publications. If you’re submitting to a children’s market, don’t list your published erotic stories. If that’s the only thing you have published, make it less specific as in, “I have published several stories in the Cleis Books anthologies.” That will indicate that you have publishing credits but not emphasize erotic.

You want to put that you have published in, say, “Weird Tales, October Country, and Wild Wombats Unleashed, with new work coming out in New Cthulhu and Snickers From the Timestream. It’s best to put publications related to the genre you’re sending to if you can, and you can mention any recent awards or honorable mentions. You don’t need to list the titles of your stories, nor dates and volume numbers. If an editor really wants to hunt down your work they’ll do so by your name and the magazine you’ve mentioned. Many editors are well aware of other publications and authors already.

Don’t list everything you’ve ever published. Five is usually plenty. You can list if you’re a member of any pertinent associations. For speculative works, SFWA, HWA, SF Canada are a few, as well as workshops attended: Clarion, Odyssey, CSSF, Fairwood…there are many. This may not mean a jot to some editors but if you’re a new writer with no publishing credits, do list them. It shows you’re serious about your craft. I usually just put SFWA on my manuscripts and leave it at that.

You don’t want to demand that the editor read your piece or tell them that they will like it or find it wonderful. They’ll decide that for themselves. You can always say you hope they enjoy it and thank them for their time. Last, let them know if your manuscript is disposable, if you’ve supplied a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) or if you’d like an email response (if their guidelines say they will do this), and sign off.

There are variations on this and some editors are way more touchy about letters than others. Some might tell you that listing three publication credits is enough. Some won’t even care. The best advice: keep it short. Editors receive hundreds of letters and don’t have time to do more than read a short paragraph.

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