Bear on the War Path

Jeff VanderMeer • October 19th, 2007 @ 10:36 pm • Culture

Elizabeth Bear has a great post here. There are only a couple of problems with it: I agree with her about most it, but don’t feel it negates, generally, the issues and, more importantly, the questions I raise here. She’s dismissing the questioning tone of my piece, and she’s also invalidating my general feeling: I’m not enjoying most of the short fiction I’m reading. I can’t help that–that’s a genuine reaction, it’s how I feel. I don’t know how you can rail against how another human being feels. Now, that may be me being burnt out in my reading, or it may be something else, as I said in my post. It may be related to my own recalibrating of my own technique, too. As I said.

Though, actually, re-reading my piece, I see how it can be read as “hey, everybody writing out there–you’re not trying hard enough.” Which wasn’t my intent, that’s for sure. I know how hard the writing life is. I just want what I always want: more and more various gatekeepers allowing more and more various voices to be heard. And I always think it’s good for all of us to remind each other to push harder. I believe it is easy to get complacent in a world where writers when published do get so many positive strokes. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in suggesting that writers be on their guard. I think, after 20 years of publishing and writing, I get to say that. If as hard a working guy as Jay Lake can turn around and question his processes and approach at this stage in his career, then it’s entirely valid to raise these kinds of issues.

Neither am I advocating, like the Mundanes or anyone else connected to a movement, the rise, or re-rise of a particular type of fiction. I’ve written retold fairy tales, New Weirdish stuff, postmodern stuff, lush and non-lush prose style stuff…all in the last year. Epic and personal stuff. I love it all. And, hey, I love traditional stuff done well, too. I don’t do a lot of editng projects like that because there are people doing that already. I will always do projects that I feel, or Ann feels, fill a void or a gap in the field. (Okay, so that doesn’t apply to the pirate antho… )

If I had two additional comments to make about her post, it’s that at the end of it she makes some assertions about the relative worth of, say, China Mieville versus Cat Valente that not only aren’t useful, but have nothing to do with my personal opinions of any of the writers mentioned (which isn’t clear from her post) and serve to lump me into the just another jerky guy category, which simply isn’t fair. I hope most people don’t read it that way, for that reason. This isn’t about “edgy” versus “non-edgy” and it’s most definitely NOT a gender thing. Anyone who knows me, knows that.

And, lastly, I can’t remember being as condescending to Bear as she is to me in her post, but if that’s the way she wants to play it, that’s cool–maybe I’m misreading her the way I believe she’s misread me. I have a great deal of respect for Bear because she always tells it like it is. I don’t have to worry about Bear stabbing me in the back–because there she is stabbing me in the front! LOL!

The main points, again, are worth reading.

And I still think there are pressures of commercialism and the idea of fiction-as-commodity that writers have to face and think about, and are often more noticeable within genre. It is good to continually remind ourselves of this–I know I have to.

Bear, for the record, has an incredible story in our pirate antho–a collaboration with Sarah Monette.

Jeff

8 Responses to “Bear on the War Path”

  1. will shetterly says:

    If I was still in SFWA, I might suggest a poll:

    1. Have you burned out on short fiction?

    2. How old were you when you burned out?

    3. Did you work as an editor before you burned out?

    I think I burned out between 35 and 40. I’m not sure that working as an editor hurt, but it didn’t help. What was good enough just wasn’t good enough anymore.

    I do have a lot of sympathy for your argument. As Nellie McClung said, “The good is the greatest rival of the best.”

  2. will shetterly says:

    P.S. Don’t mean I’m *totally* burned out. But I don’t seek short fiction anymore. I let it find me, and I’m happier that way. If it’s possible to be a bold explorer in every aspect and every moment of life, I don’t have that secret. I have a different secret: when something no longer gives you joy, let it go or deepen your commitment to it.

  3. brendan connell says:

    I personally didnt take what you were saying to be negative. Quite the contrary. I think is what you were saying is that short fiction (maybe even fiction in general) has become too square. And this is I also believe true. And sometimes you have to be truthful if you want things to change. Let’s face it—how many of us (writers) really do push ourselves as far as we can go? I readily admit that I don’t. And I would like to. So any encouragement to ‘go where no man has gone before’ I view as positive.

  4. Matt Staggs says:

    I’m with Brendan. I took your post as a welcome kick in the ass.
    PS: yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes…yes.

  5. ebear says:

    Actually, I should point out that I have *no* exception to what, based on your email, you *meant* to say–that we need to push hard and fail spectacularly to create anything worthwhile.

    If you are not falling down, you are not running hard enough.

    I *do* think the puppy mill rhetoric got away from you, and people (such as myself) are reading your post as an indictment of all the hacks you find yourself forced to work with, rather than a personal vow to wipe out more often.

    I strongly believe in wiping out as often as it takes.

    To double your success rate, quintuple your failure rate.

  6. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    I think you’re right re the non-usefulness of the puppy mill analogy.
    jv

  7. brendan connell says:

    Maybe enough has been said on this already, but …. I could never read Jeff’s original post as being something against the people he works with and reads—because frankly, I can’t think of anyone in the ‘genre’ scene (whatever that is) who supports other writers more than Jeff. Hands down. And I mean established and beginning writers. And if you look at his anthologies, they are always a mix of all sorts of things—very well known writers, along side people no one has ever heard of before. I am not exacly sure what that means, but for me it means he is very pro-writer. He wrote a post about how he honestly felt. And it is a rare case indeed where honestly is not a healthy thing.

  8. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Will: As wise a PS as I’ve seen. My approach is to deepen my commitment. And to go get some sleep right now.

    JV

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