Best Fantasy-Magazine Story of 2008 Poll and Contest

We interrupt my obsession with the thesis to remember, for just a moment, that occasionally I write fiction. To whit:

Fantasy Magazine are running a reader-poll and contest to discover the best Fantasy story of 2008; one of the stories they published in 2008 was On the Finding of Photographs of My Former Loves, which I’m kind of fond of for obvious reasons. Logically I should be here asking you to head on over and log a vote for me, since there’s chocolate at stake for the winner as well as bragging rights, but I’ll be honest – Fantasy publishes good work and I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read there this year. Just go and have a poke around and then vote; it’ll be worth it. And, if you’re so inclined, leave a few comments – they’re giving away an Amazon voucher to a random reader who leaves comments. Voting details and complete 2008 story listing.

28 Days of Thesis Updates: No Angst Today

It’s six o’clock. I wrote 1200 words today. Clean words. Nice words. Usable words. About a thousand of them are even in consecutive order. It’s the first time since I started this whole damned project that I’ve actually hit the word-count I needed to hit on a given day.

In short, there will be no angst when I write my day 4 report tomorrow.

But I still want to sit down and work on a short story instead of continuing with this.

28 Days of Thesis Updates: Day Three

Yesterday was not good on the writing front. It basically consisted of one long, mild tantrum;  a break in the middle for present wrapping and my mum’s birthday dinner; then another long tantrum that escalated as I got tired, until I hit the point where I was tempted to throw my laptop through a wall. Sometime around four a.m. I closed a file containing my exegesis draft, now another thousand words shorter than I started with, and went to bed to not-sleep for about six hours. Not, overall, my finest hour. Or sequence of hours.

On the plus side, I have new shoes. Very, very green sneakers. And some rather nice charcoal sneakers for back-up.

The challenge for today? Resist shiny things. Not easy, as just about everything is shiny at present. The Id has taken over the thought process and my brain would rather be doing just about anything rather than continuing to work on this frustrating, shitty morass of thesis, so the temptation to waste time is high (yes, I know, I’m blogging and wasting time; shut up. Right now I’m angry with myself and my thesis – it’s the kind of mood that leads to beating people to death with their own shoes if they give me another outlet for the rage…). And I’m wondering if another trip to the library is in order, now that they’ve re-opened from the summer hiatus…

28 Days of Thesis Updates: Day Two

Yesterday I spent several long hours feeling appallingly stupid before scrambling my way through about five hundred words. Still less than I need to do, and ordinarily I’d be all angsty about it, but I’m taking my wordcount where I can get it at the moment.

In theory, this is the bit of the exegesis that explains what-is-genre in theoretical terms so that people aren’t left sitting there wondering what the hell I’m banging on about or confusing the fact that they’re thinking science-fiction or romance or literature kind of distinctions when I’m prone to occasionally back-tracking to short story as genre or film as genre or something along those lines. My notes say that this is the point where I’m spending some quality time with Bahktin and Todorov, but because I’m me I’ve also managed to worm in some of the personal anecdote kind of stuff I so love and quote from a few “what is a roleplaying game” segments from Dungeons and Dragons and Vampire since they’re the only narrative forms I know that explain how the genre works before setting you loose on the narrative.

Still not one hundred percent sure what I’m aiming for in this section, but I’ve got that circling-around-the-point feeling fired up and past experience says it’s usually a little easier to hit the individual segments rather than the overall theme. I figure, if I can just get another five-hundred words down before heading out to my mother’s birthday dinner, I should be in pretty good shape to do some heavy-lifting on the wordcount tomorrow.

28 Days of Thesis Updates: Day One

TO START, AN EXPLANATION OF WHAT THE EXEGESIS IS

When you do a creative writing PhD they don’t necessarily ask you to write a thesis. Instead, they get you to write a creative project (in my case, a whopping great lot of short stories) and then write an short exegesis that serves as a kind of thesis-substitute where you do thesis-type-things such as critical analysis of the work and practice, but done with the knowledge that you’re the writer of the creative text up front and center. The irony is that no-one really knows what the boundaries are when you’re doing these yet – the idea only really started to gain traction in the last two decades or so (from what I’m seeing, anyway; the name comes from analytical studies of the bible, and they’ve been doing it for a lot while) and there are relatively sparse examples of what a good exegetical document looks like out there. And, just like television and film spent their formative years mimicking the trappings of theater because no-one had really pushed the boundaries of what the mediums could do, most of the sample exegetical work for PhD’s out there read much like a traditional thesis in a truncated form. If you don’t want to do that (and, given the general “genre’s are slippery” theme of my thesis, it’d feel odd to do so) you’re kind of left to make it up as you go along with only a vague kind of outline; basically, imagine trying to write a short story without having the basic grounding in things like character and plot and beginning, middles, and ends. That’s part of what’s been doing my head in with this process. And I’ve been known to take tutorials explaining this process to undergraduates before, so it’s not like I have a complete lack of understanding.

The other thing that does my head in is this: after six years of sitting down and thinking about this, writing stories and making notes, I don’t seem to be able to annunciate what my project’s about.

STATES OF CONFUSION

My head’s not completely empty on this point – I can natter about the gothic influence on my work for days if you’d let me; I can explain the way I grew intrigued by the shifts in genre over time, and why I think spec-fic (and the general populace in general) seems to have this growing interest in works that sit on genre-borders such as slipstream and magic realism; I can rabbit on and on about the way the fantastic is used as a kind of healing balm for social and psychological problems in fiction and film. But for the last two weeks I’ve basically sat at my computer circling around those ideas, trying to pin down the way I could approach all this and make it hang together as an exegesis (or, I’ll admit, a thesis – I grew desperate enough to lower my expectations eventually). I’ve had at least five epiphanies where I cried “of course, it’s about this,” but completely failed to take it any further than yet another five hundred word potential opening paragraph that doesn’t feel right.

There are certain things I knew I wanted to do – I knew I wanted to start with something personal, to really establish the fact that I was engaging with the concept of exegesis rather than straight thesis from the outset; I knew I was going to talk about the gothic as an influencing factor on the stories I submitted, even though they might not be gothic stories themselves; I knew I wanted to talk about a bunch of spec-fic movements, and I knew that I wasn’t particularly interested in arguing the traditional spec-fic/literary divide that seems to come up every so often (my supervisors, god-blessem, have never had any issues with the fact that I use the fantastic in my work, though they do [very] occasionally drift towards comments of the “this is surprisingly literary ilk.”) I knew I wanted to talk the process of genre itself – the way it forms in our heads and the reason I can see gothic influences or scenes in the film Mary Poppins, say, while someone else might not – and to address it on “short story, novel, exegesis” kind of level rather than remaining on a “SF, fantasy, literature” kind of note. (My supervisors advice on all this – “write an account of your own writing, explaining the understanding you have of your genre/s” – is kinda helpful, yes, but also, geez, my god, that’s *huge*. His advice to treat it like a series of lectures helps though – apparently the way I lecture is basically exegetical in approach).

BRAINSTORMS

As of last night, I think I might have cracked it. What I wrote isn’t so much an introduction as a statement of intent, but it feels kinda right – to borrow a phrase from Russel Davies The Writer’s Tale, it’s helped stop the exegesis from being a big blob of wibbly-wobbly Maybe and transformed it into something more concrete. It’s got direction and a way of breaking up the sections and all the things I wanted it to have. It’s rough as hell – about two thousand words of light meandering – but it’s there and it feels right enough and said what it needed to say that all these fragmentary attempts at an opening that were sitting in my work-in-progress file got deleted because they weren’t adding anything new. I’ll be sad when this intro needs to be re-written, as it inevitably will once the rest of the exegesis takes shape and required more detail added in, but it’ll get me started. And it largely comes down to rejection letters (or rather, two specific rejection letters which kind of haunt me because of genre-related stuff).

The best bit is that it allows me to address a lot of the inconsistencies I feel straight up. To whit, a fragment –

Yet I do this with a moment of irony as well – although I shy away from claiming my fiction as part of the gothic, I’m not shy about describing my practice in genre terms. These texts were created as works of speculative fiction, a catch-all term frequently used to collectively describe the fantasy, science fiction, and horror; and at their core they remain non-mimetic narratives linked, as China Mieville suggests all spec-fic is, by the conceit that they ‘literalize their metaphors’ (Gothic Journal, 2008, pg 65). Whatever literary traits editors, readers and supervisors find in my work, I’m primarily interested in presenting and promoting myself as a spec-fic writer and it’s as a writer of speculative fiction that I find myself most fascinated with the way genre shapes the meaning, marketing, and authorial identity in a creative work.

Messy, yes, with sloppy referencing that’ll need to get fixed and a kind of po-faced obnoxiousness to it, but it’ll do. It’ll get me started. And I do so love that Meiville quote – it’s one of the first things I’ve ever seen that really addresses what makes a spec-fic story a spec-fic story, linking the horror and the SF and the Fantasy – while giving a basis for discussing why Margaret Atwood may actually be right when she says she’s not a SF writer 🙂

Of course, getting this down also dropped my word-count from about six thousand words to about three and a half. Which isn’t good, because I’m already behind the eight-ball on this, but such is life.