Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It's Magic Realism

I don't even know why I hang out with these guys.

One issue that I've been concerned with as regards my novel has to do with marketing. Or taxonomy. I've written about genre before, on its origins, its relationship with literature, and some of the things I like about it. But last week, when an agent asked the question, "What genre is your novel-in-progress?" on his blog, I had no good answer. Here's what I wrote in a comment on his post.

I think my novel holds together as one solid entity but when I analyze it in terms of genre?

Total schizophrenia.

My main interest is in character and prose style, so maybe it's literary.

But it's based on my life experiences, so there's a strong element of confessional memoir to it.

It does feature adventures in which an alternate fantasy world is saved, so it's obviously quest fantasy.

But the fantastic elements are rationalized in a speculative fashion, so it might be science fiction.

It deals intimately with the nitty-gritty details of life at the bottom of the blue-collar ladder, so it's social realism.

Much of the material is disturbing on levels ranging from the spiritual to the physical, so it's horror.

It's intended to be funny and there's rarely a lot of space between jokes, so it's humor.

One of the central themes is redemption through love, so it's romance.

The plotting and a storyline involving a drug deal are clearly noir.

I was once asked to describe the damned thing in five words. What I came up with was, "Autobiographical horror with sick laughs."

And that's the thing -- since I started the novel by wandering blindly through the wilderness, I wound up chucking in elements from sources ranging from mythology to pop culture. I put in everything I love in a book. Hell, in my comment I didn't even mention that the influence of cyberpunk -- "How fast are you? How dense?", cute fat chicks, ultraviolence, speculative evolution, coming of age, mental illness, garage bands, drug culture, art, moral issues, and surrealism are all important parts of the book.

When his follow-up post pointed out that if you couldn't say what genre you wrote in, other people were going to decide where it was shelved in the bookstore. I had an answer to that -- it gets shelved with Jonathan Carroll, Christopher Moore, and Neil Gaiman.

But what he said made me nervous because I didn't have a name for what I'm doing. You need a label when you enter the marketplace -- and I am bringing this work to the marketplace. Without a label it's hard to sell a book, hard to place a book, and it's much easier for a book to disappear into the cracks.

Well, last night in my writer's group, Deborah said something to the effect of, "My favorite kind of book is magic realism, and this is perfect magic realism."


Of course, this is kind of an abject realization for me. Because I've spent a certain amount of time bad-mouthing magic realism. Basically, my position has always been, "Magic realism is just a pretentious word for fantasy. Don't fucking try and tell me that Fritz Leiber and Avram Davidson deserve to be stuck in the genre ghetto while the fucking Magic Realists get accepted as valid literature."

But recently I've taken to referring to myself as pretentious. Because I am trying as hard as I can to write something of literary value. My focus is on character first, prose style second, and vision third. By vision, I mean the creation of images in the head of the reader. The fantastic elements are there because I love a monster -- but artistically, I'm drawing from mythology, psychology, and surrealism to create my world rather than just, well. Writing up my D&D campaign or doing another fucking vampire novel. Most of the art I've done in the past two years has had the intention of inspiring the novel.

Like I said, I've become a pretentious son-of-a-bitch. And like I said, Magic Realism is pretentious fantasy.

So that's what I'm writing. I'm a Magic Realist.

I feel so dirty. Can I call it Gonzo Magic Realism? Please?


ChiaLynn said...

Gonzo Magical Realism. I like it.

I also like your baby 'gator up there. I bought one of those for my now-ex-husband the first time I went to New Orleans. It had black eyes, though. And it smelled like jerky for months, until the arid mountains of Wyoming finally dried it out. The cats thought it was awesome.

robp said...

Pretentious Fantasy has a nice ring to it.

I saw that name your genre post and picked one for my own. It seemed inaccurate but I think my current work could be easily classified as action/adventure, which I see as a movie genre all the time but it wasn't on the long multiple choice list.

Having read a decent chunk of what you're writing, I definitely wouldn't call it Magic Realism. I think if you had to pick just one, Fantasy comes closest, which is where you want to start when it comes to marketing.

Of course, book 2 may lean more toward horror, so maybe you can get one of those hyphenated genre names; fantasy/horror/scifi or some such.

I realize there are a lot of nonfantastical elements, but I think you'll find those in many good examples of any of the above categories.

Who's your market? That's how you define the book.

Sean Craven said...

Hey, ChiaLynn, there's a lot more Thompson than Tolkien in this weird little volume. And the gator does have black eyes -- I was startled to see that they turned red in the flash.

Rob, I'd call your current piece an espionage thriller. It's like James Bond, only without all the man-on-man spanking sessions.

You may be right about how it's gonna be categorized. I just wish someone would tell me the most marketable niche I can fit it into. Maybe Urban Fantasy. Which is even ickier than Magic Realism -- that's where the leather-clad elves and vampire detectives hang out. Why don't they have a shelf in bookstores equivalent to the one labeled Cult in the video stores?

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