Friday, July 14, 2006

Readercon, George Washington, and Deer

I was thinking about something this morning in relation to one of the panels at Readercon. The authors on the panel were having a debate about the tropes, or forms of fantasy and whether you can mix avante garde writing into fantasy and still keep you readership and audience. One of the authors ventured that the problem with trying to be experimental (straying from the formula or what is expected) is that you run the risk of losing the main audience.

Well yes that may be true, but then why be a fantasy writer at all when you can gain a larger audience by writing romance? If every author wrote based on what he thought would earn him the widest readership (the most sales), we’d end up with, well, crap. It’s like that psychological experiment that creates a painting based on statistically surveying the American population for what they believe they want to see in a masterpiece. This is the result:

Apparently we want to see deer and children hanging out with George Washington. There’s a good reason, sometimes, to ignore what your audience thinks they want...

The other question posed by the author to support his point was: how many fantasy readers have ever read M. John Harrison? Hmmm. . .I guess the foregone conclusion is that if he isn't sucessful as say Mercedes Lackey, then he should stop writing how he writes and follow Lackey's example? When did we begin to use the number of readers as a counter for good v. bad writing? Or worse: what should and should not be written? So what if only thousands out of billions of readers appreciate your writing? Is that so bad? Again let me remind you, as a whole, we want to see George Washington hang out with deer…

And I know there is a demographic of who reads what genres, but like genres, demographics can often just be marketing bullshit that makes it easier for the execs to prod their authors and readers into nice, well-delineated areas.

I’m 23, Asian, Female, and a Wharton graduate. The marketers predict that I should be reading the next, shiny How-To management book…or at the very least Amy Tan.

I’m not ambitious enough to read How to Backstab Your Way to Middle Management and I hate Amy Tan (really, that’s not a strong word for the feelings I harbor for her and her writing; way to perpetuate stereotypes is something I would like to say to her; here you are given the opportunity to observe some grain of truth about what it's like being Chinese-American, and you squander it writing only what the American audience wants to hear is something else I'd like to say), but I digress.

The point is that I’m not in the demographic for fantasy and certainly not avante garde genre writing. Yet I have read M. John Harrison and his writing has enriched my life, in a way that Tolkein or Robert Jordan & Co. have never done. So thank god he writes what he does, the way he does it.

There’s no doubt in my mind that I read Fantasy/Sci-fi because it let’s me get away from my own mundane life. But if I just wanted formulaic escapist stuff, I could just as easily pick up Nora Roberts. It’s for the ideas, the different ways authors tell their stories, the experimental things, the thought-provoking qualities of the genre that keeps me coming back. So kudos to those who are doing what you do despite sales, because you are the ones that are an inspiration and constant source of delight to me, and I suspect many others.

1 comment:

CChen said...

I'd highly recommend that anyone who's interested in the authenticity of Amy Tan's work to read:
Ma, Sheng-mei "Amy Tan's The Chinese Siamese Cat: Chinoiserie and Ethnic Stereotypes"
The Lion and the Unicorn - Volume 23, Number 2, April 1999, pp. 202-218
The Johns Hopkins University Press