While the gender count in literature continues, some thoughts about the state of short fiction in the U.S.
A few nights ago, at writers group, I was ranting about the sameness I find in many stories published in literary journals. If you read these, you are likely familiar with the tropes: my parent/sibling/friend died, why doesn’t this relationship work, I don’t understand my family, my parent/sibling/friend has cancer, and the ever-popular learning-to-understand-my-lover-while-we’re-traveling-through-a-rural-town-where-the-inhabitants-seem-unfriendly. There are others, but many adhere to some variant of these nauseatingly common themes.
I happened to have some copies of lit journals I picked up at a writers’ conference, and as an experiment, to prove my point, I opened a well-regarded journal to a random short story, and read the first paragraph aloud: “‘This is Sylvie,’ I say to my aunt, who smiles at her like Sylvie doesn’t know, like I had kept it a secret somehow. My father has just died, and now I must introduce to his family a girl I have loved for an entire year.”
Gag me. The author got three of those themes in the first two sentences. (Not to mention the pomposity of the writing is sleep-inducing in itself.)
The prevalence of these themes may help explain why my attempts at lit fiction have yielded less-than-stunning results, because, frankly, I can’t stand to read, let alone write this kind of regurgitated sentimentality.*
But if this is what most lit editors want to print, then who am I to ask journals to change what they offer? So I seek an alternative.
Recently I joined a “genre” group. Heavens, you say. Is Joe now writing that wizards and warlords nonsense? Oh, far from it. I admit I was a touch anxious before my first meeting that my literary style would be met with zombie-like derision. But I found that the primary concern of these writers of sci-fi, fantasy and YA was (surprise!) good writing and character development. Several members liked a piece of dark fiction I submitted, and some said it qualified as horror. I was encouraged.
Yes, there are plenty of overdone themes in genre writing too. And sometimes the writing isn’t nearly as good as in lit journals. But perhaps I’ve found a new path to explore—a narrow path, but one that may offer a chance to indulge my imagination. There are some lit journals that indulge in dark fiction, as well as some genre journals that like a lit style. Those will be my targets as I turn now to include the dark side of literature in my compendium.
*or maybe I’m just not a very good writer, but if I thought that, I wouldn’t write at all.