Every once in a while, something comes along that gives you a moment of great clarity and insight: like a flash of lightning in a storm at night that leaves you blinking away after-images. And then you try to preserve the memory. I had one of those moments when I spotted the list of “non-Western-European fantasies by women authors” being passed around the blogosphere. I actually went over and had a look at it and found there fantasies set in exotic mythologies like… Mexico! And China! And Russia!
And this is… rare and awesome and worthy of a long list. These are unusual stories; or more exactly, these constitute what is considered by the genre to be unusual stories.
My moment of epiphany came when I wondered if I qualified for such a list… and realized, reading it, that even in this compendium of non-standard fantasy, my work didn’t fit in. Is Kherishdar “Western-European”? No. But it’s certainly not Russian or Japanese or Brazilian either. The Jokka? What not-Western-culture would I slot them into? They might be informed by the cultures I have lived in and been exposed to, but they are not intended to evoke them, or imitate them. They are themselves, that’s all. Free from the burden of a human context, with all the difficulties that implies.
What I understood then, looking at that list, is that on some level we expect our fantasies to be born of and look like existing human cultures and mythologies, and what makes them pleasantly unusual is when they’re like unfamiliar cultures… not when they’re completely incapable of fitting in a category. We still long for contexts that have a history. No less than Ai-Naidar, our instinctive reaction to the alien is rejection, and any other reaction requires conditioning, practice and intent.
I know people think I am quite successful and accomplished, and I think for what I do, I am. But the truth is that finding the right audience for my stories is hard work. I often don’t feel just how much work it is, because… well, the stories came out of me, so they’re not at all strange to me. But once in a while, something like this reminds me that, no, it’s actually the very far border of weird to be writing fantasies about aliens with almost no human context… and yes, that is the reason why major publishers never picked up my work, for the good reason that… they could never find a category for it that would help it reach the right people. That same good reason is why I’m having a hard time myself getting my work to the right people, and why word of mouth for me is particularly paramount.
This is the reason I am probably never going to produce a bestselling novel. Such is life, though. On some things, Artist won’t compromise. She would rather go find a regular paycheck from some desk job.
On the bright side, some of the ideas that I’ve been fretting about—are they drawing too heavily on existing cultures and languages for flavor? Are they too human?—are probably just fine, and I’m just too head-blind to see it! So even this little lightning strike has left behind some silver frosting on its storm-clouds.
Mirrored from MCAH Online.