Random Thought #1
The rush of early November’s great news regarding my novel, Dream of the Dragon Pool, is beginning to subside. Recent news of foreign rights interest in the novel has helped to sustain the rush, but I’m trying to follow Buddhist advice and keep a calm attitude in the face of it all. I was going to write “in the face of either good or bad news,” but that doesn’t actually fit the situation. Writers will of course be elated when their work is recognized, and that would be good news.
But what would be bad news?
Your book was banned from the state libraries? That could be very good news, just think of the publicity! I’m not stating hopes here, just the facts. You got really bad reviews? Well, I’ve been told that bad reviews can be useful for they will drive some readers to find out for themselves. I know around here, people don’t hold much to movie reviews. If they find the trailers and the plot descriptions of interest, they go and find out for themselves. And, of course, how many “word of mouth” best sellers and hit movies have there been! I remember someone telling me how the anime world snuck up on U.S. movie reviewers. “Snuck up”? Aren’t the reviewers supposed to know what’s going on? Apparently another case where “talking the talk” doesn’t sync up with “walking the walk.”
Random Thought #2
I’m a member of the Historical Novel Society (www.historicalnovelsociety.org), which gave Dream of the Dragon Pool a really nice review last November. In a recent online forum back and forth, the members got into a discussion about defining “historical fantasy.” This was interesting to me because Amazon.com has placed my wuxia (heroic fiction) novel in several categories: epic fantasy (I like), alternate history (I’m surprised), and historical fantasy (which I had figured). I had no voice in these categorizations, though I must admit to joy (!) when my novel hits the top 100 best-sellers in any or all of these categories according to Amazon’s mysterious ranking formula – there are plenty of “explanations” of how Amazon’s ranking works, but I think publishers and the industry only pay attention to the top 10 rankings figuring the obvious, “they must be selling well.”
Random Thought #2a
Back to the main point here, so one member wrote in and asked if their work could be classified as “historical fantasy.” Now, although I see my work in the Chinese wuxia tradition – which is much broader than those who limit it to the contemporary Chinese authors’ Jin Yong and Gu Long, who actually represent only variations on a rather broad literary and cinematic tradition – I know that such a genre is not established in the Western publishing industry. So, my alternative classification, trying to make the unfamiliar familiar, would be “historical fiction,” or closer – sort of – “historical fantasy.” Keeping in mind, OF COURSE, that this blog is titled “Fish Traps and Rabbit Snares” for a very specific reason. Such “categories” are necessary for limited goals, like getting literary agents and publishers to read your stuff and bookstores and libraries to locate its shelf space!
Of course, in the contemporary publishing scene, if you sell enough, they could care less what you call it. That’s why I admire what anime, graphic novels, and manga have accomplished. Their supporters have gotten behind them with such force that they are calling the shots in the publishing industry – more power to you guys! I really don’t know if the wuxia genre will be able to achieve such status in the West. Of course, there are many anime, graphic novels, and manga that are obviously wuxia genre tales, so perhaps, we have already reached that level, but in a different medium. And it could be that’s what naturally suits wuxia.
Random Thought #2b
I’m still trying to get back to my main point, the identification of “historical fantasy.” So, the writer who asked the Historical Novel Society forum for a “definition” of the genre they thought they were writing in was answered by one writer who responded with,
I define ‘historical fantasy’ as something involving supernatural forces or mythical beasts in an otherwise historic setting.
And then a librarian wrote in,
For what its worth, this librarian thinks of historical fantasy as Mists of Avalon and books with mystical elements in them.
So I guess the writer and the librarian could be said to agree that historical fantasy has a historical setting with supernatural, mythical, or mystical elements. And I guess that’s as good as any “definition.”
Does a writer pick a genre, then check the definition, and write to that definition? Not the good ones. Good writing/writers is/are not limited by “definitions” – hint, “rabbit snares and fish traps.” They write. What comes out should naturally flow from within their innate inspiration.
Random Thought #3
As a writing teacher, I was frequently asked if writing could be taught. I think most writing teachers agree that the skills can be taught. Gabriel García Márquez, one of my favorite writers, says that writing is like carpentry. The writer creates with words like a carpenter forms with wood. Both artisans work transformations and for both there are a basic set of skills that informs how their materials are to be best manipulated. These skills can be taught. However, and you knew that was coming, there are differences in the finished product. Yet, who is to decide on the merits of these differences? We know that society has its “standards” - no matter how arbitrary they might be.
I think the most important standard has to be the artist’s own standard. All things change, all things pass. Today’s “standards” might very well look ridiculous to the next generation, or, in the U.S., to the next week’s reviews! Our old friend Zhuangzi figured that out thousands of years ago and maybe that’s why some of us are still writing about him.
Random Thought #2c
Which was supposed to get around to how I define… No, better, how I understand my historical fantasy. But this blog is already kind of long and the fog is getting really interesting…I’ll get back on this in the next blog.
The Innkeeper – lost in the fog, as usual ;-}