Let Me Digress

Kathryn Hore - Writer

Category: Unsolicited opinion (page 1 of 20)

Thinking about genre. Again.

By some calculations, I’ve spent about a billion years arguing for the legitimacy of genre fiction in a world that sometimes feels entirely dominated by literary fic.

By other, far more reasonable calculations, I’ve spent a handful of years in my youth (read: long, long ago) studying literary and cultural theory, and a few more recent years studying professional writing and editing, and a lifetime spent reading anything that grabbed my interest without paying much attention to its provenance, literary status or inclusion/exclusion in any kind of arbitrary ‘canon’. None of which makes me an expert in anything except my own reading taste, which changes over time anyway, so maybe I’m not even an expert in that.

Genre means different things to different people. It’s a marketing category. It’s a way of understanding meaning within texts. It’s a context-dependent cultural signifier which cannot exist independent of its socio-historical framework. It’s a strictly defined set of boundaries that are commonly agreed and somehow immutable. (Yeah, I’m dodgy on how that last one works, myself).

I believe some of those things and not others. I have friends who believe in them all in one way or another. I personally have an interest in genre theory of the more academic variety (please note – an interest, not an expertise), genre as a way to understand meaning of texts within socio-historical contexts. But as a judge on a recent set of horror writing awards, I’ve also been involved in heated debates about the strict defining lines between horror, dark fantasy and magical realism as immutable categories.

I guess, like any lover of genre fiction (whatever the genre), I’ve encountered the arbitrary hierarchy of “high literature” down to “genre trash” far too many times not to have a chip on my shoulder about it. Literary hierarchies are used to exclude those who don’t ‘fit’ the mainstream, and anyway, wasn’t the whole concept of the western canon exploded as a vehicle for the dead white male sometime in the postmodern 90s? (Also, can you tell when I last studied literary theory? Believe me when I say I’ve an interest here, but in no way claim an expertise.)

In short: ranking quality in literary works by genre is stupid. Quality in a literary work (however that’s defined) is not determined by the genre of a work (however that’s defined). But somehow every now and then something will hit the book pages in the usual literary broadsheets and the ‘genre wars’ will become a thing again – is lit fic more important than genre? Is genre just as good as lit fic? Are these questions not inherently idiotic by their very nature, because bloody hell people, can we stop trying to define ourselves by what we are not?

Anyway, all this is a rather long preamble to my relating a conversation I had recently. I was talking with a chap who is a lover of SFF, as am I, and a defender of SFF against some arbitrary literary canon, as am I, when he decided to pay out on another traditionally disparaged genre – romance – because he decreed romance as “formulaic and escapist trash”, and that dear reader is where all commonality between us ended.

I was most perturbed because SFF – science fiction and fantasy – genres have traditionally been disparaged as formulaic and escapist trash by those who believe in a literary hierarchy that puts Lit Fic above Genre Fic. This chap fought hard against that perceived hierarchy, because he knew his favourite genres should not be unfairly disparaged in such a way. But in throwing Romance as a genre under-the-literary-bus, so to speak, all he was doing was reinforcing the very concept of a quality-literature-hierarchy and clambering to be on it himself, when what he really should have been doing was exploding the very notion of hierarchy in literature to begin with.

Once upon a time, I used to get into debates about what defines ‘quality’ literature, and how genre meets that. These days, I don’t bother. I don’t have a working definition of “high literature” and I’m not that interested in developing one. But there are some truths I believe strongly in:

  • the quality of a literary work cannot be determined by its genre, that’s like judging the present by the wrapping on the box (or judging the book by its cover, if you will)
  • genre is not immutable or isolated, and definition requires context (take that, those of you who believe any genre is firmly defined and definite and never changes)
  • and most important of all: fuck what anybody says is “high literature”, “worthy” or “quality” reading – read whatever the hell you find pleasure in

As a writer, I try to read broadly, because reading is the most essential tool in the writer’s toolbox. But as a reader, I simply want to read what I enjoy most. Sometimes that’s romance. Sometimes that’s SFF. Sometimes it’s crime, or political drama, or weird post-modern urban decay anti-cyber-punk dark fantasy with a touch of magic realism.

What I don’t enjoy is poor quality writing. I’m too old to waste my time on clunky AF prose these days. On books which don’t know how to develop character, or build tension, or present a coherent paragraph. Or worst of all, books that don’t know how to spin a story and keep me turning the page.

I’ll leave the definitions of ‘quality literature’ to those who still have a stake in such matters. I just want to read well written stories with characters I care about in genres I love. And maybe even write a few while I am it…

And, so…

When I was a small child, maybe seven or eight, maybe ten – I don’t know, it was a long time ago, all right? – and I was asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I had two definite answers:

I wanted to have children and I wanted to write books. Real, published books.

Those were my dreams when I was a child and they remained my dreams into adult hood. Only then something happened when I hit my thirties.

Firstly I was diagnosed with general infertility – that is, I couldn’t get knocked up but nobody really knew why. It just wasn’t happening.

And secondly, I couldn’t finish a book. Writing one, I mean. I’d written zillions of words and a billion novels (no that’s not hyperbole, thank you – you haven’t seen all the files on my hard drive), but I couldn’t complete them. I could put together a lovely sentence. I could write a beautiful page of prose. I knew how to deliver an excellent scene. But a whole book with closure and an actual finish? Unless some reader wanted to meander through 600k words with no ending in sight, it wasn’t happening.

So I did two things. I enrolled in a creative writing course – Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT – to learn my writing craft properly, and I started on the long, bizarre, expensive road of IVF.

I’ve documented my experiences with IVF on my blog Fun With IVF, so you can read all about that there. It was a wild ride, especially that time when my beautiful IVF son Luke was about two and I started feeling nauseous to the point where I didn’t even feel like drinking coffee anymore and… Oh. Yes. Nature had surprises in store because apparently I could get preggo naturally despite it all, and along came child #2, my delightful, very wanted, unexpected but happy surprise, Charlotte.

It took many years, many invasive tests, many many many needles and so many dollars you don’t want to ask, but I had my kids.

The whole investigation into IVF thing kicked off sometime around 2009. Also sometime around 2009, I also started submitting short stories to anthologies and magazines. Not because I enjoyed writing short stories, short is really not my forte (did I mention the 600k thing before?), but because I had a plan to get published. To write novels and have them out there in the world. And I figured the best way to do that was to build a publishing history with short stories first.

So that’s what I did. For ten years I’ve been sending out short stories – a format I admire, but is totally not my natural home – and getting at least a couple of them published a year, all with the view that one day I want to publish novels. But while I believe in chasing dreams and working hard and persisting, I’m also a pragmatist and I know sometimes it’s just all out of your control. One of my oldest friends also dreamed of having children, but for her it never happened.

You will never achieve anything if you don’t put in the hard work and persist despite failure and rejection – especially in writing, where rejection is just part of the job.

But sometimes, no matter how hard you work, luck is also against you.

Anyway, I know that. I’ve always known that. But writing is my passion and I do it anyway and I’ve made my peace with that.

Except. Well. Something happened last weekend. Something I can’t tell you massive amounts about yet, the details will all be forthcoming I swear. But until then, let me just say:

Reader, I signed a book contract.

❤️

Continuum 15, it was grand

So I attended Continuum 15 in fine old Melbourne Town last weekend. For three days I watched, listened, pitched, panelled, talked, laughed, admired, caught up with old friends, made new ones, met a huge number of very lovely people, and drank way too much wine.

I went with a certain agenda – to pitch my manuscript, to make the acquaintance of a couple of people I wanted to meet, to appear on a panel, and to have a grand time. I came away from the Con having pitched multiple times (with corresponding invitations to submit), with a manuscript assessment spot on in excellent feedback, and having met an amazing number of people, all of whom were wonderful. And I definitely had a grand time.

Here’s a few pics, including from the panel I was on, “Fictional Librarians and Archivists” with the wonderful Sean McMullen and Gillian Polack, both writers I admire very much, so I had a great time on the panel with them.

Myself, Sean and Gillian deep in discussion

One of the first panels I attended – “We do this job so you can write about it” – featuring the ever awesome Aiki Flinthart, Sophie Yorkson, Kat Clay and Justin Bennett:

Guests of Honour for the convention were Kate Elliot and Ken Liu, who were both wonderful and engaging speakers. Here’s Kate’s session on narrative structure and working with audience expectations:

Kate Elliot presenting at Continuum 15

What Con would be complete without wine? What about wine in a tin? Yes, we had it. Yes, it is bizarre. And totally classy, I swear. I had about three sips from the can, then had to pour it into a glass, just to feel somewhat normal.

Tinned wine! Yes, it exists! Yes, we drank it!

I attended Aiki Flinthart‘s amazing workshop on ‘Writing Fight Scenes for Female Characters’. She presented an huge amount of information, all exceptionally well researched, ranging from the psychological to the physical aspects of fight scenes. I’d recommend it for anyone who ever has the chance to attend.

Aiki Flinthart presenting her workshop on Writing Fight Scenes for Female Characters

And lastly, a couple more pics of the panel I was on – Fictional Librarians and Archivists. Because if you’ve glanced at the landing page of this site, you’ll know that’s what I do when I’m not writing: work in information management, records, archives and libraries.

Sean, myself and Gillian on the panel
My fellow panelists and I.

Right, that about covers it. A bunch of us also agreed that WorldCon next year in New Zealand was an absolute must, so looks like there’ll be some travelling in 2020…

Shadows Winners Announced!

For those of you who couldn’t be at Continuum 15 to see the Australian Shadows Awards winners announcements last Saturday, you missed a grand night 🙂

Here is the full list of winners – but first, a pic of the wonderful Silvia Brown, this year’s convener and MC of the awards, presenting the winner of the Short Fiction award – Dan Rabarts for his story Riptide:

I’ve picked this one in particular to show, because I was on the judging panel for short fiction this year and it was an incredibly difficult decision to choose a winner, and to even create a short list, from all the amazing entries. But Dan’s story was a clear standout for the whole panel and a well deserved win. Congrats Dan.

The full winners list is here – congratulations to all winners and shortlisted entries!

2018 WINNERS:

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE WINNERS AND FINALISTS OF THE 2018 AUSTRALIAN SHADOWS AWARDS (ANNOUNCED AT CONTINUUM, MELBOURNE, JUNE 8, 2019

Collected Works

*WINNER: Shadows on the Wall by Steven Paulsen

FINALISTS
Bones by Andrew Cull
The Dalziel Files by Brian Craddock
Exploring Dark Fiction A Primer by Kaaron Warren
Beneath the Ferny Tree by David Schembri

Edited Works

*WINNER: Hellhole Anthology of Subterranean Horror Lee Murray

FINALISTS
Cthulhu Land Long White Cloud | Sequeira, Proposch, Stevens
Cthulhu Deep Down Under Vol. 2 | Sequeira, Proposch, Stevens
Behind the Mask Steve Dillon

Graphic Novel
(The judges for Graphic Novel unanimously agreed on a winner but not a shortlist.)

*WINNER: THE DEMON HELL IS EARTH written by Andrew Constant

Novel

*WINNER: Tide of Stone by Kaaron Warren

FINALISTS
Devouring Dark by Alan Baxter
Contrition by Deborah Sheldon
Teeth of the Wolf by Dan Rabarts & Lee Murray

Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction

*WINNER: The Black Sea by Chris Mason

FINALISTS
Time and Tide by Robert Hood
Love Thee Better by Kaaron Warren
Thylacines by Deborah Sheldon

Poetry

*WINNER: Revenants of the Antipodes by Kyla Lee Ward

FINALISTS
Your Mortician Knows by Bee Nielsen
Matinee by Hester J. Rook
Polarity by Jay Caselberg
The Middle of the Night by Rebecca Fraser

Short Fiction

*WINNER: Riptide by Dan Rabarts

FINALISTS
Planned and Expected by Piper Mejia
Slither by Jason Nahrung
The Ward of Tindalos by Debbie & Matt Cowens
The House of Jack’s Girls by Lee Battersby

The Shadows Awards – Shortlists Announced!

Hey folks, the shortlists are announced for the Australian Shadows Awards and it’s a stellar lineup.

I don’t have anything shortlisted, I didn’t enter this year because I’m on the judging panel 😀 And I’ve had a seriously amazing time reading some of the best Australasian horror short stories produced in 2018.

It was an incredibly difficult decision to get to the final five in the short fiction category and it was heartbreaking to drop some truly brilliant stories in favour of others for the final shortlist. But we had to narrow it down to five short story finalists and only one winner, and after much panel discussion, debate and agreements, that we did. And we think we found the greatest five horror stories published in 2018 – each of them is exceptional.

Winners are announced at the Shadows Awards ceremony, held at Continuum in June. I’ll post more on that later.

But for now… Congrats to all the finalists in all the categories!

2018 AWARDS

Announcement

2018 SHORTLISTED WORKS:

  • Best Collected Work: Bones by Andrew Cull, The Dalziel Files by Brian Craddock, Exploring Dark Fiction #2 A Primer to Kaaron Warren, Shadows on the Wall by Steven Paulsen, Beneath the Ferny Tree by David Schembri.
  • Best Edited Work: Cthulhu Land of the Long White Cloud & Cthulhu Deep Down Under Volume II – eds. Steve Proposch, Christopher Sequeira, Bryce Stevens, Hellhole An Anthology of Subterranean Horror – ed. Lee Murray,  Behind the Mask – ed. Steve Dillon
  • Best Graphic Novel: The judges of the Graphic Novel category unanimously agreed on a winner but shortlist will provided this year.
  • Best Novel: Devouring Dark by Alan Baxter, Contrition by Deborah Sheldon, Tide of Stone by Kaaron Warren, Teeth of the Wolf by Dan Rabarts & Lee Murray
  • Best Poetry: Your Mortician Knows by Bee Nielsen, Matinee by Hester J. Rock, Polarity by Jay Caselberg, Revenants of the Antipodes by Kyla Lee Ward, The Middle of the Night by Rebecca Fraser.
  • The Rocky Wood Award for Non-Fiction and Criticism: Several of the non-fiction entries received were excellent short form pieces, with great writing, quality research, and bravery shown in addressing the various subject matter. The judges felt that none were of sufficient depth or length to qualify for the Rock Wood Award.
  • Short Fiction:  Planned and Expected by Piper Mejia, Slither by Jason Nahrung, The Ward of Tindalos by Debbie & Matt Cowens, The House of jack’s Girls by Lee Battersby, Riptideby Dan Rabarts.
  • The Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction: Time and Tide by Robert Hood, Love Thee Better by Kaaron Warren, The Black Sea by Chris Mason, Thylacines by Deborah Sheldon.
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