There’s milk for my tea,…

There's milk for my tea, yay!

So, Wiscon. The first thing on Thursday was a meeting with Broad Universe's board (I'm on the advisory board), where I mostly monopolized the meeting for an hour talking about Mary Anne's Compulsive Plans to Organize Everything and Thereby Actually Get Things Done. Some of which I think they may take as useful and implement. This turned out to be something of a theme this weekend -- I had similar conversations with the Clarion East fundraising people, and the Interstitial Arts people. Carl Brandon is moving in similar directions, but you can subsitutute "Victor" for "Mary Anne" in the phrase above for that group. :-) A lot of interesting groups have been formed in the genre in the last few years, with great ideas and goals, and with lots of smart people working on them -- it's exciting, watching them move towards a more...ummm...goal-oriented model. My conclusion on all this is that most of them need a) a project manager and b) many more committees to organize their volunteer staff. That seems do-able.

After the meeting, things were leisurely for a bit. I called my folks and Kev and such and let them know about the conversation with Bob that I'd had just before the BU meeting (such a terrific start to the convention -- the timing really couldn't have been better for getting that news). Then met up with my Jedediah who had just gotten in, and headed over to A Room of One's Own bookstore to hear McKillip and Arnason, the guests of honor, read. Very nice. After the reading, we went to Karen's for barbecue, big hunks of ground beef grilled by her manly Swede, which somehow felt very appropriate. I also toasted marshmallows with Jeremiah. :-) Stayed up lateish talking with Ben Rosenbaum and Susan Groppi and Ted Chiang -- I'm afraid we bored Susan a bit when we got into a detailed discussion of agents -- how you pick 'em. Ben advocates spreadsheets. :-)

Friday morning, Susan and I headed back to the hotel pretty early. I actually did a workout with weights and went for a swim, which made me feel excessively virtuous. Around noonish, the dealer's room opened for set-up, so I spent a while setting up the SLF Small Press Co-op table (also my stuff in the art show). Very exciting. I got to use my plexiglass brochure holders. I'll note that full-size flyers tend to flop over a bit, and that tri-folded brochures or other smaller pieces like bookmarks and postcards stay much more upright and visible. We need to make a trifolded membership brochure for the SLF. On the list. The banner looked gorgeous, though it was actually too high! Somehow I had just assumed the tables were three feet off the ground, which turned out to be patently untrue. Was okay, though -- we just folded the top over the edge of the table and it still ended up looking really good, and hopefully will for many dealer's rooms to come.

Various people helped to staff the table, so I wasn't completely stuck there -- I think for next time, though, I'll schedule myself there even less than I did. For this con, pretty much whenever I wasn't actually on a panel, I was at the table.

I think it was this day that I had a panel called "Fishing in the Mainstream" about cross-genre stuff. Went well. Interesting panelists, good conversation. Too much to try to summarize, though we did have a particularly interesting conversation about endings, happy or otherwise, and the differences between how they play out in the genre and in the mainstream. I also chided people for using 'literary' and 'mainstream' interchangeably -- I'm trying really hard to use 'mainstream' when I'm referring to the genre, and 'literary fiction' only occasionally for that sub-genre -- mostly, I reserve the word 'literary' for actual quality descriptions (and thus apply it to both literary mainstream work and literary spec fic work) and try to avoid using it as a definition of a kind of genre. I hope that made sense. I'm also trying to use 'spec fic fiction' rather than 'genre fiction', though that's much more of an uphill battle, even just in my own head. But I do think it's important that we acknowledge that 'mainstream' is a genre definition. The word 'genre' is too useful to let it stand in vaguely for spec fic -- or sometimes, and unpredictably, spec fic + horror and/or romance and/or mystery.

Dinner with Jed and others at a Laotian-Thai place two blocks away, which I liked so much that I ended up eating there again. Their very-spicy is *almost* too hot for me to eat. Yum. In the evening, wandering the parties. I'm forgetting what the main parties were that I spent time at that night. It all turns into a blur so quickly...

8 thoughts on “There’s milk for my tea,…”

  1. I thought “genre” referred to a classification system…ie, mystery, fantasy, sf, romance, historical fiction, horror, magical realism, western, etc, are all separate genres (if that is an OK plural for “genre.”) I always took “mainstream” to mean “anything that cannot be readily classified under this system.” Am I a confused fan?

  2. Well, I think that’s how it’s been used, for the most part. But I’d re-assign ‘mainstream’ to be the ‘genre of realist fiction’. There’s a lot of overlap, of course, and blurriness. Magical realism, for example, is generally published as mainstream fiction, despite its fantastic elements. Mainstream in that case is a marketing category, meaning the vast bulk of people who think they prefer not to read spec fic (or mystery, or romance) fiction but actually like tons of it and just don’t realize it. 🙂

    There are no perfect systems for all this. I just feel like we could improve the precision slightly. And get rid of some careless and prejudicial language in the process, the sort of thing that makes it easy for snooty people to say they like ‘literary fiction’ but not ‘genre fiction’, when what they’re actually try to say is that there is no literary science fiction. Which is patently untrue.

  3. Mary Anne,

    A thought occurs to me – how would you classify most “bestsellers” in the fiction ranks? Stuff like “The DaVinci Code” or various Scott Turow novels etc.

    and related to that, how do you (if you do) seperate stuff like “Mao II” from various Ernest Hemingway novels vs The Rabbit series etc. Where would James Joyce fit in (Realist fiction seems highly awkward)

    I guess it seems to me that there are variations amongst “mainstream fiction” and that there is also a difference, albiet tricky to fully identify. Something like “books that intend on being ‘literary’ ” (though they might not succeed in many people’s opinions; and books which do not.)

    This type of use of “literary” might hold across many genres. Certainly many books in various genre’s do not aspire to “literary” status (Conan, The Gor series, The Stainless Steel Rat series). At the same time, many books across various genres are clearly written with the influence of being seen as “literary”.

    Does this make any sense? I understand what you are getting at (here and on the panel) but I’m also still struggling a bit with the “mainstream” category as you define it – seems even from a marketing perspective that there are at the very least sub-genres (bestsellers vs. others vs. classics (i.e. stuff that is taught in high school) etc).

    Shannon

  4. I’m going to ignore the ‘literary’ bit above, because I think you pretty much address it — whatever genre you write in, you can attempt to be literary or not. That still isn’t a useful genre distinction.

    And of course mainstream has many subgenres — so does science fiction (hard, soft, social, cyberpunk, etc.). Mainstream subgenres would include things like chick lit, various ethnic, etc.

    I’d put the Da Vinci Code into mainstream realist / thriller — two overlapping genres.

    I’d put Joyce in mainstream realist for some of his books, and surrealist or magical realist for others. Similarly for Rushdie.

    I don’t think ‘bestseller’ is a useful category for any of this — that just means it sold well. Any book in any genre can potentially be a bestseller; it says nothing about the book except that a lot of people liked it (and that it was probably marketed well with lots of publicity money :-).

    And I don’t think ‘classic’ is a useful category for this either — that just means that a lot of academics and others thought it was important for a while. Similarly for the literary canon (the sort of U of C Great Books thing) — works move in and out of the canon based on the fashions of the time, making it a pretty useless absolutely category to describe what a book *is*. It’s working on a different axis entirely, to describe whether a group of people consider said book to be important.

    Often such books aren’t even very literary — sometimes they’re just important/interesting because they were the first of their kind, or because they’re one of a few books published by women/blacks/etc. that early, or because they seemed to represent the cultural spirit of an age, or because they influenced politics at the time.

  5. I think one bit of background that’s worth explicitly noting here is that when sf readers say “mainstream,” they generally mean (more or less) “anything other than science fiction or fantasy (or sometimes horror)” or “anything that doesn’t contain speculative elements”—in my experience, there’s often not much recognition that literary fiction is a genre.

    Which is to say, when sf people say “mainstream” they often mean “all that crap that I won’t read ’cause it’s not speculative,” with little recognition that there’s any distinction between kinds of non-speculative fiction.

  6. Hi Mary Anne!

    It was unreasonably much fun hanging out with you.

    Did I _advocate_ spreadsheets? I think I said I was compulsive about using spreadsheets; however, I rather like your Taoist method of finding an agent… and it seems to be working out for you!

    I more or less agree with your uses of the words “literary” and “genre”. I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with conflating “mainstream” with “realist”. I think “mainstream” properly refers to “works intended for the undifferentiated mass of readers who do not think of themselves as being in a particular genre community” — thus it’s a historical accident that at the moment, “mainstream” equals “realist” — and indeed, “mainstream” is more properly a marketing category than a genre.

    yet more awed congrats on your awesome book publishing feats of prowess…

    hugs

    Ben

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