January 21st, 2006


Freaks and Geeks was a TV Show, Once.

Workshop done. Every year, when I stroll in, I get asked the same question by otherwise intelligent adults, men and women who teach philosophy, law, the human brain, all sorts of things I don't know shit about. These intelligent people sit there and ask me what course I run and then ask that question. The question is never: how do you define fantasy? It's never: which is better, science fiction or fantasy? No, never this, because those questions are stupid, the equivalent of who is better, Picard or Kirk, a sign of the ugly geek. So, no, it is never that question, or the questions that surround it that many people like to pull out and analyse; rather, the question that is asked, innocently, curiously, is always, "What is speculative fiction?"

Ten Things About My Fiction.

Ten ways to tell you're reading one of my stories.

I like the idea of this meme, so here it is, and we'll see how it goes. I'm not sure I can find ten things that reappear throughout all my fiction, which I like to think of as fairly varied, so instead, these are just threads that appear in them. Maybe other people got a different set of ten, but these are the ones that I'm conscious of, and which, in some cases, I deliberately avoid. In A Year in the City there are eighteen different narrators, so I was grew a certain awareness of what I'm capable of, what I'm not, what I do subconsciously, and so forth, so I could avoid them.

1) Long sentences. So long, at times, I'll get tangled up in them myself.

2) Violence. In some form, some shape, violence occupies the centre of my short fiction. A lot of my short stories are centred around a violent act, the plots and characters weaved into (or out of) the act to explore that moment.

3) Footnotes. Who doesn't love footnotes? I put footnotes in sword and sorcery stories, that's how much I love footnotes. One day, people are going to say, "It's another fucking story with footnotes from Ben Peek," and I will rejoice, but not stop. Who would listen to that kind of person, anyway?

4) If a story is under two thousand words, I begin experimenting with form. Stories in footnotes, in questionnaire answers, in excerpts from larger works, narratives that allow me to use page space differently, chopping points of view, using different narration techniques, whatever I can get my hands on. There's no reason why a piece of flash fiction shouldn't have the narrative weight of a five or six thousand word short story threaded through it, no reason why it should rely upon the last minute twist technique that many pieces do. Flash fiction means fuck the traditional short story rules, you ask me.

5) Profanity. Who doesn't like a bit of the old fuck and shit and cunt and you fucking hairy cunt?

6) Dialogue. I'm a dialogue heavy writer on anything over two thousand words--in fact, I love the Dialogue form because it allows me to write stories around a thousand words that are nothing but dialogue. Perhaps the thing I enjoy writing more than anything else is dialogue and there are stories, really, where I've cut out two pages of dialogue that did nothing just because I got into the beat of it.

7) Nationalities and Minorities. You read a story of mine nowadays and I'm pretty much writing everyone's skin colour as a description, trying to give a weight to white culture, and filling the stories with minorities that have no cultural weight. By this I mean you can't read one of my stories and think, "So, such and such is a token character, speaks for this minority, whatever." If you do think this while reading my fiction, I've done something wrong. In fact, it kind of bothers me that I list this as a trend in my fiction, but I'm conscious of it, so there you go.

8) No such thing as good and evil. God, how I hate the good and evil plot card. I'm always on the lookout for making things a bit more morally ambiguous.

9) I often start a story with a short, sharp line.

10) I like to think I have a wide range of voices and techniques that I've picked up, and which makes my fiction, ultimately, quite diverse. I'm not sure how many people would agree with that or not, but if I sit down to write a story, and I'm not doing something radically different to the piece that I wrote previously, it won't work out. I'll get bored. How that actually appears to the reader, I've no idea. Perhaps it doesn't, but it's my tenth note on this subject.
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