Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

Still Writing A Year in the City (Touring My Mind in the Morning)

Midway on A Year in the City.

It's a curious thing, looking back, shifting, rewriting. It's a bit like pushing jigsaw puzzle pieces around to find the book's final form. I've got about a dozen concerns that run through my head, but the primary one centres on structure. A Year in the City has a linear reading line, but due to the mosaic construction, you're not required to read it this way. You can jump from month to month if you want. Outside the Dreaming City Part One and Part Two, you'll suffer no loss. Indeed, you can possibly read even these two chapters out of order, as they stand upon their own, outside the fact the in Part Two, Mark Twain goes looking for his heart. But still, I want people to actually read it in order, to follow the months through (the linear pattern is helped by defining each chapter as a month) and so I find myself finding ways to make that reading pattern more suggestive. But then I ask mrself if I'm really creating a whole out of this structure, or if it's just a collection? The question repeats. I look at a chapter where a man wakes up to find that his skin is fading, then at another where a man sews together the lips of other men together. Then I wonder if I have enough female narrators. I count. I think. I realise that one will have to change due to the fact that I dropped a chapter, and the gender balance is off. I ask myself if character types persist. I think of the note my supervisor left on one chapter that I explored the male hero roll with male narrators. What do I explore with female narrators? Do female narrators have a female hero roll? Ohmyfuckinggod what does this mean?

Later, you go to bed and dream about doctors breaking your leg on an operating table to replace your hip. You wonder what this means. You wonder why you're writing in second person. You can't decide. It probably means nothing.

Eventually, these questions are just pushed aside. At the half way point, A Year in the City is falling together. If the overall book works or not, that will jump from reader to reader, as always. It's publishable, so far, which is what is required for the doctorate side of this, and the personal side. That doesn't necessarily mean it will get published, but that kind of question is pretty useless at this stage. Whatever I write has no guarantee it'll get published. Taste is taste. The fiction can sell quickly, sell slowly, and it can sell not at all. I'm not at a point where I can't imagine no one buying anything of mine. What does raise a little concern for me, however, is what, exactly, A Year in the City is.

Genre is a nice marketing tool, and there are people who will tell you that that is all genre is, at the end of the day. They're not wrong, but they're not right, either. Genre also functions as a set of narrative rules and expectations that guide the reader. You pick up a high fantasy novel, and you expect that someone is going to pick up a sword and swing it around. The fantasy book will not be set on a farm where an old man who may or may not be a wizard slowly suffers from dementia, and the young boy who would be king, sits round and nurses him and thinks about how he could have been great, if he could just get of this farm, but doesn't, and his hopes and dreams fade. No. Pick up a high fantasy novel and those two are going to hit the road. They'll get off the farm. The wizard will be a wizard. The boy will be king. There'll be an evil. Genre gives you expectations, rules to help you work through the narrative experience, and guide you. Is this why speculative fiction is so popular amongst younger readers and as the-switch-off-your-mind-trash-reading option? Can it be argued that the overt nature of the genre rules is what gives speculative fiction its trash nature, and what makes it appeal to younger and less sophisticated readers? Reading, after all, is a skill. You read at different levels. We don't just hit twenty one and suddenly all of us read at the same level, after all.

I've gotten off track. I'm lost in my own talking. It's too early to be typing this, but here I am. I'm talking about genre. Fuck. I thought I wouldn't do this.

Imaginary Jesus: Does that mean we're back on?

Free Loading Alien: I have a sandwich.


Go away. Fractured psyche.

The question that remains in my mind about A Year in the City is what is it? It's not a serious question, just one I toss around, and occasionally get serious with when I look at it in relation to my work in general. A Year in the City is not a speculative fiction book. It doesn't play by the genre rules. In fact, it jumps genres. There's a bunch of crime fiction. There's romance. There's realism. There's fantasy. There's whatever you want, really. It's a book about a Mongrel City and it's a Mongrel Genre novel, slipping and sliding round with whatever it can get its hands on. Magic realism? Defining magic realism is a bitch, but I tend to link it to a form of post colonial form of writing, and there's a bit of that there, I guess. I'm just so not going to focus on the magic realist definition though. Fuck definitions of any genre. It's too early for that. I still break out in a rash when I remember sitting on a panel and hearing magic realism explained as what Gabriel Garcia Marquez does. I felt terribly enlightened--

Free Loading Alien: Aren't you going on about what kind of genre your stupid book is?

Imaginary Jesus: What did you put on this sandwich?

I got to kill those guys. Really. Soon as my mind mends itself, those guys are corpses. Still, there is a point. The end of the genre question is that I realised that genre is not what binds this book together. I am what binds this book together. My stained little presence is throughout the whole thing. The one thing that has grown while writing this book is my confidence in voice, narrative, form, everything. Like or hate what I do, it is slowly, but surely, becoming what I do. The concerns, the forms, the ticks, whatever. A Year in the City is simply, therefore, mine. It is the large form of writing that has come out of all that growth--and whatever that means, good or bad, that'll be decided by people later.

Free Loading Alien: Avocado.

Imaginary Jesus: Isn't avocado meant to be green?

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