Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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That Short Story Market Question

The Sci Fi Signal Mind Meld is running a question today that goes, "Q: Nobody questions the relevance of genre short fiction, but there is some debate about the health of the market itself. From your perspective, is the short fiction market in trouble? If not, why the debate? If so, what is the cause?"

Despite the fact that 'relevance' of genre short fiction is kind of ridiculous--relevant to what, then? A genre that prides itself on ghettoisation and a kind of second cousin elitism that every few months feels the need to ask why it isn't taken as seriously as literary fiction?--that's a kind of longer debate, and not really here at the moment.

However, in the responses, the one I liked best came from Nick Mamatas (nihilistic_kid):

While generally not possible to make a living writing short stories for genre magazines and anthologies — even Howard Waldrop teaches at Clarion occasionally — even when it was possible it was hardly anything more than a miserable existence. The "can't make a living" crowd makes the same error as a novel crowd: they are ultimately complaining that they cannot make a living writing just those stories they wish to write, at the rate they wish to write them.

A while back, when I was teaching creative writing a little more, I would find myself in a conversation with people about how I'd come to the opinion that writing was a middle class pursuit. This doesn't mean, of course, that anyone anywhere can't do it, but it takes time, and when you're working two jobs, struggling to pay your bills, and in debt, the choice to sit down and write isn't one that rates real high, and so I find that most people doing it are in fact middle class and above; in addition to that, there is an educational content to writing, and there is a difference between the educations given to those sent to private, catholic, and selective schools, than to those who are sent to under funded public schools because they live in the area. It shows in the opportunities you are given, the people you are exposed to, and the future that you are told you can have.

Actively labeling yourself as middle class is not something that a lot of people rush out to do, possibly because it has no social value. Me, I'm middle class, even if I don't have the money of it--but I have the education and, if I wished, I could take that, the skills I have, and so forth, and I could turn it into a career that pays more. I don't consider what I'm doing to be slumming it, in that way that rich kids rent shitty little apartments and buy their clothes from Saint Vincent de Pauls--a practice that I've always found kind of ugly--but I can't say that if the grind of what I'm doing got to the point where I simply hated it, I couldn't change. I'm an over educated motherfucker with more choices available to me now than when I left High School, and got told that a job in a hardware store was my future.

There is nothing wrong with writing being a middle class pursuit, really, except that what it means is that when questions like this come up, I always find myself coming back to the question of class, and the expectations of an acceptable living standard that goes with each.

(As an aside, I also think that the majority of speculative fiction has, in recent years, grown to reveal a middle class mind frame in its attitudes and styles and imagination, but like the point about relevance, that's a longer argument, and one I'd need a lot more time to think about. But if you were going to write an essay about it, I reckon you could, and that you'd get a fair bit of mileage out of it.)

I nicked the card below from Tessa's blog:

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