How Publishing Is Rigged You thought it was a meritocracy??

8Sep/11

Four Kinds Of Stories

booksThe crappy stories coming out today can basically be broken into a few key types, each with particular identifying characteristics. Stories might feature slightly different topics and subject matters, but once you start to analyze the fiction that's most eagerly pushed by those in power, you can easily assign one or more of the following labels to each story. (There can also be a fair amount of overlap, as you'll soon see.) As I expose some of the truly awful literature that’s out today, I'll use these categories to describe the stuff I'm picking apart.

Modern literature would be in a much healthier place if instead of being able to lump contemporary fiction into the above categories, we were unable to assign labels to the work we read. I’d much rather discover that a story is new, fresh, different, and defies categorization. But what I've found again and again is that everything that I read can be labeled with at least one of the above four categories.

At magazines big and small, editors are all looking for the same attributes for the work that they publish: Be boring. Be lifeless. Be humorless. And the result is that all of these stories are fundamentally the same. And the editors at the publishing houses are no better than editors at the magazines. They also stick to the established formula and publish things that are safe: “We published Safe Novel X last year. Safe Novel Y looks just like Safe Novel X so let’s publish that one too.”

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8Sep/11

Bauble Stories

Antique Jewelry BoxMost fiction published today can be quickly identified as one of four basic story types and in this post, I’ll look at what I call the “Bauble Story.” The other types of stories are listed here—but please remember—there can be a fair amount of overlap. An MFA Story can have a lot of Bauble Story elements, for example. The other story types are:

The Bauble Story is the stuff that is most easily identified by its close attention to surface details about delicate things—and most often, foodie-type things: detailed descriptions of culinary creations, baubles of an edible sort. Details about stemware and A-line dresses, three kinds of blue cheeses and carefully-folded lingerie. Pretty dainty pretty dainty things and nothing else, stories that are like a slow walk around Tiffany’s. Never you mind that an itemized list of delicate details offers nothing more than a glimpse of your grandmother's linen closet; the more delicate and boring the details, the better. A Bauble Story clasps its hankie-holding, lace-gloved hand to its just-modest-enough décolleté and sighs in relief: We've not gone too far. Our heart's gone a mite bit aflutter, but all's well after all.

The rich, emotionally terrified people who write these stories—and they don’t have to be women, or even feminine topics; masculine concepts (imagine detailed descriptions of the weathered surface of a leather messenger bag) are equally viable as subjects in a Bauble Story—are getting only so far themselves. And to protect their delicate sensibilities, these people have chosen to write about the safest, most boring things ever. And I'll ask again: why do they think we want to read this stuff? We're interested in literature that takes us somewhere new and gets our hearts pounding, not these careful observations of delicate pretty surfaces. It's very frustrating to see the same thing in venue after venue, even as those same venues purport to be new, edgy, and different.

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