Writing on the Edge

lakeroad.jpgAs a writer I favor trans-genre novels, stories, essays and creative nonfiction, exploring boundaries between nature and society, imagination and reality, fiction and nonfiction. I like blending innovative narratives that evoke magic realism, or metafiction; suspenseful plots; sometimes lyrical prose.

The ordinary yet memorable, flawed yet likeable protagonists face extraordinary challenges, surviving on the margins of society, dancing with desire and limitation, navigating illusions to find new, enduring grounds of identity. Their dissatisfaction spirals them away from the perfection within reach, until the journey brings them to new understanding, or ironic acceptance.

As a reader I like to be entertained by a combination of articulate prose, innovative narrative structure, deep character transformation: the hallmarks of literature. I like also to be entertained by compelling plots, gripping action, intrigue and suspense, speculative themes: the stuff of genre fiction. When these are combined, so much the better. Thus my favorite science fiction writer is Jack Vance, a prose stylist par excellence. Favorites of the horror genre are Stephen King and Peter Straub (who together collaborated on the classic parallel-world narrative, The Talisman). I also favor Michael Crichton, the earlier works, up to Timeline—when he crossed the line into sheer pulp. From the literary canon, favorites include Thomas Mann, with his intricate syntax and vast character epics; Don DeLillo, master of dialogue exposing the parallel worlds within each conversation; Margaret Atwood, bringer of erudition to the speculative universe.

Can it be too much to ask, to attempt both kinds of focus to a conditioned readership? Those schooled in conventional literary prose may turn their noses up at whiffs of murder and mayhem in a book; while many of those addicted to cinematic action will have no patience for the careful phrasing of a Douglas Glover. And likely neither camp much appreciated Norman Mailer’s quixotic attempt to meld the mystery genre with ironic gallows humor into literary fare with Tough Guys Don’t Dance.

Still, I feel it’s a worthwhile ambition to reach for the best of both worlds… in the hoary words of Plotinus, to “educate and entertain.” The following descriptions detail my own efforts to blend these intentions.

Rendezvous at Jumbo Pass, an adventure in the mode of magic realism, features a crisis in the wilderness multiplied by the imaginary device of a dream hall of seven doors. The narrative device creates the  metafictional interest of seven divergent plot possibilities, all contained and resolved in the final narrative outcome. Fans of the time-loop thriller Edge of Tomorrow, or its comic predecessor Groundhog Day, will find these deja-vus eerily familiar.

Strange Love / Romance Not For Sale brings artful, at times poetic prose to the task of portraying romantic and erotic longings and missed opportunities, expressing its anti-genre expectations in the titles of the two sections. Plot twists in Strange Love are echoed in unexpected narrative loops and mergers of character. Romance Not For Sale employs more conventional storytelling to delve into that territory of the heart not amenable to formula or cliché.

PsyBot, cast most narrowly as a cyberpunk prequel, is both speculative technothriller and character study. Its themes comprise both personal growth and corporate machination. The language aims for that balance of gritty description and eloquent quest that can satisfy equally readers of sci-fi or morality tale. The use of genre elements—alien abduction, offworld travel, astral projection—is effectively ironic, introduced by the antagonistic computer virus to tempt and tease, to call into question the arbitrary fabric of every virtual reality we yearn for or claim to inhabit.

Hunter’s Daughter is probably the least edgy of all of these works, thus likely the most commercially viable, as a mystery. Yet there too its genre associations are multiple: historical, mystery, crime, police procedural, women’s fiction, aboriginal studies, literary. The narrative is split between two very different voices: the first-person detective, the third person Inuit girl. By implication the whole story can be considered to have been told by the detective as the overall narrator. Within the novel itself, the characters (and readers) are challenged to confront and question conventional notions of justice, loyalty/integrity, cultural identity, truth and falsehood, hypothesis and illusion. Can the truth ever be known, and more important, does it really matter, compared to what one discovers about one’s own core beliefs and destiny?

Ultimately, it’s not about genre conventions, or manifestoes, but communion with the reader.  Writing is an act of holistic celebration; beauty in essence and conveyance; respectful creation and rendering of life and reality; a mirror, polished so as to present even more clearly than natural sight, the shape and meaning of things, seeing beyond surfaces to the connections beneath; stirring subtle spices in to enhance the otherwise only natural flavor of the root ingredients.

Then, simply to share, as a community practice, to entertain around the campfire of our leisure hours.

This is not classist, or colonial, or slumming in stone age culture; it is metaphorically what we do, in the commons of artful communication: using gifts of personal style to embellish our own experience and that which has become the heritage of our knowing.

In this enterprise I seek to connect, to put aside false dichotomies and political chicaneries; to transcend market forces and delve to more palpable handshakes, smoke signals, drum beats, bird calls and sacred murmurings. These we understand, accept, relish and honor, as the containers of our souls, as our very bodies are, for this time.

writing on the edgeSee also:

Manifesto: Why I Write

Meditation of a Hunter: Brog the Cyberpunk

Leave a Reply