A little over a week ago, my friend Amber and I went to Friends of Genre Conference (FOGcon) here in San Francisco. I only had enough time to attend a couple of panels, and had to skip even the live action role-playing game based on Hamlet (still waiting to catch up with Amber to see how it went). What I really liked about the panels I did hear ("Race, Class, and Urban Planning," for example) was that they approached writing almost entirely from the thematic point of view vs. issues of "craft." The conversation focused on the problems of contemporary society (for example, gentrification of cities and urban planning projects that cause more harm than good) and how to address these problems in writing (if you're creating an imaginary city, do you think about where the poor people live, or those who have service jobs?). So often in workshops we focus on "how to say something" problems that we forget to address the "what" of what we're saying. I loved the opportunity of reassessing yet again my own approach to writing.
Among other fabulous people at the conference, I talked to the man who edited? published? promoted? The Fabulist magazine. As a fellow editor, I should've known to ask for the man's name, but I got excited about his magazine and forgot to introduce myself or to ask for his name. The magazine has been around for a couple of years (I think), producing in this time two issues. I have seen their calls for submissions, but shied off submitting before reading an issue. Who knows what kind of approach to the fabulous they took? The weird stories that I write are inspired largely by contemporary Russian politics and might not make much sense outside of that context. What The Fabulist proposes to do is to bring together the world of fables, magic realism, and science fiction. Exciting!
I bought the second issue. It intersperses stories with art by the house artist Adam Myers -- a story of his is also featured in the issue. The whimsical art is clearly inspired by the content of the stories. I love the drawing (collage?) called "Knitted, Knotted" that goes with a weird tale by Bosley Gravel. The freaky little devil who emerges from within the body of a wise old woman is a great metaphor and really appeals to my understanding of wise old women. Most stories in the book had a fantastical element to them, but not all. Tram Nguyen's story "Khoa in Chiapas" could easily have appeared in any realist lit mag. Other stories explore fictional possibility of alternative energy, video gaming, plastic surgery; and others, like Gravel's tale, take roots deep in folklore and mythology. The reading experience was very diverse and thought provoking;.
Notable from narrative theory point of view was the way many of these narratives were segmented. Several of the longer stories, including Nyall Boyce's "Gleam" (which I liked a great deal) and Nguyen's story, alternate between different time periods in the life of the same character. Jeremy Adam Smith's story "Centaur in Brass, 2041" unfolds within a single timeline, but alternates the narrative modes in which the main character's story is told. In some segments we have access to the main character's physical reality, in others, we get glimpses of his avatar in the game world, and in third, we get only bits of dialogue as he and his teammates discuss their play by play progress in the game. We very clearly move between the different levels of this character's psyche. And the stories that alternate between the different timelines in the lives of their characters allows one timeline to be a commentary on the action that unfolds in another. This technique is not too far off from a more conventional flashback technique, but by breaking up the narrative into separate segments it forces greater distance between the character's past and future, allowing the two exist in parallel to one another, as if in two separate story worlds. One does not necessarily follow from one another. The causal relationship between the two is the most obvious, but there are other possible ways to interpret the ways the pieces connect.