final image made it all worth it
being really into history is cooler than being into math or science… someone who likes math and science is called a “math nerd” or a “science geek” but someone who likes history is called a “history buff” because of their strong, sensual arms
Cats Being Cats
Les Grandes Heures du duc de Berry, Paris 1409.
BnF, Latin 919, fol. 109r
Possum demon eatin’ a donut.
For those of you who read this month’s story, here I will talk about what it was trying to illustrate. (If you have not read it, the link is HERE)
I have been discussing genre, and the uses and technical considerations of genre, because genres are what the story is about, but only incidentally what it looks like. “Poison Fog” is a fantasy story by my definition, because it is about magic, and the consequences of the use of magic. Thst is what I believe fantasy to be really about, and whatever you dress it up as, that does not change.
Now, the story is also a war story, and that is a different genre. But notice how the two mixed genres complement each other. War stories are also about choices made under extraordinary circumstances and dealing with the consequences of those choices. That is what makes a war story great. War stories also frequently place the characters in relation to something much bigger than they are themselves. A standard quality of the war story is the juxtaposing of personal conflicts and tragedies against the larger dynamics of massed armies or momentous historical events - both things that lend gravity to the personal stories, even as the small stories lend humanity and focused drama to the larger events. Without the war the story becomes a simple drama, while without the drama a war story is just a history.
So “Poison Fog” is both a fantasy, and a war story besides, and since these two genres in fact share many elements the mix results in a harmony that can sharpen the symbolic edge of both. This has to be considered when choosing what genre your story is going to be - is the genre you are using at odds with the kind of story you want to tell, does it enhance it, or does it perhaps clash in strange ways, maybe sending you off in new directions? These are all things you have to consider.
Another thing about “Poison Fog” leads into the next topic of conversation, which is point of view. An examination of the story will point up that not only is the narrator nameless, but he does not make any meaningful decisions or choose anything that affects the outcome. This is because he is not the main character, but just the narrator. We are accustomed to the narrator and protagonist being the same person, but this does not have to be true. It works here because we sense that the person making the choices and taking action is Terry, and we watch him through the narrator’s eyes. In a longer piece, this would not work as well, but for 3600 words, it works just fine. Length is also a consideration in choosing POV, and that will be among the things I address in coming posts.
Looking forward to the POV thing.
I’m really intrigued by how the juxtaposition of “war story” and the fantasy elements combine to create a really creepy little story. It is a fantasy story, I can see that, but that’s not all it does. It’s not a bad fit for certain kinds of classic weird tale.
I’d like to see you talk, sometime, about the difference between authorial intent when writing, what you’re aiming for, and what happens when it is categorized by readers. You’re discussing genre in the sense of knowing how to work with the strengths of each genre, not in a “how to classify a story” way.
Because this could be marketed as a horror story and sold to a horror anthology, and it would be a good fit there, but it would be a bad fit for a lot of fantasy anthologies. I know when I talked about it with you, you seemed kind of surprised I found it as creepy as I did. (And creepy is a thing you do really well.)
I look forward to seeing what you do for a story when you do discuss horror.
And by “looking forward to, I mean “I won’t be reading it alone.”
I asked myself what style we women could have adopted that would have been unmarked, like the men’s. The answer was none. There is no unmarked woman.
There is no woman’s hair style that can be called standard, that says nothing about her. The range of women’s hair styles is staggering, but a woman whose hair has no particular style is perceived as not caring about how she looks, which can disqualify her for many positions, and will subtly diminish her as a person in the eyes of some.
Women must choose between attractive shoes and comfortable shoes. When our group made an unexpected trek, the woman who wore flat, laced shoes arrived first. Last to arrive was the woman in spike heels, shoes in hand and a handful of men around her.
If a woman’s clothing is tight or revealing (in other words, sexy), it sends a message — an intended one of wanting to be attractive, but also a possibly unintended one of availability. If her clothes are not sexy, that too sends a message, lent meaning by the knowledge that they could have been. There are thousands of cosmetic products from which women can choose and myriad ways of applying them. Yet no makeup at all is anything but unmarked. Some men see it as a hostile refusal to please them.
Women can’t even fill out a form without telling stories about themselves. Most forms give four titles to choose from. “Mr.” carries no meaning other than that the respondent is male. But a woman who checks “Mrs.” or “Miss” communicates not only whether she has been married but also whether she has conservative tastes in forms of address — and probably other conservative values as well. Checking “Ms.” declines to let on about marriage (checking “Mr.” declines nothing since nothing was asked), but it also marks her as either liberated or rebellious, depending on the observer’s attitudes and assumptions.
I sometimes try to duck these variously marked choices by giving my title as “Dr.” — and in so doing risk marking myself as either uppity (hence sarcastic responses like “Excuse me!”) or an overachiever (hence reactions of congratulatory surprise like “Good for you!”).
All married women’s surnames are marked. If a woman takes her husband’s name, she announces to the world that she is married and has traditional values. To some it will indicate that she is less herself, more identified by her husband’s identity. If she does not take her husband’s name, this too is marked, seen as worthy of comment: she has done something; she has “kept her own name.” A man is never said to have “kept his own name” because it never occurs to anyone that he might have given it up. For him using his own name is unmarked.
A married woman who wants to have her cake and eat it too may use her surname plus his, with or without a hyphen. But this too announces her marital status and often results in a tongue-tying string. In a list (Harvey O’Donovan, Jonathan Feldman, Stephanie Woodbury McGillicutty), the woman’s multiple name stands out. It is marked.