Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Regarding the lack of Genre Fiction at the SC Book Festival

A few words about the South Carolina Book Festival:  This was my second trip having attended last year with Brian K. Ladd.  This time B. Miller joined us for a Reedy River Rats road trip.
 As in last year, I learned a few things at the two panels I attended, one with first time novelists, and the other on a comparison between science fiction and fantasy.  But I was dismayed when their were only two authors featured on this panel.. What does that say about the state of genre fiction in South Carolina?
Janice Hardy, the fantasy side, author of The Shifter, a novel about the dark side of healing and James O'Neal, author of the future world crime novel set in Florida  did offer valuable tips about their genres and the industry.
However, the only author inpsiring me in a big way was Nick Valentino of Tennessee, author of Thomas Riley, a steampunk novel.  He went in there with the confidence and flair of a true writer, decked out in steampunk gear - goggles pushed back on his head, eyes blazing with a contagious excitement and an enthusiasm for his trade and his genre. He animately gave out tips on how to get published along with stories of his ttravels while on his book tour. We stood next so magically enhanced with the real items used in his book,  I couldn't stop looking at it. The display reminded me of an Arts  & Sciences talbe in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).  Sure it held the neatly stacked piles of his book, but also boasted Cd's, patches, stickers and even better, the physical accoutrements of his genre, odd little steam punk items. The glass alchemy jars, motors and pestles that Thomas Riley uses, the odd metallic items that conjured a myriad of ideas.  
Armed with stitched badges he sold for a pittance, Nick invited you into the steampunk world of his book before you evern read the back cover or synopsis.  He was a barker in the true sense of the word, but with style, with elegance. You knew he had fun writing his book and what's better, he offered you the chance to take the ride with him, including inviting you onboard as a Sky Pirate.
There was no one else there like him. It takes someone from outside of our state to show us how to bring their love for their genre and literature into scope for potential reader's understanding.
I realize this is a book festival designed to market local books, both current and antiquarian, and not a writer's convention. But sitll, I found it very odd to see genres like horror, magical realism, slipstream etc. left out. Perhaps it's meant to be only a literary festival. There is a large focus on historical and nonfiction books on the state, however, history and sense of place are often included in genre fiction as well. Genre books become both best sellers and Pulitzer Prize nominees. Look at Stephen King and Salman Rushdie for example.  Horror set in a particular place over and over, such as King with Maine. And odd genres like magical realism are recognized by the largest literary prizes available, yet not a word, not a book, nada.
As the owner and editor of Fissure, there's no lack of genre writers in this state. I receive lots of submissions. So what's the deal?
Why are the literary organizers in our state shutting  off to the varied paths to writing and the enjoyment of the reading public? Are we intent on getting a "reputation" in a certain literary style as a state or do we support all writers, aware the next writer to resound throughout the world could be southern based or South Carolinian - and yes, horror of horrors, even be a genre writer.
Neil Gaiman spoke in his journal about how he'd never read or signed in Alabama in the 22 year he's criss-crossed the U.S. on book tours. He asked his publisher about this.  If you're a genre writer, I encourage you to click on his name and read this entry. You'll see what the big publishers think of the south and you won't like it.
If I know Gaiman, he'll work to change that image - but I, as a  genre writer must strive to change it from the inside too. Not by moaning and groaning, but by attending the conventions instead of only running away to conventions in more entlightened states.
Perhaps as genre writers, we could attend en masse.  I don't know. Maybe I'm idealistic. But it wouldn't hurt to ask for panels on genre writing and request to be included to speak on panels.  If Nick Valentino was accepted for a panel and author signings, then they may be open to the rest of us as well.  We could be heard.
There are genre writers right here in South Carolina, good writers, and its easy to bugger off to other cons where the people "get us", where it's easier to market our books. But then things will never change here - not from the inside, not to the point our own state will recognize us as writers and support our efforts to help South Carolina be veiwed as a state which produces books and writers of all kinds.

Oh - and if that's not enough to chew on - all wrtiers out there looking for agents and publishers - you might want to read this post by Charlie Stross on book deal contracts. It's not the final word, but a great intro from a guy who's been there, on a very important and complex subject.


  1. The lack of enthusiasm for genre fiction, including horror, magical realism and slipstream, is a daunting problem at conventions like the SC Book Festival. I have been thinking hard about ways we can start this paradigm shift for our fellow South Carolina authors. Being resentful and angry doesn't get us anywhere, but we can use our frustration as fuel to feed our collective fire. I wonder who we should start writing letters to, to begin work towards achieving the goal of having a broader sampling of South Carolina writers' genre fiction at the next SC Book Festival. Any ideas?

  2. For a start we can fill out SCBF survey online since it has room for comments. They've taken the author submission page down which tells how to be considered for signings or panels but for this year an author was required to submit their book months ahead for review before the author was under consideration as a presenter. So genre writers would have to submit their book and see what happens.
    We could write directly to the main sponsor,The Humanities Council SC, POB 5287, Columbia, SC 29250.

  3. In our letters, we could also cite this post which comes directly from the ABOUT page on the SC Book Festival website. "The SCBook Festival offers panel discussions and presentations on a variety of popular genres and literary topics, from the latest trends in new fiction to regional favorites to outstanding poetry performances."

  4. That's a shame! I may write YA & non-fiction, but sci-fi is still my first love. What were the genres most represented? I know my publisher submitted my information for consideration, but I don't think they received a response.

  5. In my opinion, the focus was on literary novels, historical fiction related to South Carolina and non-fiction.

  6. Wow. Really... Wow. I can't thank you all enough. You are amazing people and I want to know you all more. A thousand thank you's. I honestly need to be better friends with all of you and I really can't wait to get back as soon as possible. It's rare to meet really great people. I can tell we are of the same ilk but live in different states. While I don't know what exactly the Reedy River Rats are, I'm so happy to have met you all and can't wait to see you all soon.

  7. I would have to agree with you. In its beginning years, the Texas Book Festival had local authors, mystery panels and other genres. It's now focused primarily on the big names and literary works. It's sad for both writers and readers. I'm hoping it will boomerang back to its beginnings. I hope that will happen with each state's Festival.

    Straight From Hel

  8. Thanks so much Nick. We don't stop talking about you here. Your excitement has us all inspired to look at how we present writers and writing with new ideas. You have so many! We may steal some if you don't mind. We brainstormed a lot on the trip home. The Reedy River Rats Guerilla Wrting Group is our writers critique group which has met once a week for more than five years. There's only the three of us now, since many of our writers moved away. We'll keep an eye on your schedule and try to hook up again at cons.

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  10. Helen - as you mentioned in your March 3rd post about how indie presses are growing, maybe there will be a shift to include genres at future book festivals.


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