Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"...And then what happened?"

There's some Internet controversy stirring over some unkind words from a blogger about a panel discussion with Neil Gaiman, Lawrence Block, Walter Mosley, Kat Howard, Joe Hill, Kurt Andersen, and Jeffrey Ford that took place on June 15 at Columbia University.

This post is not about that controversy.

This post is about the panel, which was the most informative and enjoyable experience of both editors' young lives. The editors listened to masters of the craft discuss their favorite subject: fiction.

(From left to right: Neil Gaiman, Lawrence Block, Walter Mosley,
Kat Howard, Joe Hill, Kurt Andersen, Jeffrey Ford.)

Each of the writers is featured in a new anthology, Stories, edited by Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. And unlike most fiction anthologies, there is no theme. The only thing these stories have in common is they all spin a damn good yarn.

To paraphrase Gaiman, fiction is about making the reader turn the page, asking the question "And then what happened?" Everything is about disappearing into a world of fiction.

The panel, moderated by Hill, discussed the blurring line between mainstream and genre fiction.
Hill defined mainstream fiction as "what people are buying."

Gaiman said that genres are useful for giant bookstores and nothing more. There are elements of genre fiction in everything because there is a cultural permeation of everything. Avoiding certain elements of pop culture is unavoidable, he said.

Mosley noted that all the so-called "greats" of literature were once popular. "Mainstream fiction is genre fiction," he said.

Howard said that it's unfair to classify fantasy as just elves and orcs. "Shakespeare wrote fantasy; he wrote to fill butts in seats," she said. He threw in witches and ghosts because it sold tickets, she continued.

One of the questions Hill posed was how did writers, especially those writers who write about vampires and other elements of the fantastic, get over their own sense of disbelief. To which Mosley replied, "I write whatever the fuck I want."

Towards the end, Gaiman spoke about Sturgeon's Law: Ninety eight percent of science fiction is crap, but ninety eight percent of everything is crap. The trick is finding that two percent.

"Fiction is more realistic than non-fiction," Mosley said. "Literature creates images and metaphors that relates to our lives," he said.

(Shane was lucky enough to grab Joe Hill on his way out.)

(Words by Kris Fossett. Images by Shane R. Toogood.)

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