June 19th, 2012

Marshall Payne

Last Ditch Attempt to Get My Cruddy Music on the Radio

For a limited time, “A German Storyteller” free for Kindle!

I believe this is probably the best piece of short fiction I’ve ever written, yet I couldn’t find a home for it. So what went wrong?

I knew when I was writing “A German Storyteller” that it would have a difficult time finding a market. Still, the idea of retelling “Hansel and Gretel” from the POV of an oven made in a meth lab was too irresistible to ignore. Sure, I could’ve told it without the “sex and drugs and rock and roll,” but where’s the fun in that? Okay, there’s really no sex in it, but it is a counter-culture story, and those are almost impossible to sell in short SF/F nowadays.

Sure, I get it. Since the days of Hugo Gernsback our field has been rather conservative, though I thought the New Wave back in the '60s had changed all that. And that the cyberpunk/humanist wars of the '80s solidified it. Those battles should’ve already been won. Yet today, outside of a few stories that occasionally appear in F&SF and Asimov’s you hardly find anything that acknowledges counter-culture in anything but in a tamed-down half-hearted way. If that.

One reason for this might be that these new markets are mostly online zines and editors are cautious about what they put out on the Internet. Daily Science Fiction, since every story is sent to its subscribers by email first, comes readily to mind. Have you noticed how so many of the stories featured in DSF have a youthful protagonist, and the subject matter is almost always something that wouldn’t offend…well, anybody? Have you noticed how safe the stories are? Not that I’m professing fiction that offends only for the sake of shock value, but the fiction I’m prefer to read deals with “grown-up” themes and dances on the edge. If Leno or Letterman’s monologue―a good indicator to determine the current mood and tempo of America I’ve always felt―were somehow converted into a science fiction story, it would be too politically incorrect to be publishable in most of our zines.

Now, I realize that “A German Storyteller” is an in-your-face counter-culture story, one that looks at life in modern America with an acerbic irreverence, all while poking fun at the contrast between bourgeois values and society’s seamier elements―so perhaps that’s why it didn’t sell. And then again, maybe my story sucks. Perhaps I’m vain enough to think I could ever “get my cruddy music on the radio.” I don’t think that’s it, because the story did get passed up to a few editors desk’s and received some interesting rejections. And art will always be subjective.

In the long run it’s no big deal that I couldn’t find any takers for this particular piece at the pro and semipro level. But as I said, I hardly see any of this type of story being published today. I do, however, see mainstream/literary short fiction using these elements frequently, which makes me wonder if SF/F will ever shake its “this stuff is for children and always will be” stigma?

I’m not exactly sure what the problem is or why the current markets are so cautious and their offerings so tame. Some of it might be that the new SF literati is trying so hard to be noticed by the mainstream that they’ve become very rigid and conservative, a conservatism they purport to loathe. Some of it might be political correctness taken to an extreme by those who seem to take everything so seriously they’ve lost their perspective. (Yeah, I know, we’re not supposed to use the term “Political Correctness” anymore. You know who says that? People who don’t like having their overzealous attitudes pointed out, that’s who.)

This is not to say that there aren’t any counter-culture elements or themes of an “adult” nature being employed in our field. But it’s almost exclusively in the novel market. Some urban fantasy (Stacia Kane gets it right in her Chess Putnam series). Even a bit of high fantasy. Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel novels have much in common with the hottest selling mainstream book at the moment, Fifty Shades of Gray.

So what’s up with SF/F short fiction? Why has it become so hidebound and conservative? In the past, short fiction used to be the place for a fair amount of experimentation, a home for the outré, a place where writers and editors were willing to take chances. You know, the Dangerous Visions kind of stuff. Nowadays that’s laughable.

I can’t do much of anything as a reader but bitch, but as a writer I now have a new and formerly unacceptable option: self-publishing. So for a limited time I’m offering “A German Storyteller” for free in hopes of finding a larger audience for this kind of thing. Because, despite all the rejections, I believe this might very well be my best story. As well as being a totally new take on revisionist fantasy.

I’ll leave you with this anecdote:

The rejection I got from a certain online semipro zine was the funniest of all. (Hint: it rhymes with “necromancer.”) I never got past the slush reader there as she thought the humor was “demeaning to drug addicts and prisoners.” I’m still laughing at that one. My inner circle is laughing, too. One friend pointed out that the slush reader probably thought I was some straight white guy writing about something I knew nothing about. That the slush reader had no idea that I’ve actually lived the lifestyle. It’s not like I mentioned my youthful bohemian behavior in my cover letter, so who knows? But I assure you I’ve...can we just call those alternate-lifestyle experiences “research”? Works for me.

If you find the above rejection amusing, “A German Storyteller” might be just for you. It’s a retelling of “Hansel and Gretel” like none before it. And for a limited time (three days as per the KDP Select program option), it’s free for Kindle on Amazon.com.

Your patronage is appreciated. And if you’d like to help spread the word, that would be great, too. Thanks in advance.