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Author Topic: Furries, "speculative fiction", and publishing  (Read 2507 times)
Reiter
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« on: June 23, 2011, 03:51:24 PM »

Just thought I'd share an interesting tidbit I saw on agent Kristin Nelson's blog:

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It’s official. I’ve had three meetings with three different editors at three different children’s publishing houses.

The new hot thing is “speculative” fiction.

I guess we don’t want to call it science fiction, futuristic, and definitely not dystopian. LOL.

And we don't want to call it "furry" either. Or we do, but Furry's this embarrassing literary bastard child that defies all attempts to classify it. It's more of a sub-genre - or meta-genre, depending how you look at it - than a genre in itself, which makes it difficult for bookstores (read: publishers) to place it on the shelves. Does furry historical belong under Historical Fiction, or Sci-Fi? How about Fantasy? No, because this furry book is set in today's world - it's just, everyone's part-animal. So why not place it under Normal Fiction?

Gasp.

"Furry... amongst mainstream books?" Cicadas whine in the background. "Unthinkable!"

To which I say: ye of little faith.

I've heard of some furry writers (Malin of Sofawolf Press is one) submitting their stories to workshops and publishers under the label of "speculative fiction". Kyell Gold's "Race to the Moon" became a finalist in the Washington Science Fiction Association's small press award even though it *technically* had nothing remotely sci-fi about it. If Ms. Nelson is right and there is a new "trend" starting for speculative fiction, this may be the breakout moment furry fiction's been waiting for, our chance to legitimize our scribblings in the eyes of the international literary community - which will promptly spawn a wave of feeble imitations and allegorical copycats that generations of creative writing professors will come to scorn.

A better legacy I could not hope for. I say we go for it. Self-publishing, small-press publishing, they're perfectly fine. You get readers, you get publicity, and these days self-publishing isn't the stigma-laden vanity enterprise it was a few years ago. That said - just because we have e-readers, doesn't mean traditional publishing is already on the way out.(*) I think of it as getting an article printed in Science or Nature - sure, you can publish it in The New Babbington Annals of Medicinal Geology and still get cited or contribute to the field, but just getting through the intense screening of Science and Nature entitles you to instant cred. And if your article turns out to be a hit...

tl;dr - Aim high, just as high as every damn MFA student out there. Yes, most people won't score with a traditional publisher on most attempts, but you lose nothing in trying. Even if you don't succeed, your experience and your heightened standards could help you become one of the best furry writers in the fandom. Which is a darn sight better than aiming to be one of the best writers in the fandom and failing even at *that*.


(*) - Even less so for children's publishing, as agent-turned-author Nathan Bransford opines.
« Last Edit: June 23, 2011, 05:32:43 PM by Reiter » Logged

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Altivo
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« Reply #1 on: June 23, 2011, 04:08:14 PM »

Some furry books have been placed among the mainstream fiction at bookstores without question. Richard Adams' Watership Down and Traveller come to mind. But that's because they had a mainstream author and publisher, so no one questioned the content. England has produced other furry writers who are treated in the same manner, for instance William Horwood.

There is a huge body of furry literature, most of which has made it through mainstream publishers or we wouldn't know about it. Unfortunately, today's "convention furry" is steeped in video entertainment and gaming rather than literary reading, and is thus unaware of the long tail that's out there. They think furry was invented in the 80s at the very earliest, or maybe by Disney in the 50s but it didn't catch on for a while.

Today's furry lit has an image problem, that's true. And it's because furry fandom has an image problem as well, and a focus problem. So much of the visible fandom, and especially so on the net, appears to be sexually-focused and porn-based that there's a widespread assumption out there that furry fandom is actually a sexual perversion of some sort and that it's all about sex.

The term "speculative fiction" has been around for a while now, and yes, it's a euphemism for "science fiction" that was coined to try to avoid the mental image of nerdy teenage boys devouring space operas. That part has nothing to do with whether the work is furry or not.

The large increase in public imagery featuring fursuits is, I believe, going to change the overall public viewpoint and attitude toward the fandom. Fursuits may seem weird to some, but they are entertaining and appear to be harmless (just don't let them touch your children.) People have a hard time seeing a six foot fluffy tiger or kangaroo as a sexual image.

And the answer to the literary image problem is to get furry fiction out there, in libraries  and bookstores. Not on an isolated shelf labeled "furry" but intermingled in the appropriate genres whether they are science fiction and fantasy, mystery, romance, or whatever. And it would be much preferable, I think, if sexuality were downplayed in a lot of that material.
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« Reply #2 on: June 23, 2011, 05:32:20 PM »

I'm guilty of the image thing, myself. If you look on my website, you'll notice I don't call myself a 'furry fiction author.' I'm an 'anthropomorphic fiction author.' Sounds better. XP

If I was able to write more and had a more prolific output, I'd be far more likely to submit stories to mainstream publications simply because there are more of them out there. That and I don't often label my work as furry fiction. 'An Otter with a Pen', for example, I simply label as a drama.

It's nice to hear that this trend might be taking place; it's a great opportunity for all of us to get our names out there. And I guarantee the ones who become the most well known are the ones who will do it first, because everyone else will be compared to the first.
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« Reply #3 on: June 24, 2011, 01:54:17 AM »

I can see it being accepted. The redwall series pretty much clinched it for kids/young adults writing.

As for Scifi, I can see it happening. Think about it, people get robotic pets, why not get a talking dog? Or better yet, one that walks itself? A bipedal seeing eye dog!
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« Reply #4 on: June 24, 2011, 02:12:22 AM »

Oh, it's been done in science fiction, and accepted. C.J. Cherryh's Chanur race, for instance, are about as much like anthropomorphic lions as you could get. Of course, they're "aliens" so it's OK.

Then there's Ralph von WauWau, the talking German Shepherd in Spider Robinson's Callahan series. Of course, he was the product of an abortive scientific experiment.

But there are more. David Brin's books feature many anthropomorphic races that have been genetically "uplifted" to turn them anthropomorphic. McCaffrey's books include talking or telepathic animals of various sorts, as do Lackey's.

Science fiction will accept furry creatures like Wookiees if they are aliens or if you provide some plausible explanation for their existence.

Other genres have their weak points as well. In fact, there's even a kind of furry erotica in the romance novel genre now, what with all the werewolves. Patricia Briggs has her character who is a coyote shape changer. Lora Leigh has several series of books featuring various chimerae of human and animal genetics, including wolves, lions, tigers, panthers, coyotes, and more.
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« Reply #5 on: June 24, 2011, 01:06:07 PM »

Oh, it's been done in science fiction, and accepted. C.J. Cherryh's Chanur race, for instance, are about as much like anthropomorphic lions as you could get. Of course, they're "aliens" so it's OK.
And it stops being OK when they're not?

That's the part I'm not fine with: furries being accepted only under the aegis of SF. It basically shoves furry fiction into a box and says, "Anything outside this is suspect, or outright wrong." I'll grant that the majority of furry worlds fall mainly under Fantasy, having been based off different Earths from our own - but what about those that were modeled on ours? Blotch's Nordguard world, or Kyell Gold's Forrester Universe, or even Beatrix Potter's Beatrix Potter dimension? There is not a hint of SF in those worlds, and if one calls them "fantastical" by virtue of their alternate non-human histories, I say they're just as fantastical as Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" or David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest". Both have premises just as far-fetched and ridiculous as half-animal people, but they deal with the human condition and they're shelved with all the other "normal" books. Why should animal-people be confined solely to genre or children's fiction?

Some people say because animal-people need a justification, an ultimately human-dependent raison d'etre. I say bollocks to that. I want to write a story about animal-people, I'll write a story about animal-people. Take Neil Gaiman's "American Gods". Another in-betweener - bookstores can't seem to decide if it belongs in Mainstream or in SF/F - but it's "normal" enough for our purposes. The premise of that is that gods are real and corporeal; they walk the earth with us mortals, and piss and eat and fart just like us mortals. But they have deific powers, and that makes them gods. Is there any reason for this? Does Gaiman launch into an explanation of how, 500 million years in the past, a stray neutrino struck a glob of amino acids, thereby triggering a cascade of reactions that resulted in the evolution of divinity? No. The gods exist, and that's that. People believe in them, they walk the earth, they turn into this whole adventure-y metaphor for the entire tradition-vs.-novelty struggle, and nobody questions that because it works. It's a good read. That's all there is to it.

I think it would be neat if furries got by in the mainstream like that, on their own steam. Not because they're cutesy children's books (Beatrix Potter, Wind in the Willows), or allegorical tales (Watership Down, Aesop, Animal Farm, also Wind in the Willows), or belonged in a fantasy world (Dragonriders of Pern, The Magicians), or were actually mythological creatures with an urge to rut with humans (omg TWILIGHT), or were aliens/genetically engineered (much of what 'Tivo mentioned, and the majority of fandom stories that don't have furries "just because"). The "speculative fiction" trend looks like a way to get those stories out there, free from the boundaries of the Genre Box. It may well just be an editorial fad, but if it gets furry in with the "in" group, will it matter?
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« Reply #6 on: June 24, 2011, 02:35:40 PM »

Well, speaking as a librarian here, we consider "speculative fiction" to be the same thing as "science fiction."

Take something like Elizabeth A. Lynn's Chronicles of Tornor trilogy. It is set in a world that is never identified as anything other than our own, contains no magic, no mystery creatures, no furries, and nothing out of the ordinary. The people and culture vaguely resemble some historic elements from Japan and some from Central Asia perhaps or even the Americas. But it's also a world where social structures have evolved in different directions than our own and in the end, is about social strictures and how they may be contravened. But we generally see it placed in the science fiction area because it involves heavy speculative elements.

However, and I repeat, furry fiction, or at least, fiction with anthropomorphic characters, has never been confined to science fiction or speculative fiction. There is a lot of it that has always sat somewhere in the mainstream and not just for children, either. It is just a bit easier to present furry elements in a science fiction framework, so we see them a bit more often there.

Kyell Gold's football novels are not science fiction or speculative fiction. A bookstore that handles them, however, is still likely to pigeon hole them. The pigeon hole is "gay erotica" in that case. In order to avoid being locked into a "genre" with any restrictions or presuppositions that implies, a book must lack the elements that characterize the genre in question.

Rita Mae Brown's Hunt Club mysteries contain a lot of anthropomorphic animals, most particularly horses, hounds, and foxes. These characters (and they are full characters) think rationally, have names, talk among themselves though the humans can't or won't hear it, and play full roles in the overall story. These books are considered mainstream, however. They are either mystery fiction, or simply adult fiction, depending on where you draw the lines. And she has published quite a few like that, in at least three different series. Note too that Brown started her writing career as a lesbian feminist, and her early novels were so thematic that they are in fact classified with "gay and lesbian fiction" by bookstores and publishers. (They are also quite good, but have no furry elements with them in their little pigeon hole.) Most readers familiar with Brown's recent books are completely unaware of her earlier materials, which is sort of a shame.
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