So you’ve written your weekly flash story and go to the collector to post it. The title looks good, the link is a cut and paste job from your blog, your name, well your name is your name (unless like mine it’s actually your nom de plume) and thanks to your writing programme’s word count function even the length is pretty incontestable. So far so easy right? But then we get to the drop down menu for Genre’. It’s now the trouble begins…
I don’t write genre. Even when I might use a trope like the werewolf, what I do with it has nothing to do with long established werewolf literary tradition (I wrote a gruesome six line story about the physical symptoms of Lupus and transliterating it across to the supposed signs and powers of the werewolf). So that rules most of the possible options out at a stroke.
Next under consideration might very well be slice of life, since producing a story every week usually entails I’m taking something I’ve seen or experienced from real life, so that might fit… Only, where I take it has little to do with reportage or realism. Rather it starts as a metaphor, such as when I stepped off a bus and saw an abandoned lady’s flat shoe and ended up with a non-linear story that involved a pile of holocaust inmates’ shoes on display at Auschwitz and the Arab journalist who threw his shoe at a visiting US President. So slice of life didn’t make the cut either.
Marc Nash Reading
See the shoe became a metaphor for many things in that story and that’s what I tend to do in my flash. I take a central image or idea and then I turn it round through many different facets and see how the light and shades of meaning reflect off it. Flash is perfectly suited to that, 1000 words to deal with nuance and variegation, shades of light and dark. But metaphor is the meat and drink of literary fiction isn’t it? What I write therefore ought to be regarded as literary fiction, one of the only two labels left. Only I don’t even know what literary fiction means as a label. Why can’t genre books have literary values such as ornate language and depth of characterisation? Many do of course. Seems to me litfic is the dumping ground for when a book can’t be neatly pigeonholed & tagged with a genre label. And while that may very well apply to my work, it’s too much of a negative for me, that it’s only this because it’s not something else.
So that leaves us with just the final option. “Experimental”. Now, yes you guessed it, I have a problem with this label. What I write tends to be unconventional, in that it doesn’t readily conform to most of the ‘givens’ of story (sometimes it doesn’t even pretend to be a story at all). I do lots of things with language and words; words that mutate into other words, wrong words, single word sentences, lists as narrative… So it’s not really writing of the norm, but is it experimental? To me the word experimental has too many negative connotations. It suggests something undertaken without fully knowing how it would end up. It can imply something transitory, that’s not really meant to last. It conjures up notions of something not fully formed, incomplete, not wholly realised. I may not know the destination when I sit down to write one of my lesser conventional narratives, but I never feel it is not under my control and in my grasp. I absolutely declare them concluded when I decide to publish them, that they are fully realised within their own literary terms. And I demand of them to stand the test of time and persist, otherwise I have failed in their creation. So no, not experimental in those senses.
So what’s left? Now ‘unconventional’ isn’t really a useful delineation either. I don’t have any suggestion to petition the site designers with to add another category to the drop down menu. Rather it all just reinforces my notions that all literary labels are a tad reductive, diminishing the work in similar fashion to how a one-line pitch of our book diminishes a work of 60,000 words by boiling it down to 16 or so. Like Hemingway, if I wanted to tell a story in 6 words I would have done so, rather than opt to tell it in 60,000. So I leave it as unspecified in the genre box. I can appreciate that saying something is steampunk or erotica (is there an erotica category on the menu, I don’t even know) at least helps the reader have an idea of what they’re about to read. But most times I just can’t help them in advance I’m afraid. However, I did break with tradition a few weeks ago by putting out a little midweek flash and tagging it humour. Just to prompt the potential reader not to take it too seriously and because comedy is a label I get. Oh well, back to the unconventional, metaphorical and linguistic drawing board for me.
Editor’s note: Marc’s fourth flash fiction collection, “28 Far Cries,” is now available as an ebook from Amazon.