Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Piece of Tail...um, The Long Tail

After reading this post about True Fans from Kevin Kelly at The Technium (thanks to Joshua Reynolds for the link), I started thinking about my little piece of the long tail...the little piece I'm trying to stake out as my territory.

That's what a creator (writer, musician, artist of any kind) strives to do, isn't it? Only a lucky few actually slay the dragon and lay claim to the head of the beast, but most of us hope for a chunk of the tail. (If you don't know what all this long tail nonsense is about, read the book by Chris Anderson, or check out his blog).

The question, essentially, what is my niche? My style? My creation?

I write fiction. Genre fiction mostly. Some of it is dark...okay, most of it is dark. I wouldn't call all of it horror. I have no desire to torture a reader with gory spilling of entrails. That kind of work has a place and a fan base. Most of what I write is dark fantasy--even dark magical realism (if I'm allowed such a term).

Evidence from my own "top stories" (and others):

"Catalog Sales" - A hobo sells books that turn children into monsters.

"The Ox-Cart Man" - A child ghost hunter realizes he is actually the son of the ghost he has been hunting.

"The Scavengers Lying in Wait" - The undead inhabit a pond and wait for boys to go fishing so they can, um, feed.

"Dancing Lessons" - A young girl meets a reanimated man (with a clockwork heart) who helps her learn about her estranged father.

"Tommy of the Flood" - A man's childhood friend--an autistic boy who drowned as a child--comes back to, um, spread his influence. (I have to be vague here folks...no spoilers.)

"Little Fingers" - A man's fiancé vanishes into a slab of concrete.

"Reciprocity" - A boy is devoured by his pet goldfish and reborn (sort of).

"In My World of Green Water" - A drowned boy learns that he is better off at the bottom of the pond.

I could go on, but I think the picture is fairly clear...at least to me. (Remember...no spoilers)

Quite a few of these stories are sad, poignant, carrying some kind of message--at least a call to seek a message. The messages aren't always easy, and I'm not trying to moralize. I hope I write stories that entertain, but I also want the piece to stick with you after you finish the last word. I usually fail at pure, gut-wrenching horror.

When I was nominated for Kansas Teacher of the Year (I know, whoo-hoo), one of my students wrote "Mr. Polson is my thinking coach". While I don't see writing in the same way as teaching, I would like readers to think...to really examine themselves when they read something attached to my name. So I write strange, hopefully thought-provoking, dark magical-realism and fantasy. Is there room enough in the long tail?

What is your niche? Your piece of tail?


K.C. Shaw said...

That list of stories is creepy, poignant (I can't help thinking that I'm misspelling that word), and fascinating.

My feeling is that the more work you have out there, the more likely you are to benefit from the Long Tail thingy.

Catherine J Gardner said...

I think my tail is odd - some humour, a touch of the creepy, and a mixture of the surreal. I think I can do scary if I try really, really hard but mostly my characters deny me the opportunity to. Sometimes I feel my stories are too hard to define - which makes it a bugger to do a Duotrope search.

Rebecca Nazar said...

"I still haven't found what I'm looking for" . . . but I'm having a hell of a good time searching.

Barry Napier said...

er, i dunno. definitely horror. but beyond that, I haven't a clue.

Aaron Polson said...

K.C. - true. I want to pronounce it "poyg-nant".

Cate - I hear the Duotrope issues, especially with so many markets on hiatus right now.

Rebecca - the journey should be the best part, right?

Barry - horror is a big hunk o' tail.

Jamie Eyberg said...

I like to consider most of my pieces, the ones I really, really like, to be dark literary. I don't think that is a niche yet.

Horror Girl said...

hmm. my tail is horror but not gore. I think the reason I love Slaughterhouse-five so much is because the only way Vonnegut can express how he feels is through the use of scifi and fantasy. and for me the only way to express ideas is through the stretch that horror gives me.

Joe Hill in "Best New Horror" says something like this, but in a way, that you know, actually makes sense. i would stick with hill.

katey said...

When I was nominated for Kansas Teacher of the Year (I know, whoo-hoo)No, seriously, that's awesome. It's a huge deal! My dad was once nominated for the WV one (even more of a woo-hoo, if you don't know what, exactly teachers go through!), and I was super proud of him. That's bad-ass, Aaron.

But I think you've got your bit of the tail pegged pretty well. I was just having this conversation with a friend via email-- and have been for the past week, actually-- thinking about that. The need to pigeonhole as best we can, just to get it out there, even though it makes some people want to scream.

Pretty sure I'm kind of right where you are, myself. I do occasionally write things that aren't dark, but I never like them as much. Is there a sex-and-death bit on the tail? I'll take that.

Aaron Polson said...

Jamie - dark literary...nice.

Horror-Girl - Horror is such a broad umbrella, isn't it?

Katey - Thanks. You can have all the sex and death you want...the tail is awfully big.

Anonymous said...

I call my writing whimsical horror. No blood-n-guts, but a lot of magic and murder. I guess. I want it to be hopeful, however. I want it to end with lightness.

I notice that you write a lot about children, which probably has to do with teaching. I have very few children in my stories, but most of my adults are very childlike. I think it's because I don't want some of these situations to happen to actual children, whereas an adult can take it.

BT said...

Hmm, interesting topic.

Does finding your part of the tail coincide with finding your voice?

For me - it's dark. I'm also starting to lean toward more edgier stuff, more raw. I want an impact, but not like gore for gore sake, and not sex and profanity for their own sakes either. It needs to be relevant, a natural progression of the story, but it's not subtle and hinted at (mainly), it's just there.

I think my days of writing pieces like The Winged Shepherd may be behind me. That was dark but definitely subtle.

Natalie L. Sin said...

My piece of the tail? Hong Kong flavor with a dash of Korean spice. If thats not enough for a career, then at least I'll have fun trying : )

Benjamin Solah said...

I think my niche is dark, angry tails that are almost always critical of authority, the powers that be, people at the top, or they're sharply political.

L.R. Bonehill said...

I’ve been told I’m not scary enough for horror (the stories that is, not me) so I’ll go for dark and (hopefully) unsettling as my little tail section.

Must admit, I’d argue does horror necessarily need to scare? Haunt, unsettle, disturb and generally make you think, make you uncomfortable. To me, these things are all horror too.

Carrie Harris said...

I think I'm your evil twin (or maybe you're mine). I'm the silly end of the paranormal tail.

Ridiculously silly, even.

Aaron Polson said...

Broken - Yeah. Kids. I'm mean that way. Actually, I'm probably working out my own demons from my childhood.

BT - You have to respect that kind of directness.

Natalie - I think you've found a very fine niche.

Benjamin - you, angry?

LR - lots o' debate about horror. I agree that the horror umbrella is pretty broad, but some folks will argue the finer points to the death.

Carrie - silly makes me smile. Silly and paranormal makes me smile and laugh.

Benjamin Solah said...

Hehe, no never :P