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The Newsletter of
The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic

Volume 1, Number 5 (1998)
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FFC, The Fantastic Fiction Collective: Step One

by Daniel Pearlman, University of Rhode Island
Copyright © 1998, by Daniel Pearlman

The most recent issue of the SFWA Forum prints a letter by W. Warren Wagar which announces his disgusted withdrawal from the whole SF field. After publishing many stories in one of the major SF magazines, he has found himself struggling unsuccessfully for years to publish the novel that stems from those stories. He quotes a dozen or so of the idiotic reasons given for rejecting the book, and it is clear that these editorial decisions had nothing to do with its quality or readability, but far more with factors such as arbitrariness, laziness, and general corporate irresponsibility.

The case of Chapman's brilliant novel Troika, which has finally found a home with the Ministry of Whimsey Press, is rather similar. And you and I could multiply examples. But that Wagar letter, which reIates experiences too similar to my own, set me thinking.

The financial news has lately made it clear that the Big Press is choking on its own vomit. All the money's been going to a few top-selling authors, even when publishers know beforehand that the millions paid in advances won't be recouped in sales. Attention to the development of new authors, therefore, has been stifled--and that has been particularly the case with novelists who display any real originality.

Partly to blame are the super-bookstore chains, the tail wagging the dog, whose destructive effect is felt not only by Big Publishing but by the literary Small Press too. The independent bookstores on whom the Small Press has depended for most of its support have been shriveling in numbers under metastatic onslaught by Buns & Nibbles and brood, exactly the way supermarkets killed off the mom and pop groceries.

Mr. Wagar has probably not even tried to publish his novel with a Small-Press publisher, and even if he did, he'd mostly encounter prejudice against SF or fantasy, regardless of literary quality, and even if he broke through that barrier of prejudice, he could forget about making any money. Small presses hardly ever *print* more than a thousand copies of any title.

A couple of years ago I began (with the support of several small-press publishers, editors, and writers) an organization called CLF, Council for the Literature of the Fantastic, whose goal has been to promote public awareness of neglected work of high literary quality in all areas of non-mimetic (fantastic or fabulist) fiction. Our widely distributed newsletters and magazines--five major efforts to date--have already made a dent in the consciousness of many. What we CLF-dwellers ought to be most proud of is our consistent fairness in supporting non-mimetic literature as a whole against those internal separatist tendencies that pit SF against Fantasy against Slipstream, etc. What we have yet to do is to affect the marketplace directly, to instigate a coalescing of editorial and publishing forces in a powerfully focused endeavor to create an *imprint* devoted to LF, the Literature of the Fantastic (or, perhaps, Literary Fabulism).

So that the reader will understand more precisely what LF entails, I quote from an article of mine on CLF that appeared in several places:

"The 'Literature of the Fantastic,' which is to be the focus of our organization, concerns only work of mature literary value (in the non-realistic mode) and therefore excludes purely escapist kinds of writing. It includes 'literature' in the age-old tradition that encompasses Homer, Rabelais, Swift, Kafka, Borges, Paul Bowles and a thousand other 'fantastic' writers, whether or not they also write in the mainstream realist tradition. Contemporary American writing in that ageless tradition, a lineage whose American past includes Irving, Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville ... has become increasingly marginalized over the course of most of a century during which realism has dominated the literary mainstream, and most Fantastic writing, the good lumped together with the bad, has been awarded scant critical attention and has been banished to the genre 'ghettoes.'"

It should be clear from the foregoing that a new imprint for LF would be interested only in works of literary quality, and not simply in material that has been rejected repeatedly by the Biggies. I would agree with editors of the well-known SF houses that most submissions do merit rejection. But many such editors also admit that fine novels and story collections of high literary quality are often rejected because of the risk that they won't sell to a broad enough public. The suspicion alone that Quality won't sell becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What can one now do, therefore, if the Biggies will barely touch LF and the Smallies are frightened away by the "F"? It seems to me that the answer is suggested by a model like the Fiction Collective. I was teaching at Brooklyn College, back in the mid-sixties, when several colleagues, pissed at having their novels rejected, started Fiction Collective. They got the backing, got the publicity, and have actually succeeded in pushing this ball uphill for three decades running!

We have now reached a point in American book-marketing where we know that the " fantastic" sells, but how can the reader of *literary* inclination be induced to read a book of literary *science fiction*? A "Fantastic Fiction Collective" would have to present itself in a manner clearly distinct from that of the genre-fiction publishers. FFC would be going after a niche market that SF Biggies consider too small for their giant maws. A sale of 5,000 hardcover novels, excellent by the standard of an FFC, would be a dismal failure for Tor, for example. And, of course, it could well be that an FFC could make inroads into the giant genre market too--and sell far more than might have been projected. An FFC that is a coordinated, well-backed, prestigious organization should do at least as well as Fiction Collective, and it should certainly do more for these neglected forms of literature than the scattered and financially unstable efforts of a few small presses, fine and dedicated though they are.

It is, in fact, to the publishers of those few LF-specializing small presses that I appeal to join their efforts to form an umbrella consortium called FFC. Offhand I can think of a few such presses--Wordcraft of Oregon, Permeable Press, Cambrian Publications, Ministry of Whimsey Press, among others. It is, perhaps, conceivable that Fiction Collective itself, which certainly publishes a good deal of LF, might see value in allying itself with a sister organization from which it can directly benefit.

Another idea is to get a university press to see the wisdom of establishing such an imprint, and if this little essay of mine receives enough positive attention, I wouldn't mind trying to get the attention of my own University of New England Press, a consortium of five universities (they already publish Sam Delaney!). The prestige factor in reaching the niche market I'm talking about should not be taken lightly. Though most university presses (1) will not publish original fiction, and (2) will certainly not publish "fantastic" fiction, which they think of in terms of rayguns and unicorns, there is a great deal of cultural and financial pressure for many of these presses to "cross the line" into this promising new territory. If there are any of you out there who are members of IAFA or SFRA, and have connections with a university press, perhaps you can suggest ways in which your organizations can contribute their prestige and/or resources to the creation of an FFC.

What is beyond doubt is that those of us who care about *quality* in non-mimetic fiction are seeing fewer and fewer examples of such in the bookstores.

The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic is based at the Department of English of the University of Rhode Island. We thank the University and the Department for their support.

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