I’ve been reading a lot of short fiction lately. Short fiction and commentary about short fiction. And I’ve been feeling unsettled. Not by the short fiction, which has been varied and fresh and intriguing. It’s the talk about the Australian short fiction scene that has been bothering me.
A couple of writers have made remarks to the effect that Australia short fiction tends to be boring and bland. One gave the example of too many stories set in rural Australia where not much happens. I’m sure I read an interview where another writer said he hated writing that was too earnest. And right away that comment made me defensive and squirmy. Is that me? It might be me.
I actually agree that some stories struggle to excite. They try too hard to be ‘literary’. Farmers’ wives gaze out over fields and farmers’ brows crease and the fly-blown sheep carcass is a metaphor. Clouds gather and it looks like rain but then it doesn’t and the story ends.
However. People in glass houses and all. Because I can’t help it, my stories are a bit earnest, they’re really not funny in any ha-ha way, I don’t write satire or fantasy, my characters frown a bit too. But I write the only way I can. It’s the only thing I know – people and what’s in their deepest hearts, what secretly moves them, what makes them cry at night, what they fear and what they hope for. What they can’t forget. Who they’ll always love.
I don’t believe that stories in traditional narrative form are boring if the content is good. I don’t believe a short story has to be humorous, or satirical, or contain magical elements to be entertaining. I believe there is a place for every kind of story, done well.
I like trying new things, within my capabilities. I’ve written dystopian fiction, magic realism, a dialogue-only story and crime fiction. I try to learn and to stretch myself. I read widely. But ultimately I am developing my own voice, and that voice is emotional and I guess it’s a bit earnest too. I need to own that without shame.