Robert Paul Blumenstein

 


About the Author

OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE ORDER

No more, “thinking outside the box,” as the popular saying coined in the 1970’s went – now one must think inside the box. Thinking outside the box freed us, opened our minds to the world around us, allowed us to see the other side of the leaf, and when we did, we were amazed that the two sides of the same leaf appeared quite different from one another. The popular saying from the ‘70’s and ‘80’s was employed by business consultants to encourage executives to use their creative minds to solve problems, discover innovative ways of reaching a goal, and generally to expand one’s view of the market to glean more harvest from it. And it worked, until…

Just what is the box and what does it do for us? It connects us to the world, so says the salesperson selling us one. Minute archived information, news feeds, any of the two billion photos shot each day is stored in the box and can be called into service with the slightest pressure from our fingertips. Nifty. What we once tried to escape from now has an open maw so we can plunge headlong into it. Everybody has one. Never let the thing leave you hand. Pretty soon, the box will be attached to the body (they’ll find a place) and a little wire will be plugged into your head to connect you until the new updated version of the box will wirelessly transmit all commands and resultant data to and from your brain. The ultimate feed from the box is on its way. What’s that you say? Can’t wait?

If there’s one saying that hasn’t changed since the 1980’s, the 1890’s, the 980’s, or the 1490’s BCE, is “nothing is for free,” which appears as an oxymoronic, non-sequitur, because in effect, it is a logical, true statement because “nothing” is the only thing that is free, yet, you get nothing, but it’s free. “Nothing is for free” is like one of Carl G. Jung’s sayings: “A million zeros joined together do not, unfortunately, add up to one.” Aside from the constant outlay of cash to own the box, and then paying to work and play in the box, there are many other hidden costs of “thinking inside the box.” As I am writer, predominately fiction, I want to consider how this movement from outside the box to inside the box has affected my writing, and especially my efforts at getting published. Nice touch at this point is this little essay that you’re reading means I am published not because some publisher woke up on the right side of the bed and decided that my words here were worthy of print, but because I pay for my little space here, inside the box, so that I may express myself and hopefully by the time you’ve finished reading this piece you’ll feel that your time has been well spent. Well, I’m just following the ass in front of me trying to convince you that my words are worthy of your attention. Thank you, Box.

A sacred word exists in the publishing world, and the word is: Genre. Never will one ask what the story is about, but what genre is it? I realize that a publisher holds tenaciously to genre classification in order to create a fast track for rejecting a work, and understandably so with mounting slush piles, both inside the box (electronic submissions) and outside the box (actual paper manuscripts); there is only so much that can be accomplished in an absurdly short work day and genre assignment operates in tandem with the box’s prime function: management of data. I’ll not list literature genres here, or the sub-genres, or the hybrid genres, or the “all that apply” genres because if you’re a fellow writer you know what I’m talking about, and if you’re one of the good guys, that is a reader, you might have been sorely overwhelmed by this overgrowth of genres not knowing what the heck any one book is, or isn’t, because somehow classification has gotten in the way of the product.

But this is the world in which we live: everything in its place and a place for everything. Just follow the ass in front of you and you’ll get there… I think.

So what’s the price for all of this data management, this structuring and categorizing information, this rigid classification of books – this genre assignment to a work so we can find a place for it? What about books that fit no particular category? It seems to me that “general fiction” or “literary fiction” hardly fits those unusual books that simply present themselves like a picture an artist has painted. Does she or he say, “You see, I’ve used the Impressionist’s style to represent my painting,” or does the artist just paint the picture the only way he or she can? Do we ask first, “Is it Surrealism, Impressionism, Expressionism, or Photo Realism?” before viewing the picture? In the case of a painter’s canvas, it appears that the genre follows the work, not precedes it. So does the same apply to books?

The current book publishing environment obviously answers that question with a resounding “No!” You need not send me any emails (BTW, you can do that by clicking the contact page on this web site) informing me about target marketing strategies and you don’t look for apples in the bread section and all that jive. I get it. My point is that we (the market) may be missing out on good reads from this compulsive-obsessive ordering of product because we adhere so strictly to the publishing guidelines of genre, sub genres, and hybrid genres, ad nausea, and don’t tell me that you just had a stroke of genius for creating a new genre called “everything else,” though that ploy might work - who knows, readers may show up at the bookseller’s stand asking, “Do you have anything in the ‘everything else’ genre?” You never know, in the box, there’s always room for one more.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was one of the first stories that thoroughly captured my attention as a child. The story was constructed in what I call an immersible world. In other words, when you the reader enter it, you are completely absorbed into it. When I experience this grade of writing, I believe that I’m reading the best there is. As a writer, I want to create this same experience for my readers. Some readers believe that this level of reading represents escapism; well, maybe it does, so what. We have been moved out of the box (and perhaps into another one), but nevertheless, we have been transported to another place, more importantly, another reality, which undoubtedly brings about the effect of mind expansion – that’s a good thing. In the entire wondrous experience of mind transportation, no matter what the story is, not once did we rely on “genre” to get us there. The story did it all by itself.

You might think that I’m obsessing a bit about this genre business, and I probably am, but looking back to my early childhood, I’m glad the adventures I experienced with Alice weren’t marred by genre definition. I’m fortunate that if anything was unfettered, it was my imagination that carried me beyond the constriction of rigid classification. I researched Dodgson’s tale of Alice and the first statement I encountered was that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a fantasy novel, even before anything else was said about the book. And here’s what followed: “Fantasy is a subgenre of speculative fiction and is distinguished from the genres of science fiction and horror by the absence of scientific or macabre themes, respectively, though these genres overlap. It [Alice in Wonderland] is considered to be one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre. Its narrative course and structure, characters and imagery have been enormously influential in both popular culture and literature, especially in the fantasy genre.” I’m not going to point a finger at anyone over this obsession with ordering every piece of literature into a particular genre, as I believe it suffices to say that there is an obsession. But, we’re data compilers. Everywhere you go on the Internet you’re tracked – breathe easy, I don’t use any tracking methods when a visitor comes to my site - well, I do use a hit counter. Guess I’ve been bitten by the bug, too!

Back to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Would he have been able to get his book published today? I think it’s safe to say that his book would not have received a “G” rating (that “G” stands for general audiences, not genre). But what about the genre classification? Would publishers today have been able to see the genius of his work, or would they have been stymied by which genre his book belonged?

Society has always moved along current popular trends. I would say that many of those trends have given us great benefit, creating longer, healthier lives, expanded views of our world, and the universe beyond, and generally deriving a more enlightened humanity. As we all know, the course of the River changes from time to time, and whether that’s for the better or worse is really not that important. What is important is our awareness of the change – and to ask ourselves if something needs fixing, does the River branch off in another direction that’s a better route to travel. It never hurts to look at the map. Perhaps as we stuff our lives into the box, a little more each day, we might benefit from looking at the map to assure that we’re heading in the right direction and not be afraid to fix things that are broken. Is it really that great of a benefit to text while driving? Is it really necessary to spy on the entire population of the planet every minute of every day? Do we need to compile so much data on our neighbors? Are market profiles created from tracking our visits to web sites truly that accurate?

Trending now is everything technologically advanced [sic] is beneficial, promoted with the popular slogan, “science matters.” I couldn’t agree more, science does matter. Throughout high school, I was assigned to advanced placement science classes; every year I had an exhibit in the regional state science fair; my father was a research chemist once named one of the top fifty textile scientists in the world; many of my cousins and siblings ended up with careers in a specific field of science. My beef is that science is not all that matters, though one might have a hard time believing this, especially when scrutinizing contemporary trends. And science doesn’t always matter for reasons of science: a lot of money and politics exploit scientific endeavors. The science establishment sometimes advocates for itself with no less vigor than religious zealots and controls current scientific information with any less vim than fascists governments control population behavior. All controlled from the box, the master mind of artificial intelligence evolving at an alarming rate becoming less artificial every day. There’s a huge difference between the user who has command of the tool and the tool that has command of the user. I’m not saying that it’s one way or the other; it’s just something to think about. I ponder this discord because I believe that this conundrum affects not only my publishing efforts, but all writers who might find themselves in that “everything else” genre.

Also, I have to wonder who benefits from the rigid, obsessive-compulsive, classification of literature. Is there any benefit at all? I know - that’s a yes and no answer. Is it possible to over classify? Are people’s reading tastes so specific that the reader must know the exact genre, subgenre, or its hybrid assignment, within delineation of genre/subgenre? So what do I tell my readers about my new book? It’s science fiction utilizing elements of the paranormal and a smattering of magical realism crossing over into the religious genre, yeah probably mostly Christian, but with some Eastern influence because I’ve made suggestions to reincarnation in which the Religious Right is vehemently opposed, and maybe a little… Excuse me, what’s that puzzled look on your face? Oh, the book, what’s it about? Well, it’s a story about…

© Robert Paul Blumenstein, 2017

 

 
 

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