The Shanghai Pirate from Mars
My friend Bando Masako, the Japanese horror writer of Inugami and Shikoku fame, once told me that the best way to secure a sector of the market and have commercial success, would be to create your own niche, your own genre.
“Something like Post-Calvino Italian Literary Fantasy,” she said. “In this way, if someone wants to know what Post-Calvino Italian Literary Fantasy is, they’ll have to buy your books. And anyone doing something vaguely similar, will be someone you ‘influenced’.”
It’s sound advice, and I’ve seen it happen, in both the large international market and the smaller, oxygen-starved Italian market.
Things like Grimdark, of course, or New Pulp, have become wildly successful, and EcoPunk sound promising, while New Italian Epic… ehm, we don’t talk about that.
It’s marketing. Noting wrong with that. The oldest profession.
As Gene Wolfe said “I write the genre that the drugstore guy decides when he puts my books in the wireframe holder – sometimes they place me by Asimov, sometimes they place me elsewhere.”
It was of course a time when drugstores still carried paperbacks.
This morning, reading an interview to a very good writer that lives here in these woods, I found out that I’m now part of a regionalist subgenre of horror – or maybe it’s weird fiction. I have my influences and authors I’ve never read to whom I owe a great debt.
It’s somewhat irritating, when it happens, because you’ve been writing for twenty-odd years and all of a sudden you’re part of a movement started by someone that first published two years ago.
It IS irritating.
But then I remembered the drugstore guy Gene Wolfe mentioned, and I had a laugh.
I can pass for a regionalist writer, because I’ve written a dozen stories set here in Piedmont – some here in Astigianistan, some in Turin where I was born and raised.
On the other hand, doing a quick survey, turns out I’ve set a lot more stories on or beneath the seas – especially the Mediterranean – on Mars or, of course, in Shanghai, than I did set them here in these woods.
Shanghai is actually the place in which I’ve set more stories than any other, followed suit by the wilds of Central Asia and then India, the Mediterranean sea, Mars and Paris.
Nobody, on the other hand, ever bundled me up into the Shanghai Pirates from Mars subgenre – and really, I am ready to acknowledge the influence of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Rafael Sabatini and Harold Lamb, and George MacDonald Fraser, John Masters and James Clavell.
Indeed, I could start my very own Shanghai Pirates from Mars subgenre, and become an influential author in my own right.
It’s certainly a very niche market, but hey, there wouldn’t be much competition.
But a regionalist author of weird fiction?
I think it’s a pretty tight wireframe cage for me.