Back in 2012, I decided to join a writing workshop hosted at a local library in the small town in Connecticut in which I lived. I was two years out of my undergraduate writing program and was, for some obscure reason unknowable to man and beast alike, missing the workshop experience. Being an abject snob, I girded myself for the sorts of things someone who’s attended a college writing workshop is told to expect in such small-town groups: the person who talks about how great vanity publishing is since traditional publishers are mean and don’t understand true greatness; the person who’s read one mass market paperback by an author no one’s ever heard of and thinks it’s the pinnacle of the written word as an art form; the person who you want to say is talented enough for a collegiate workshop but can’t figure out a way to say it that doesn’t sound offensive. What I wasn’t ready for was in the criticism of the story I brought along – one member of the workshop felt the need to say that it was “definitely a psycho-drama.”
I was flabbergasted. I’d written both “literary” stories and “genre” stories in the past and this one, in my estimation, fit more into the former category; in the moment, it surprised the hell out of me that she felt the need to qualify a genre classification for a story like mine. This particular woman, who had written a very pop-lit mystery story a la Dean Koontz and who introduced me to the idea that books have trailers, may just be one of those people to whom everything has a genre. It’s not like she didn’t have a point – insofar as I understand what the term psycho-drama means, the story I submitted that day (and the story of mine you’ll be reading in Transcendent, since you’re going to be a terrific reader and buy the book) was indeed a psycho-drama.
I think the first thing I learned from the incident was that literary/artistic taxonomy can touch most anything. You may think that your story defies classification, but the reality is that you’re either not trying hard enough or you haven’t found someone dedicated enough to the practice of categorizing who’ll do it for you. To be clear, I don’t see it as a bad thing, but rather just a thing that exists and ought to be recognized.
The second, and more important, thing was simple – what to do with this? I feel confident in saying that by declaring my story to be a psycho-drama this lady had by no means intended to generate years of contemplation. It was a simple statement, as far as she was concerned. My visceral reaction to it, though, begged for examination and further reaction. I figured I could either respond to it by trying to become as unclassifiable as possible, or by embracing my own classifiable nature and using it to critique itself. I took the latter route, ultimately. I’d agonized for years of Nietzsche’s disdain for the “satyr plays” of Ancient Greece which had, in his estimation, detracted from the value of the high art the Greek dramatists otherwise produced; this lady in Connecticut would have likely seen Nietzsche’s high art as genre, classifiable, taxonomic.
So call it what you will – an expression of postmodern ennui; an existential declaration of the freedom of self-awareness; some snob writing about a meta topic you don’t really give two figs about. However you view me and the topic, I’ve gone forward from there to produce works that are ever-cognizant of their classifiability. I’m aware that for everyone out there, I and my writing fit into a box, and while that’s not always a great feeling, it’s one with which I found myself having to contend because of one silly little Tuesday-night workshop six years ago. That knowledge has, to some extent, informed my work since – including the story you’ll be reading from me in Transcendent. I think you’ll find it highly classifiable.
Daniel Loring Keating grew up in post-Industrial New England, where he earned a BA in Creative Writing from Chester College of New England. He has an MFA in Creative Writing at the California College of the Arts, where he was the Managing Editor of Eleven Eleven Journal. His speculative work has appeared in Strange Fictions ‘Zine and The Hungry Chimera.
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Featured Art Credit: Psycho Drama by dholl