Guest Post from the Author Jill Hand

Speculative Fiction
By Jill Hand

When people ask me what I do, and I tell them that I’m a writer, three things generally happen. First they say that being a writer certainly must be interesting. They always wanted to write but they just don’t have the time, the implication being that they’re too busy working at a job that pays a reliable income to fritter away their time with writing.

Next they ask if I wrote anything they ever heard of. The answer to that is no, probably not. “Well, you should write something like those Harry Potter books, or Fifty Shades of Grey,” they say, laughing. “Then you’ll be on the New York Times best-seller list.”

I bite back the impulse to say that there’s complete hogwash that ends up on the New York Times best-seller list, books written by reality TV stars who aren’t much smarter than lichen and by people who insist that all you have to do to have everything you’ve ever wanted is to visualize it and it will come true. Instead I say that I appreciate the advice and I’ll certainly think it over.

The third thing that happens is they ask me what is that I write. I don’t tell them I write speculative fiction because then I’ll have to explain what speculative fiction is. That’s not easy to do. It’s probably easier than explaining string theory, or whether that poor cat in Schrödinger’s box is dead or alive, and why, but not by much. To paraphrase what US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said about pornography, it’s hard to define, exactly, but you know it when you see it.

So instead I tell them about some of my stories. I tell them about the one where an old lady keeps a monster in her basement. Or I tell them about the one in which a guy strangles his girlfriend while in a fugue state, then has sex with a ghost. He then reports his girlfriend missing to the police, who discover her body buried in the garden of house that used to belong to a woman who murdered her husband back in 1949, who just happens to be the ghost he slept with, except he didn’t realize at the time that she was a ghost.

At this point, the person I’m telling all this to is looking at me strangely. They say, “So you write about ghosts and old ladies who have pet monsters and guys who kill their girlfriends without realizing it?”

I say I do, sometimes. Sometimes I write about other things, like a man who sometimes imagines that he’s a robot, and sometimes that he’s a pirate and sometimes that he’s a World War II Royal Air Force pilot. I like that story a lot, and I tell it enthusiastically but the person is no longer interested. “Where did the summer get to?” they muse, distractedly. “Seems like Memorial Day was just a few weeks ago and now they’re advertising back to school clothes. They even have Halloween candy at the grocery store.”

We talk about Halloween candy for a while, and how something called “Trunk or Treat” is becoming popular, where people pull their cars into parking lots at churches and malls and give out candy to children from their trunks, the thinking being that it’s dangerous to let children go around ringing strangers’ doorbells and asking for candy. I’m not really paying attention because I’m getting an idea for another story, a Halloween story, in which it’s the children who are dangerous, not the adults whose doorbells they ring.

But let’s get back to the question of what is speculative fiction. It’s a broad literary genre that takes in a lot of ground. It could have elements of horror or fantasy. It could be anything supernatural, futuristic or just plain weird. (I prefer the term weird fiction, but that’s just me.) Speculative fiction sounds dignified, like something that a noted literary critic would write a boring article about for some terribly boring but well-respected publication. Weird fiction sounds rough and gritty and right somehow. It pulls no punches, like the old-time pulp magazines whose covers featured bug-eyed monsters menacing scantily clad women and square-jawed guys in fedoras holding smoking guns and standing over a pile of dead Nazis. The stories in those magazines were every bit as lurid as the covers. They weren’t fancy, but that didn’t matter because most of them were damn good.

The pulps were written for a mass audience who liked their villains thoroughly bad, their heroes street smart and tough as nails and their thrills every bit as cheap as the paper the magazines were printed on. They featured stories by writers who changed the world of popular fiction, people like Caroll John Daly, who invented the hard-boiled detective story, Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars, who made science fiction what it is today, H.P. Lovecraft, who brought us the bizarre and wonderful collection of stories about ancient, evil beings from outer space known as the Cthulhu mythos, Ray Bradbury, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and others. If you haven’t heard of some of these people, you owe it to yourself to find out what you’ve been missing.

Unfortunately, the pulps are long gone, victims of the high cost of printing actual, physical magazines, and of changes in popular tastes in reading matter. (One of my favorites, FATE, is still hanging on, but regrettably it’s got fewer encounters with ghosts and space aliens than it used to have back in its heyday.) The good news is there are plenty of online publications that are cropping up to bring you speculative fiction at its best, like Odd Tree Press, which will publish its inaugural issue in October 2015. Editor Joel Ansel was nice enough to permit me to write this piece for his blog. I wish him the very best in his new endeavor. May Odd Tree Press be triumphantly odd for many years to come.

Thank you, Jill, for graciously submitting this wonderful guest post. Jill Hand is an accomplished writer of speculative fiction, her fantasy/si-fi novella, The Blue Horse, about time travel and a bizarre cryptid that actually existed, will be coming soon from Kellan Publishing. She is also a contributing author in the Oct 2015 Odd Tree Press Quarterly.