I usually answer the question of "what kind of stuff do you write about" with a small shrug and a comment about writing a little bit of everything. Which is true, but it's also a tl;dr placeholder because I don't think there's a true definition of what I write beyond it being multiple variations of magic realism.
Magic realism, by the way, has many definitions. But at its simplest, I like The Atlantic's definition of it being fiction that integrates elements of fantasy into otherwise realistic settings.
But even as I'm writing, I don't really feel like I'm truly writing that. Part of it is definitely impostor syndrome, this feeling that I don't deserve to be writing the genre. Another part is just a rejection of labels and just going along with what I feel like writing.
I know there's a certain pretentiousness to that "don't label me, bro" kind of mentality but in my defense, it's just that I want the audience to get a good story and to hell with having to define it. If my story entertains, the the job is done.
So, let's talk about experimental fiction, specifically as to finding that sweet spot where it's the good kind of weird and not an attempt at getting too cute/an attempt at being weird for the sake of being weird. I believe that sweet spot is imagery, that is, "the name given to the elements in a poem that spark off the senses. Despite "image" being a synonym for "picture", images need not be only visual; any of the five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell) can respond to what a poet writes. Examples of non-visual imagery can be found in Ken Smith's 'In Praise of Vodka', where he describes the drink as having "the taste of air, of wind on fields, / the wind through the long wet forest", and James Berry's 'Seashell', which puts the "ocean sighs" right in a listener's ear."
Imagery is what made me like poetry. When I was a teenager, I wrote bad poetry. Because I was a teenager and I was bound to do cringe-worthy things. Once I moved past my early teenage years I looked back and felt that poetry sucked because all I could write about was supremely cheesy feelings about one unrequited crush or another. So I didn't write poetry at all. Fast forward to semester one of graduate school and I realize that not only do I have to take one poetry seminar, I have to take THREE to graduate, and one of those was the very first class I took for my MFA. I pouted and went "BUT BUT BUT I DON'T WANNA" and in the end I took the class and realized how amazing poetry could be. I will say, though, that that process of realization was facilitated by having a professor (poet Sasha Pimentel) who was extremely passionate about the field and made me see the beauty of it. The other person was my classmate, Guadalupe Mendez, a local educator-activist-performer who brought me into the Houston performance poetry scene. Now here's the other thing about those two people, they didn't force their style on me at all, they helped me find my strength and were extremely supportive as I eventually started getting my poetry published.
My strength in poetry came from the ability to use crisp sentences to create powerful imagery. Imagery stays with people, and I came to realize that having that in a poem sets the foundation for being able to have it in a short story.
Example I pulled from This nocturne of misplaced questions. (tangent: I really want to break this story down in another post)
"Four bottle caps, a lighter, and crumpled receipts. We see that the smell of nicotine hugs the body like a burial shroud. Someone is taking a hammer to the inside of the deceased’s skull. The liver has been pushed to the limit by whiskey and beer. We lift the eyelids up to see flashes of memory."
So I'm very obviously describing a hangover. Hangovers are not a fun experience. But I don't want to just say hangover.
I want a vivid image that's going to cause a strong reaction. Hangovers are unpleasant feelings and those of you that have experienced them know that the worst of come with a multi-sensory assault. And that whole part of the story is where I get experimental. Not only am I providing the imagery of a hangover, I'm also doing it in the context of the dissection of what appears to be a corpse in the coroner's lab. On the one hand it's experimental because I am flipping the traditional narrative structure by having a part of a story being told in an almost prose poem. On the other hand, it's traditional because hey, I'm still moving the story and plot line along. That being said, it doesn't matter what it is, the only thing that matters to me as the writer is that the audience gets or feels something from it.
So that's the line, I think. The imagery. If you have a strong image while you're getting weird with the narrative structure of your story, you're going to be okay.