We all make choices in life — in our careers, in our families, in our interests, etc. Those choices say a lot about who we are. They offer insight into our thinking, how we were raised, and what’s important to us.
This is especially true of authors. We all choose what kinds of books we will write — fiction vs. non-fiction, genre vs. mainstream. And those choices say a lot about the kinds of writers we want to be, the kinds of writers we are.
I’ve decided to pen a weekly piece on this blog about why I write fantasy literature. I don’t know how many installments there will be. As many as it takes to answer the question, I guess. My purpose is twofold. First, I’m hoping this will be interesting to those who read or are thinking about reading my work. Readers are often interested in how the authors they enjoy think or create their stories, so I’m hopeful there are some people out there who think this might be interesting to read. Perhaps too there are those who write fantasy lit themselves, who will find something useful in these essays.
Second, I want to answer the question for myself. I have long wanted to write a deeply thoughtful literary novel. In fact, I love reading that type of book. Most of my all-time favorite novels, are not genre pieces.
But I just can’t write that sort of thing. No matter how I try, I always come up with stories about magic and monsters. I want to know what’s up with that. I suspect I know, but, like any good writer, I don’t discover my own truths, really, until I write them down. So here’s hoping I come to understand myself as a fantasy writer along the way.
I suppose the first thing to do is to put some sort of definition on the kinds of literature I write. Fantasy can mean a lot of things. I specifically do not write erotica, for example, although sex is often a theme in my work. Still, my work is not about describing or fulfilling sexual fantasies. That’s a very different kind of book.
I also don’t write daydream-y literature. That is, I don’t have characters exploring their imaginations. The realities of the worlds I create are, for lack of a better word, very real. They are not fantastical.
So, I suppose, when I say I am a fantasy author, what I really mean is that I write about magic. I write about magic as if it were real. Whether it’s casting spells or meeting legendary creatures, I create stories that imagine things that don’t exist.
I don’t confine that to “strange, new worlds.” My short story, “Sleeping Beauty,” for example is set in our world. It features an investment banker and a depressed wife and a confused teenager and a young woman in a coma.
But there is also magic. Rex Shipman found a witch, who sold him a magic potion to make his daughter Beth fall into a coma. The only way to wake her is through True Love’s First Kiss.
The story is about overprotective parents going too far to control their children’s lives. It is set in modern America. But the mechanic that drives the story is magical. Beth may be in a coma, but she’s really under a curse. “Sleeping Beauty” is a fantasy.
So why use magic to tell this modern story? There are a couple of easy answers. The first is that by retelling a fairytale, there is a familiarity that enables me to say what I want in a familiar setting. Everyone knows the story of Sleeping Beauty. I rewrote it to have it tell us something new. By choosing a story everyone knows, I made it easier — perhaps even more fun — to read the new ideas.
The second is that the magic of the story doesn’t really matter. It’s just the mechanic that enables me to put Beth in a coma and drive the action to rescue her. She could have been hit by a car too. That would be just as disturbing if her father arranged for that as him poisoning her with a magical elixir. But, in this case, the potion gives him more control over the end results, and the kiss gives the reader a logical reason for the spell to be broken. In terms of literary devices, magic makes the story I wanted to tell possible.
But, the most revealing answer, is that I chose to use magic because I like it. I could have conceived a story with a different mechanic. I could have rewritten Sleeping Beuaty without magic. But I like that fantastic element. I wanted there to be a mystical causality behind Rex’s plan and Beth’s rescue.
And that’s the question I want to explore in this series. Why choose magic? Why do I like it, and what does it say about me as a person and an author?
Next week, I’ll follow the advice of Rodgers and Hammerstein and “start at the beginning — a very good place to start.” I’ll go back to my childhood and my first contacts with fantasy literature — to the stories of George Lucas, Lloyd Alexander, and C.S. Lewis – to see how they shaped me into the writer I would become.