People ask me why I spend so much time writing about elves and magic, and a whole lot of other fairy-tale stuff that isn’t true. “What’s the matter,” they say, “can’t you face reality? There’s so much important stuff in the real world to write about, who needs fiction?”
There’s undoubtedly something to what they’re saying. Reality, after all, can be pretty daunting. There’s something to be said for the notion of a nice, pleasant escape into a pastoral world where everyone is happy and at peace, and nothing ever goes wrong. Who wouldn’t want to live in a world like that? It sounds so relaxing. So safe.
It also sounds like it might get old pretty quickly. I guess it’s another of the endless internal dialectics – conflicting needs and desires – with which we struggle in the human condition: independence vs. inclusion, routine vs. novelty, and so on.
We – and by “we” I mean me, and I think most folks – hate trouble in our lives. Trouble makes us uncomfortable. Nevertheless, we thrive on it. Facing it and overcoming it brings a sense of satisfaction and personal power that can’t be achieved by any amount of lounging around eating peeled grapes in a world without conflict, even if such a place exists. In many ways, our struggles define us.
We do need to escape from our realities from time to time. Struggling requires energy, and our batteries need regular recharging. The entertainment industries exist to satisfy that need. But we don’t escape from our troubles by seeking out fantasies about people without troubles, we escape into their troubles. The more troubles the character faces, the more he or she suffers, the better we like it. Their suffering makes our own lives seem so much more attractive by comparison. Plus, it allows us to share in the satisfaction when they overcome them.
We share in our favorite characters’ struggles - admittedly, from a distance. When people share suffering with someone, even an imaginary someone, it creates a real emotional bond. That bond allows us to rejoice in their imaginary triumphs as well as feel their imaginary pain.
In addition to emotional catharsis, fantasy – all fiction, really – offers the opportunity to thematically illustrate issues that exist in our reality. Fantasy can, if skillfully planned and executed, do this in ways that are entertaining and unthreatening to readers on every side of even the most controversial issue, thus provoking thought. Maybe even thought outside the box.
The thing is, in order to create these cathartic and thought-provoking illustrations, a writer needs to actually face reality. Not just face it: study it.
A writer must peer, squinting, into the brightness of human beings’ heroism, unselfish sacrifice, love, and joy. He or she must grope through the caverns where live humanity’s deepest-hidden secrets, shining a figurative flashlight on all the things we like least about ourselves, forcing us to look at them, to try and understand the way they affect people’s actions, as a possible way to begin healing the wounds they cause.
In the process, characters are born. It matters little whether they are Terrans or Martians, elves or dwarves, centaurs or sphinxes, cybernetic intelligences or cartoon rabbits. They are all people, and they all face troubles: from other characters, from the environment in which they exist, and of course, from themselves.
I’m not saying anything new here; people smarter than me have said it all before, with more clarity and better style. Nonetheless, it bears repeating: fiction mirrors reality, imitating it in order to provide an escape from it. Through its fictional characters and their discoveries, it sometimes provides insights that can lead to increased understanding of ourselves, other people, and the environment in which we exist.
I’ve done lots of other jobs, but through them all, I’ve written fiction, despite copious well-meant advice about finding a “real” career. My hope is that enough folks will like what they find in my pages to allow me to make a living at it, but it’s about more than the money. This is my calling, and I’ll keep doing it until I’m called on to whatever comes next.
In pursuit of that living, I humbly invite you to check out my latest offering, Incarnate, the first volume of my World War Two fantasy epic, The Dwindling. This story has occupied a central position in my working life for quite a while now, and many of my other works have sprung from its milieu. Incarnate tells the tale of Al Terity and Sarah Lynch, two lovers who are yanked from their lives and set on the path to their shared destiny.
These characters are like family to me; I hope you’ll befriend them. Believe me, they need all the help they can get.