It’s more than half way through NaNoWriMo now, and I took a break yesterday because otherwise I think I might head for burnout! Or maybe not, we’ll see. As much as I feel I need a break, I know that I hate getting left behind. Especially when writing is like an addiction – the more you do it, the more you feel you have to do it. I’m a little under the weather at the moment with an earache, which isn’t helping me feel any better, but part of me thinks that if I don’t write my words today, I know I’ll be regretting it for the next few days.
The point of this post is to talk about why I gravitate towards writing supernatural fiction. As you might know, I’m kind of a geek when it comes to science fiction and fantasy – I’m not ashamed to say that I love watching TV series like the X-Files, Charmed, Buffy, Battlestar Galactica, and so on. I’m interested in the seen and unseen, the fact that writing about the supernatural often pushes characters to the limit and explores parts of humanity that is sometimes difficult in straight fiction. Cherie Priest and Neil Gaiman are my favourite authors when it comes to writing about the strange.
Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere is one of those books that I aspire to, in a way. I know that all writers have their own voice and style, but somehow I want to write a book just as strange and dark as Neverwhere. The same goes for Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker and Dreadnought – they inspire me to write books that are dark but intriguing. I’ve always enjoyed exploring the darker side of fiction – maybe because what I find in them teaches me more about humans than lighter books. I do occasionally read high fantasy or science fiction – I love Lord of the Rings and George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series (A Song of Fire and Ice), and anything by Marge Piercy or Ursula K. Le Guin.
They are the exception though, because I prefer modern supernatural fiction or magical realism books. This includes Urban Fantasy, Supernatural Romance (like the Sookie Stackhouse Vampire Mysteries) and obscure genres like supernatural Steampunk (eg. Cherie Priest, Gail Carriger). I think magic realism even extends to Carlos Ruiz Zafon in his books The Angels Game, The Shadow of the Wind and The Prisoner of Heaven. All of these books come highly recommended!
It is hard to pin down exactly why a reader is drawn to reading something. Maybe its just curiosity. I read widely – from Jane Austen to Nick Hornby to Stephen King – because reading is my passion. Perhaps more so than writing, its the thing that keeps me interested in life – what is the next book I’m going to read? Its like hopping from adventure to adventure. You don’t even have to leave your house to have an adventure when you have a good book. The best books immerse you in the lives of the characters, in strange worlds, in an underground world underneath ours. Why is magic and the idea of magic so powerful? Maybe because its the ultimate escape from reality. Or maybe it reminds us that anything is possible. When you’re a child, magic seems possible, or at least it used to. Harry Potter is proof of that – how so many children and adults still love the idea of a world full of magic and strangeness.
Magic, for me, isn’t necessarily in the actual ‘magic’ of a novel. It’s in the everyday things. Maybe seeing a paper bag drift across the street out of the corner of your eye and thinking that it’s an animal. The what-ifs, for a writer, are the thing. The what-ifs and the why-nots – they create a story. It might be the magic of Christmas or Halloween, when things seem more possible and exciting. Some people do believe in the supernatural, even if they don’t believe in the actual magic and strange creatures part of things. The bible, for example, is full of supernatural happenings. I’m not religious, but I find it fascinating that a big part of people’s lives are given over to the belief in things that they can’t see or touch. Feelings are things we can’t see, but that doesn’t make them any less real.
Sometimes I wonder why I’m so drawn to writing genre fiction. I think for this series I’m writing, they won’t necessarily work as stand-alone novels because they raise too many questions to be answered in one novel. Genre fiction often has people turning up their noses, because the market is saturated with supernatural and horror and romance fiction. You know what? It doesn’t bother me. People will write what they want to write, and that’s okay. I think the best fiction finds its way into your heart and it doesn’t matter what kind of fiction that is. If your thing is crime fiction, that’s great. The same goes for romance. Or the dubiously named ‘chick-lit’ genre (more on this one day, I hate the term..). It doesn’t mean you only read within one genre. And if you do, that’s okay, but consider this – there are millions of brilliant books out there. Sometimes its fun to go exploring, you know?
Anyway, back to the point. I definitely can’t explain completely why I love to read and write supernatural urban fantasy. It has some tropes within it – a kick ass woman protagonist (or a kick ass man protagonist), an assortment of supernatural beings, set in an urban location – but from there I think your imagination is the limit. It always pays to look at the original folklore as research rather than taking as read the ‘characteristics’ of creatures from other novels.
Bram Stoker started from the folklore to create Dracula. He used some bits and not others but also invented his own characteristics for the Count. For me, I know that at some point, when NaNoWriMo is over, I’m going to be taking a serious look at the inconsistencies within the world view of my series, and correcting them. When I started last year, I wasn’t heading for any particular direction, but now with this second novel, things are making more sense and looking more like something worthwhile. I’m still struggling with how to show a deaf character in a novel, especially a supernatural novel, but its a great challenge and maybe within the next year with redrafting, I’ll crack it.
Whatever your genre, its good to challenge yourself. Challenges give meaning to life and sharpen your willpower. I know that this particular challenge is almost doing my head in, but I know it will be worth it. Having an earache doesn’t help, but I’m determined. Despite my complaining and the resistance, I know that deep down I love writing. Even if this month is turning out harder than I thought it would.
I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? ~ J.R.R. Tolkien.
(Cross posted from Fate is Chance. Destiny is Choice.)