Ha! Gotcha, didn’t I? Bet you thought this post was going to be about using profanity in your fiction. Sorry, not this time. There have already been a couple of memorable posts on profanity here on WU. Although I do have an amusing anecdote about the F-bomb and WU, having to do with how WU founder and editor Therese Walsh and I first came in contact. It was a good indication that we would become fast friends. But I’ll save it for another day.
This post is about another F-word. It’s an F-word that I’ve been nearly as uncomfortable using in mixed company as the expletive. The word? Fantasy. You might be asking yourself how such an innocuous term could’ve caused me such discomfort. Allow me to explain.
F is for Fringe
I admit I didn’t think too much about genre during the composing of my first story. I knew it would be set during the decline of the Roman Empire, and that my characters were Goths, but I always sensed it wasn’t straight historical fiction. Not that fantasy wasn’t a part of my mindset. It was. But I considered the work more of a study of the origins of a few of the tropes of European-based epic fantasy than an actual fantasy story.
It seemed to me that so many epic fantasies were set after “things fell into darkness” (fall of empire), and I thought it would be fun to look at what led to the fall of empire. There were also tropes I was less interested in. The most obvious being the incorporation of magic or sentient non-human characters. So pretty much the most “fantastic” of the typical elements are the ones I left out. Which left my stories nearly bereft of fantastical elements.
Because of this lack, for years I was unsure what to call my work. And yet I knew I was out on the fringes of “serious literature.” I also knew I was striving to capture the “legendary feel” that the best epic fantasy delivers. Maybe legendary alt-history? Whatever it was, I remained reticent to naming it, even to myself.
F is for Fearful
There’s a story I’ve occasionally told about one of the first times I let the F-word slip in mixed company. I was at a dinner party with mostly new acquaintances. A friend mentioned I was a writer, and someone asked what I wrote. Caught off guard, I blurted the F-word. A seemingly well-meaning woman asked, “So do you think you’ll ever write something real?” I must’ve made a face, because she quickly amended, “I mean about the real world?”
I’ll never forget how I felt. It was revealing. I could’ve smiled and told her that, of course my work is “about the real world.” But I didn’t. I simply shrugged and said, “Maybe someday.”
Truth be told, I was reticent to fly my fantasy freak flag long before I started writing. I suppose a lifetime of everything from humoring smiles to outright disdain over my reading choices taught me caution. Let’s face it, some people consider fantasy to be childish escapism. Or worse, frivolous.
But that’s their opinion. I’m sure there are also people who’d consider my love of the Detroit Lions an utter waste of time (it’s been a really long time since they’ve won a title), and I’ve never let that bother me.
Why should I care how others feel about fantasy? There’s really only one explanation: fear. When I dig through my fantasy baggage, I see that I’ve been afraid of being judged. And not just judged to have poor taste or misplaced loyalty, but to be judged as intellectually lacking.
Isn’t it funny how we writers always run headlong into our fears at every turn? Go figure. [Read more…]