All human activity lies within the artist’s scope.
– Paul Bettany as Geoffrey Chaucer in the movie, “A Knight’s Tale”
To kick off the blog series, I thought I’d go straight to what inspired the series to begin with: current events and issues/causes. Up to this point, I hadn’t given much thought to the role of current events when I write. It never really popped into my conscious mind … though my subconscious seems to be keeping a file cabinet of these things. Stories tend to show up along with the characters and I roll with it, without any particular agenda. I give thought to the world in which the story takes place – especially important since I lean mostly towards fantasy – and things get sucked in and spat out where politics, sociology, and culture are concerned.
Of course, the no-brainer here is that these are all things influenced by events I hear something about. In the case of current events, they catch my attention and can lead to an emotional response which, in turn, becomes expressed through fiction.
But this isn’t a huge surprise. It isn’t anything new. There are so many authors who find inspiration from what’s going on in the world at this time, not just what happened in our history (though it’s equally important, don’t get me wrong). It’s logical. It’s inevitable. It’s truth. It epitomizes the saying, “write what you know”, which we hear over and over and over in the literary world. We hear. We see. We talk. Some authors get involved through action outside of their writing, putting knowledge to work.
Almost everything I write starts and ends with world and personal issues that countries and individuals struggle to resolve in the present.
I totally get it.
When I first read this roughly a couple years ago, it didn’t completely resonate. I didn’t really make the personal connection. Until this year. More specifically, now, when I’ve finally sat down to think about it; when I finally asked the (right) questions. Like I always say: I might be slow to get there, but eventually I do.
What’s the World Done NOW? Real World, Meet Fiction.
One of my biggest problems is balancing the current events aspect with the story I’m trying to tell. Sometimes I get so angry over certain issues that I can’t be satisfied unless I shout something, even if maybe, in the context of the fantasy book, I should have whispered.
– R.A. Salvatore, quoted in “The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction” by Philip Athans (2010)
Let’s talk about the darkness in humanity for a bit.
In the intro post to the series, I mentioned the Nigerian girls (about 300 now?) abducted by the Boko Haram from Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok and how it gets to me. I don’t know these girls. I don’t really know anyone from Nigeria. I certainly have nothing to do with the Boko Haram and will never, ever, ever support anyone who does what they have done.
What I do know is that it strikes up an emotional response. It’s powerful, it’s frightening, it’s enraging, and it screams from the rooftop about the violence and the need for a power trip existing in our species on the primal level. It’s the crushing of innocence at the hands of a monster we keep trying to lock in the closet. We rationalize that monster with emotion, ego, God(s) and the metaphysical as a whole, but the reality is it exists. Not only that, but it knows how to play politics and other games. Events like this remind us it’s there, jumping in front of our face, saying, “Whatcha gonna do about it, hmmm?! You haven’t beat me yet, so what’s your plan now???”
As a speculative fiction writer, one could answer with another quote from Geoffrey Chaucer’s character in “A Knight’s Tale”:
I will eviscerate you in fiction.
Things like this can spur a story in an instant like a spark bursting into a flame. It’s real, it’s raw, it’s terrifying if you think about it and even more if your empathy runs deep enough to really get it. There’s power in using fiction to talk about the tough stuff, to keep the issue in front of people. Of course, the audience expects a happy ending. That’s where hope comes in … but that’s a different post for a different day.
One of my more recent finds is Lauren DeStefano‘s book, Wither, part of her dystopian series, The Chemical Garden Trilogy. I came across it before the Winter Solstice/Christmas and have a copy beside me right now, though I haven’t read much of it yet. I remember reading the summary and thinking it was a must-read, promptly adding it to my reading list. It’s not sunshine and rainbows, set in an ugly future with young women who are kidnapped and sold as brides to bear children because of a genetics problem. Almost surprisingly (maybe, not really), it’s classified as YA and geared towards exposing youth to the issue. Even more interesting is the Reading Group Guide included at the back to get readers thinking and talking. I’ve read the first chapter and already it’s got my attention because the issue makes my blood boil. Add it to the news and it makes the fiction seem a little more real.
But, of course, there is so much more than just this issue. Bullying, for instance, is being addressed more frequently. It’s suddenly become a huge deal and we’re talking about it. Then there’s the environment and how fast we’re digging our grave, where dystopian stories are becoming a norm with their bleak outlooks (what would George Orwell and Aldous Huxley think? Would they be banging their heads off the wall or lecturing us?). Or there’s the growing concern about the powers of corporations, manipulation, and changing that which fulfills our basic needs like in Dianne Lynn Gardner‘s recent novel, Altered.
The opportunities are vast.
Follow the Inspiration: Exploring the Issues in Speculative Fiction
Don’t just reinterpret that news item in the context of a fantasy story or imagine it forward to some point in the distant future. Instead, ask how that item speaks to a bigger, more timeless issue.
– Philip Athans, “The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction” (2010)
As I’m writing this, I’m thinking on my writing and realizing that the issue of trafficking and slavery which inspired the post has been haunting me for awhile. In more recent terms, about a month ago I caught an episode of the Canadian crime drama, “Played”, which happened to be about an Eastern European trafficking situation. Then it came up again when I watched “CSI: Miami” in marathon. It goes further back (did anyone else watch the TV movie, “Human Trafficking“, with Mira Sorvino, Donald Sutherland, and the creepiest character I think Robert Carlyle’s ever portrayed?), but in the last few months, it seems it’s been pretty in-your-face. Or at least in my face.
So I suppose it’s no wonder that along the way, I scribbled some notes about a possible adult/NA novel focused on a character involved in said situation. Not sure where I’m going with it yet, but the seed is there to grow the whole plant. It’s screaming fantasy – dystopian. Chances are it’ll become part of the series I’ve started plotting about corruption and the things people do to take advantage of others, including the issue of corporations taking over and politicians selling their people.
Though the issues already do show up in the manuscripts I’m working on for the Blood & Heritage series. The books have their share of dark, scary monsters – those which cannot simply be slain with a sword. Just add politics and BAM! Insane living nightmare. While I don’t base the story around trafficking and slavery, it’s an important part of that world; details in the world-building, making each culture stand out and juxtaposing one set of countries and customs to another. The main character/hero, Quji, comes from the one world but his heart belongs in the other. He doesn’t support slavery or abuse, and he’s all for the freedom to choose and protecting an individual’s rights. All of this despite growing up in a country that believes the complete opposite. It’s really no surprise that Quji suffers from PTSD.
Meanwhile, Phaedrya (his wife and main antagonist) comes from a culture where all of it’s normal. Yes, taking people away from their loved ones and forcing them into a life where they are treated like property hurts. That’s why these countries do it – that’s why she does it – keeping control through fear and exercising power (and entitlement) over others. And selling people is just good business, no different than the drugs, food, or other goods they make and import/export.
She’s a right good villain. A villain who thinks she’s right because there’s absolutely nothing wrong with what she’s doing. That’s what she’s been taught … and not very different from the people who do these things in the real world.
Though it’s not to say the hero’s world is perfect, considering his country has a province run by criminals and the political leaders aren’t very helpful. But throughout the series, Quji’s moral compass points in the same direction and guides the rest of the family. At the end of the day, it’s about protecting the right to live free, to make one’s own choices and not be subject to the violence and terrible things people do to each other. The series itself is about change and standing up for the good in humanity, even if it means going to war instead of laying down and allowing greed and the darkness to take over.
So, at the end of the day …
Let’s talk about current events and the causes that stem from them, as well as what causes them. Let’s talk about the unsettling, the horrible, and the things that make us weep. Let’s yell at the monsters in the dark and expose them – eviscerate them in fiction, if we must. We can’t let it go. We can’t let it fall by the wayside. We have to talk about it. We have to do something about it.
In the literary realm, fantasy is the genre I’m naturally drawn to, so what the heck, I’ll put it to work! It isn’t all fluff. Sure, it needs to be balanced out with the nicer, happier things in life, but I appreciate when authors are inspired to poke at those dark places and expose the parts of humanity we keep fighting and/or perpetuating.
But hold on, let’s not forget to talk about the good, too! Let’s talk about the wonderful things, those little and big bits that make life spectacular and magical. Let’s talk about love, whether we’re hopeless romantics or not. Let’s talk about the people we call victims who have thrown that label away because they want more from life. Let’s talk about the people reaching out even if they believe have little to give, but they do it anyway because they’re driven by kindness. Let’s talk about the people who are happiest taking care of others because it fulfills them and gives their life meaning. Let’s talk about the innocence that we see in children, that little spark of something special we miss as adults.
Here’s the beauty and the power of inspiration: it can get people talking, thinking, and doing. Or keep them talking, thinking, and doing. So fiction, non-fiction, or whatever and however the big things come out. The important thing is that we go there together.
And as the curtain falls …
If you haven’t heard much about the Nigerian girls but want to know more, you can easily find out by going to Google, Facebook, Twitter – pretty much every social media outlet – and looking up #BringBackOurGirls.
And while you’re there, look up more on human trafficking. This is only one example but there is so much more. And not just in Africa, Europe, Asia – Canada and U.S., we’ve got these problems. We might not see or hear about them, but they’re there. Closer than we want to admit.
Previous post in the Inspiring the Author Within Blog Series: Digging Deep with the “Inspiring the Author Within” Blog Post Series
Next time: Inspiration from Relationships.