Hey, it's always great to crib a title from a bestseller, right? But seriously, I wanted to expand a little on the last post. We talked about form, about poetry, short stories and novels... but now I wanted to stretch that out to genre, stretch it out to our own unique stories. What draws you to the kind of stories you write? Where do they come from?
For me, things started with fantasy so I'll start there. Part of why I write fantasy is just because I love a good bit of imagination. Something magical... why not? I think I liked the physicality of fantasy, too. In an increasingly mechanized and abstract world I loved the directness of fantasy. You got a guy, a horse, a sword. You got some bloke to chop. It was stuff you could do with your own hands. I was an adventuresome kid. I never met a stick that wasn't really a gun or a sword (or a ray blaster, of course). Oh, okay, I liked violence. Battles! Epic fantasy seemed a natural choice.
The interesting thing is that those childhood choices often hold a certain resonance, vibrating at a frequency we recognize even decades later. They've worn a synaptic channel, and we're quick to recognize specific patterns. It's not something I think I'll ever escape (even if I wanted to). Now, what I want from fantasy has changed as I've aged... but I think part of the desire to still live within the old patterns of the fantastic derives from their familiarity, from the pitch of that resonating frequency. Those stories, for good or ill, have helped shape who I am, and so I'm bound, in a sense, to always work within that form, to always have my thoughts shaped within that framework. I'm like one of Pavlov's dogs: draw a sword and I start salivating.
There are other paths and patterns, however. Reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest when I was eighteen opened new and strange vistas. Reading it, I thought: "Holy shit, you can do this? You're allowed to do this in a story? Why didn't anyone tell me?" Reading Wallace was an awakening to an entirely new idea of what a story was, flipping my old ideas over and giving 'em a good kicking. I became fascinated not just with the content of a story, but its nature, its function. The tricks of the post-modernists caught my eye, stories that deconstruct themselves, narratives about narratives...
Yet tricks can grow tiring. I wanted something more essential than misdirection. What is a story trying to do? What do I see as its purpose? Maybe a story is there simply to peel open a human moment. My love of literary stories comes from this, I think. A fascination with psychology, a fascination with people. A desire to peel open something human and see how it works, as if beyond the words were a pile of little gears and levers I could discover and diagram. A story, for me, became a moment of exploration, a chance not merely to find an epiphany but to build one up out of scratch, stacking words together until the right shape was found, the right function, all the little wheels whirring into synchronicity.
I had to love magical realism, of course. How could I not love it when the fantastic leaked into the real and pried open human dilemmas? It was a natural fit, really. What better to explore than the unexplained and inexplicable? Kafka, Marquez, Calvino, Lethem, Chabon, Murakami... strange and unique, and yet the patterns were familiar, two seemingly disparate frequencies humming into sudden harmony.
I remember when my daughter first started learning to paint (she's an old hand now at four) and how excited she was when she realized she could swipe a brush through one paint to make one colour, and through another paint to make another colour. And then one day she realized that she could mix the paints to get an entirely different colour... and her face lit up. I think that's the expression I have, sometimes, when those frequencies align and a piece of the fantastic breaks free and dreams itself into the reality of a human moment.
So, those are my frequencies. What are yours? And how'd they come about?