Front Page, Musings

The One Genre I Just Can’t Even

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While in both my writing and reading I gravitate toward historical fiction and sci-fi/fantasy, I firmly believe in reading and writing in other genres. Why limit yourself? You never know when you might discover a new author or genre. Or, as a writer, your words guide you to a genre you never considered.

Though I have certain preferences, I try to keep an open mind. Yet there is one genre, and it’s one that’s quite trendy, I absolutely cannot stand: dystopia. Every book I’ve ever read in this genre leaves me either depressed or angry or both. While having some kind of emotional reaction as a reader can be a sign the author has done their job, when I consistently feel angry or depressed it’s a sign this is a genre which doesn’t work for me.

My reasons for despising the dystopian genre go beyond the emotions it leaves me with. I have read highly regarded dystopian novels such as The Book of Joan and The Deadlands, amongst others, as well as upstart dystopian novels. None of them, absolutely none of them, have been interesting. From the characters to the setting to the message, none have ever resonated with me.

I find the dystopian genre utterly depressing, which is the point. Some BIG BAD EVENT happened to destroy the world. BAD PEOPLE are in charge and DOING BAD THINGS. There is NO HOPE. LIFE SUCKS AND NOTHING CAN BE DONE TO CHANGE IT. The overall message is always the same: IF MAN DOESN’T CHANGE ITS WAYS NOW, THIS IS HOW THE FUTURE WILL BE.

Note: I all capped everything to express how much this genre beats the reader over the head with these themes.

The reader goes into this genre knowing what they are about to read is going to be full of horrors. It’s not that I want to read about everything being a happy, clappy fairy land. But I get no joy, no insight, nothing but an urge to drink myself into oblivion after reading anything in the dystopian genre.

Which leads me to another reason why I hate this genre. I truly don’t understand why anyone enjoys this genre. Is it because no matter how dire and horrible the present is, reading a future where things are unimaginably terrible it’s a sigh of relief one won’t be around to see it? Do people like being depressed and disillusioned? As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, why the hell would I want to use my time, a time to lose myself in another world, to read about bad shit? Sorry, I don’t feel like being a masochist.

One of my biggest gripes is I’ve yet to read a dystopian novel where a main character is likeable or relatable. I also find very little character development. People who were bad at the beginning are usually worse by the end or perhaps only marginally better. I’m usually pretty good at empathizing with characters, both hero and villain, regardless of the genre. In the dystopian genre, I find this is not the case. It’s not that I can’t imagine the strain and stress of daily survival. I very much can. It’s just difficult to care about a cast of characters who all pretty much act the same regardless of what side of the fence they are on.

I also find the setting in dystopian novels to be the same. Either the world is a barren, radioactive wasteland, or a cramped, overpopulated city. Boring. It’s also annoying reading virtually the same descriptions. All the colors are muted or various tones of brown. The sun, sky, and moon don’t look the same. The air is heavy with oppression. Why can’t a shitty future be set in a lush jungle to provide a contrast? Or a future where there is more food than there are people and things look “normal”?

Real life is scary enough, so I don’t know what purpose a dystopian story serves. It would be one thing if out of the books I’ve read in this genre there were at least one or two where a glimmer of hope existed. But though some have had a hero character fighting against the evil oozing from every corner, they always lose. Again, it’s not necessarily bad if a hero loses. Hell, that’s something which I find refreshing as in real life the hero sometimes doesn’t win. Yet in this genre it’s a trope, an expectation. How is this enjoyable reading?

You may be wondering why I continue to read this genre when I clearly can’t stand it. The answer is a rather lame one. The book club I’m in focuses on sci-fi and fantasy books and dystopian falls under the sci-fi umbrella. Though I enjoy most of the books we read and the group, I am considering excusing myself from attending the months we read a dystopian novel. Part of me still thinks maybe, just maybe, I’ll find one book which breaks all the tropes and conventions of the genre and I’ll like it. That being said, to save myself an eye twitch, a headache, and a few hours of my life, I’m just going to skip these books.

 

 

 

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Front Page, Musings

What I’ve Been Reading of Late

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Hard to believe it is April and a quarter of the year is finished. Flowers and trees are budding and blooming. People with allergies are sneezing and wheezing. Vampires like me squint and spit at the sun while sun lovers dance happily outside. Yes, the world is waking up from winter.

I did a fair bit of reading in the first three months. A lot of it was research for my WIP so I was learning about orchids and 19th century garden design. Big, heavy books filled with beautiful color pictures of places from all over the world that I am using to figure out how to create a fictional garden or two. Even with telling myself to only focus on only what is specifically relevant to the story, I still went overboard on the research.

When I wasn’t researching, I read for fun. My for fun reading consisted of a mixture of sci-fi/fantasy, historical fiction, and random genres.

My sci-fi/fantasy reads consisted of books from my book club. My favorite was The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. I won’t go into too much detail as I’m saving my full thoughts for the end of the year when it’ll appear on my favorite reads list. I just wanted to quickly say that I loved this book because the main character, Maia, is easy to root for. I also read for the first time Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and felt it was a book I might have enjoyed had I read it as a child. Reading as an adult I found it lacking a lot of what I look for in a book.

My historical fiction reading was light these first three months, although I am currently reading a charming early medieval times murder mystery. I did read Deanna Raybourn’s latest Veronica Speedwell book, A Treacherous Curse, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Definitely looking forward to Raybourn continuing the series since I love her style and her witty and smart main characters.

For the other bits of random reading, I turned to a list of books I wanted to read this year. I managed to check three of them off the list. The first was a re-read of 1984 by George Orwell. The first time I read it was back in high school and I understand it a lot better reading it as an adult. I also read Artemis by Andy Weir and enjoyed his sarcastic main character and reading about a set of colonies on the moon. My favorite out of the three was Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Not to be confused with the 1933 sci-fi movie called The Invisible Man nor the H.G. Wells novel of the same name. Ellison’s Invisible Man came out in 1952 and tells the story of the struggle of a nameless main character, a black man from the South who finds himself exiled to Harlem, as he tries to figure out his place in America. In reading a book that came out over sixty years ago, one sees how times have changed, but, unfortunately, how so many of the themes and expectations explored in the book are still the relevant today.

What have you read so far this year? What are you looking forward to reading? For me, I look forward to crossing more books off my ambitious to read list as well as the surprises awaiting me in book club.

 

 

Front Page, Musings

True to Life. Sort Of.

For many writers, a big source of inspiration for characters are friends and family. Makes sense. These are people whom you see frequently and know their quirks, speech patterns, personality, and could describe quite easily. Why struggle for hours thinking up a name or description or poring over character sheets when you have a throng of people at your fingertips? Some authors even go so far as to mine the backgrounds of friends and family for plots and subplots. Indeed, the joke about being nice to the writer or else you’ll end up in their next book can be quite true.

Unless you’re me. For years I have stayed away from using family and friends for inspiration. Though I am clearly writing fiction, I worry if I use someone I know, even if it is as simple as a description or pulling a couple of interesting traits from them, they will think I view them as being that person on the page. I shied away from even using their names regardless if the description or personality of the character had zero connection with the same name real life counterpart.

It’s not that I worry about being sued. Writers are covered under the law from being sued just because a character either has a strong resemblance or a passing resemblance to a fictional character. It’s why this language appears after the title page: This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

But even with this legal protection, I was still afraid. Afraid of what other people would think about me. I used to worry what would happen if I have a character which resembles someone I know and the person they are loosely based on reads it. Will they jump to conclusions and believe I view them like that? Will they be upset? Will they be happy? Will they stop talking to me? I’m usually a non-confrontational person and though I know what my intent was and recognize a fictional character is not the same as a flesh and blood person, it was a risk I wasn’t willing to take.

However, I’ve realized how flawed this thinking is. Yes, my characters and situations are entirely made up. But I get inspired from a variety of sources: newspaper articles, listening to NPR, shows and movies I watch, books I’ve read, bullshitting with people, etc. So how is using a friend’s name or distinctive look or personality traits of a family member any different? Why not use people I know, even in a small way, to help flesh out a character?

Looking to friends, family, and even myself makes things a little easier. Writing is incredibly difficult, and I am someone very prone to making things more complicated then they need to be. It’s one of my few natural skills. So, if I can make certain things like names, descriptions, character traits, even events easier to come up with then I should use them.

Another way to look at it is those around you are resources. They can become part of your writer’s toolbox in whatever way you need them to be. Perhaps a friend has an interesting job that inspires you to write a story. Or maybe a family member has a unique personality that fits in with the world you are creating. Again, anything which makes writing a little bit easier, use it.

And while I have realized it is okay to mine people you know for you work, it is also important to keep in mind that at the end of the day, your friends and family are still people. Be respectful and think heavily about how you use them in a story. Don’t be afraid, though, as no matter how strongly a character may be based upon someone you know, that character is still its own one of its kind person.