Fantasy As My Reality

Until recently, I was really reluctant to commit to a fiction genre. It wasn’t something I was comfortable doing before I’d published anything substantial, which is why this website is very bland and generic-looking and my blog is mostly random musings and the “writing about writing” kind of stuff that I hear now more than ever I should be avoiding. I didn’t want to lock myself into anything or try to establish myself as an expert before I knew that a genre was the right place for me to be.

I knew the sorts of things I enjoyed reading and writing, though. I liked escaping to other worlds, studying magic, and looking at my own world through an allegorical lens. I dabbled in paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and science fiction when I wasn’t writing literary fiction for classes. As for reading, I gravitate toward those same stories, but also really enjoy horror. This usually surprises people: I’m as jumpy and squeamish as they come, squeal about baby animals, haven’t written a dedicated horror story before, and can’t stomach watching horror movies, but give me something spooky to read and I’m all over it.

What also surprises people is the edge that can come out in my fiction. Some of the better and more inspired pieces that I’ve ever written were things that, on some level, pained or frightened me. I loved the ability to stretch my imagination, but it always turned dark. It got to the point where it was something of a joke with people who read my fiction drafts—“Gretchen can’t just write something silly, she has to make it scary and depressing!” My experiences as a young person with a chronic illness probably contributed to this: I existed in a world that was uncomfortable and unfair, so anything I wrote that wasn’t bleak at some point never felt authentic to me. “Write what scares you” is the most valuable writing advice I’ve ever received, and I lean into that whenever I can.

I got into tabletop gaming fairly recently, and it was during my group’s current main campaign of Dungeons & Dragons that I realized how comfortable and at-home I felt telling high fantasy stories. I loved the stakes, the magic, the action, and despite not thinking of myself as a historian I also found myself liking the medieval aesthetic that tabletop fantasy games embrace. Sure, there was a learning curve involved, but this game and its story and characters felt so right. I kept thinking about the world and narrative outside of the game environment, and it ended up being the inspiration for 2017’s NaNoWriMo piece and my first victory since 2014.

But it wouldn’t have been my piece without bringing fear and discomfort into it. It wouldn’t have been mine without looking critically at and deconstructing the tropes inherent to the fantasy genre, often in ways that end up making it darker. It wouldn’t be mine if it wasn’t cynical, but not beyond hope: I can deconstruct tropes, but they can be reconstructed. Things can be made better. Maybe not right away, and not in the way that a reader would expect, but they can get better.

This is why I think I’ve been a darker-leaning fantasy writer this whole time. I need the fear, but also the flights of fancy. I need the horror and dread to feel like I’ve earned the happy ending. I need to be able to plunge into the darkness and, if I can’t bring light down there with me, find a way back out of it. I need characters who are haunted by what they see, feel, and do, but are powerful and brave in ways that I can only imagine. I can’t hide from the world, but I want to bring something beautiful or inspiring into it that can take the edge off and make things ok again, even if it’s only for a little bit. I think I’ll be happy here, and I hope you will be, too, if you plan on sticking around.

As for what this realization means for the website, blog, and future projects, I have so many ideas.

  • I’m currently working on revising my NaNoWriMo 2017 piece, tentatively called The Kingmaker’s War until something better inevitably comes along. This means a lot of reading, writing, editing, and researching, which I plan to keep you posted on.
  • The website needs a new “look.” Like I said, I’m currently working with the most generic of WordPress themes, which doesn’t gel with any kind of fantasy subgenre at all. I’ll be doing a lot of thinking about aesthetics and getting some better pictures of myself for my online presence. In the meantime, you’ll have to pardon my dust, because I’m sure I’m going to break something in the process. If I need to take down the website for a bit to make this happen, I’ll try to give some advance notice through my social media channels.
  • You’ll notice a shift in what I write about on the blog and how often it updates. Up until now, I’d been doing a lot of writing about writing. This was mostly because I didn’t have any real direction, and it led to long and unexpected hiatuses because I was trying to think of things to write and getting frustrated with myself in the process. The manuscript needed to come first. Now that I have a genre I can settle into, I have something definite that I can write about—namely, the stuff that I’m researching or working on. Expect more musings on genre stuff from this point forward as well as write-ups on research and announcements that could be relevant to your interests, should they arise. This will help me keep on track with writing and revising my manuscript as well as maintaining the blog. I’m planning on monthly blog updates at this time, and keeping the updates to Wednesdays.
  • I’m going to start working on an email newsletter. It’s one of those writer things that I really should have started doing the moment I put a website on the internet, but I never got around to doing because I had no idea what to write in one that I wasn’t already putting on the blog. A writing conference I listened to recently gave me the idea to make the newsletter less about news and more about connecting with readers, which I think is the direction I’m going to take with it once I get that rolling. Such a thing would look like the blog you’re used to seeing, but in your inbox, where the blog will be dedicated to more overtly manuscript-related things. I’m not sure how often I would send a newsletter out, but I’ll avoid being spasm-tastic. If there’s anything you can think of that you’d want to see in a newsletter (or anything that would entice you to subscribe to one), drop a comment below, send me something through my contact form, or get in touch through a social media site and I’ll see what I can do.

I’m nervous, inspired, and excited. I finally feel like I know what I’m doing and where I’m going. You’ll have to bear with me while I go through the “growing pains” phase of figuring everything out, but I’d like to think we’ll all be a little better off once everything’s done.

See you on the other side.