We search for meaning in our lives. Most of us strive to live in ways that are rich, empowered, and authentic. At least that’s what Carol S. Pearson wrote in The Hero Within. I subscribe to that theory. I don’t hear people recommending fiction as a way to do this, nearly often enough.
An article published in Brain Connectivity says that reading novels allows us to be more empathic to others. Most novel readers already know this. But the article says that not only do novels allow us to escape, try on new ways of looking at things, and experience feelings outside of our lives, but the study asserts that reading novels actually changes the chemistry of our brains—causing chemical effects that can linger for days.
When I read, and I read everything, including box labels, highway signs, non-fiction, which I love, and most especially fiction. I expect to fulfill one or all of the aspirations above.
- I want to enrich my understanding
- I want to know about my options (do I really want that 34% fat content for a snack? Probably yes, sigh, I don’t guarantee that understanding my options will mean making the best choices)
- I want to feel some thing that will add authenticity, joy, or excitement to my life.
- Or, I want to forget for just a moment, lay down my awareness and slip into a safe and soothing place.
It surprises me how many times I’ve heard people ‘admit’ they read fiction but only—insert a current critics’ darling, or the most recent break out best seller from the most prestigious bestseller list. These poor souls’ behavior suggests that they only read as a way to improve themselves or stay abreast of cultural core knowledge. They imply that reading fiction is a duty, and reading the ‘right’ things seems to make them feel righteous.
But there is a solid core of people contemptuous of fiction (which by definition means a work that is partially or all made up, something that is not true, which may even have issued from the fevered imaginings of people like Edgar Allan Poe or J.R. Tolkein). Just the facts, Ma’am and anything that isn’t is an unsavory past time. Or, you infer from some people’s reactions that reading is a waste of time
Too bad for them. I won’t waste time on people who worry about the value of fiction or the significance of what they read. Worry cuts into my reading time.
I am a word slut, a novel addict, and sometimes a self admitted escape artist. Don’t get between me and my drug of choice.
While I can admire the strength of a well crafted sentence, the power of a well hewn paragraph or the structural beauty of literary fiction, sentences, paragraphs and beautiful form are only devices, tools to deliver the guts of the work, like the brushstrokes of a painting. For example, ‘Starry Night’ has several levels of impact. If you would deconstruct the image, each stroke becomes a personal statement. But the real impact is viewing the image as a whole. Like all of Van Gogh’s work, it vibrates, it is alive, and it can grab me by the throat across the room. I can feel it with my back turned.
If I notice careful crafting, or sense that the writer is a little too conscious of what they have wrought or if the structure begs to be admired for it’s brilliance, I’m pulled out of the story. I can admire but admiration is a cerebral response and I’m in it for the game-changing-gut-wrenching-soul-blowing whole enchilada.
I want it all, I want to respect the competence, even the artistry of the writer and I want to be lifted out of myself by the story. If I can’t have it all, I’d rather have the emotional lift and save my intellectual gratification for architecture. Sorry but that’s the way I’m wired.
For me, story is the point. Words are just abstract marks unless they translate into thoughts or feelings, most hopefully both. Words are just elegant symbols if they lack the means to evoke understanding. I can appreciate beautiful writing but without the good bones of a story and engaging, authentic characters, beautiful writing doesn’t move me.
Fiction should push us beyond our present understanding, expand our experience beyond our current knowledge, escape mundane or even impossible situations and/or give us a push, either a feel good-rush, or a terror-buzz or a connection to something you’ve never quite felt in touch with before.
Good Romance fiction is a great means to accomplish that. Don’t roll your eyes. I’m talking about the original definition of Romance.
Unfortunately, Romance and romantic fiction, (though there is nothing wrong with romantic fiction) have become interchangeable in the general vocabulary. This misunderstanding has diminished the impact of one of the most powerful implements for achieving meaning in our lives.
Traditionally, firstly, fundamentally, Romance was a medieval tale based on legend, chivalric lore and adventure, or the supernatural. Think of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, The Golden Arrow or Ivanhoe. Romance is also a prose narrative with imaginary characters involved in events, remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious
I write fantasy romance. While I write in other genres, fantasy romance will always be the most appropriate genre to convey the best I have to offer.
I once heard Tamara Pierce say that she wrote fantasy because it was the one genre where you could talk about honor, integrity and impossible goals without embarrassment. We should expect fantasy to thrust us into a journey that requires the best and brightest to meet the worst and most destructive forces; to triumph and come out on the other side of their quest as even better, brighter and stronger beings who leave the world a better place.
We are flawed, we can rise above it—that is the bottom line for Romance. Life is big, we are small but Romance should suck the best stuff from deep, deep inside us and show us what we can achieve.
When you add the third definition of Romance, a love story in the form of a novel, you have a pretty complete understanding of why I write what I do.
The Sanctuary series is high fantasy set in an Urban environment, based on themes like: love conquers all, be true to one’s self, good overcomes evil and life trumps death.
This blog will be about creativity, fiction, the world of Sanctuary and fun. Yeah, because in the end if this isn’t fun, or at least interesting I’m taking myself too seriously. I’m counting on someone pointing that out, immediately.
Some of my favorite go to books of fantasy romance: The Stand, by Stephen King, The Thomas Covenant books by Stephen R. Donaldson, Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, Briar’s Book, Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce, all the Wild Magic series by Tamora Pierce, Tithe, Valiant and Ironside by Holly Black, to name a few.