I’m afraid I’m going to be the odd person out on Lisa’s review blog as I’ve got nothing GRL-related to share with everyone; however, I enjoy geeking out in a way that dusty, book-hoarding, book-fondling English majors could appreciate. I thought long and hard for what I could say about Benedict, but I ultimately came up with nothing of much interest save for the fact that the story was a salvaged fantasy flash fiction that a fantasy magazine rejected. It was originally titled “Belinda”, and Belinda was a marionette who got so fed up with her strings controlling her that she freed herself from them and died as a result. Not a particularly happy story, but it had a point. The marionette angle stayed in the back of my mind, though, and years after I attempted “Belinda”, I recycled the general idea behind the story and expanded it into a gay YA fairy tale novella.
Unfortunately, that’s it about Benedict and its history, but I can veer off a tad and go full English Lit nerd insofar as my sources of inspiration go when it comes to writing historical fantasy stories for and about gay kids. And those who’re familiar with my backlist will attest to the fact that I can’t write something without working metaphors in them or just plain go all out on the fantasy elements to make a point.
Some people might ask, “Why can’t you just tell a straightfoward story about coming out or bullying or family dynamics, etc.? Why go through all the trouble of writing something so roundabout to explore an issue that’s contemporary?”
My overly simplified response to that would be this: oh, heck, why not? 😀
My less overly simplified response would be this: I want to give gay kids fairy tales they can call their own. They’ve grown up having all those classic, heterocentric stories fed to them, from Charles Perrault to the Brothers Grimm to Hans Christian Andersen to Oscar Wilde and all other writers in between. Wouldn’t it be great to offer them fairy tales that go beyond castles and noblemen or re-imagined popular tales in which the gender and sexual orientation of the protagonists are changed? Wouldn’t it be great to give them fairy tales that explore contemporary issues they’re familiar with while keeping to the conventions of the genre?
I’ve always known about metaphors as a figure of speech, but I never really understood allegory as a literary device until I was in college, and my Medieval Lit professor assigned “The Owl and the Nightingale” for us to read. Written sometime in the 12th – 13th centuries, it’s been interpreted a variety of ways, one being a religious allegory involving asceticism and celebration. I wrote a paper about it, using that angle, and enjoyed my time researching the Benedictines and the Friars Minor, the two most likely candidates represented by the owl and the nightingale (note: I ended up dating St. Francis’ timeline incorrectly and left my thesis standing on shaky ground, but my professor didn’t seem to know much about monks and friars, so I was spared the humiliation of being called out on it).
And, as they say, I never looked back. It sure doesn’t help that I was required to do close readings in all of my literature classes – save for maybe the 18th century satirists, who didn’t care to mess around when they snarked about things – which spiraled to stratospheric levels when I studied Romanticism. That was a goldmine of metaphors and imagery and what have you, with Romantics rebelling against the cold reason of the Age of Enlightenment before them.
I’ve read so many books since then, but those from my Medieval Lit and Early 19th Century Lit classes (and, ironically, the 18th century satirists), stayed with me the longest, and they’ve influenced pretty much everything I’ve written, no matter how contemporary. I found that I enjoy toying around with imagery and coming up with ways of conveying different ideas that readers might not expect. The thrill of writing these little “breadcrumbs” into the story is what helps fuel those long, agonizing, lonely hours either hammering away at the keyboard or giving my wrist a serious cramp when I write in longhand. I enjoy that element of surprise as a writer, and I always hope there’d be at least one person who’d pick up the book, read those “breadcrumbs”, connect the dots in his or her head, and go, “I get it!”. To me, that process of pulling something out of the text beyond what’s on the surface level adds something special to the reading experience.
Since I’m no longer in school, I do find inspiration for historical fantasy just about everywhere. Over at my blog, I tend to write about sources of inspiration, most of which is musical. There’s one film, though, of all the ones I’ve seen since the dawn of time, that I look up to as a fantasy writer, and it’s Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.
It’s a film that masterfully, seamlessly weaves elements of reality with fantasy, leaving viewers wondering in the end whether or not Ofelia’s fairy tale adventures were real or a figment of her imagination all along, especially when those fairy tale scenes have real-life counterparts above ground. Beyond the possibility of a child’s tragic attempts at disassociating herself from the horrors of Civil War-wracked Spain, there are so many ways of interpreting the movie. I remember sitting stunned in my seat when the credits rolled, completely horrified, heartbroken, and yet just plain amazed at the way Del Toro wove his story (the visuals sure helped a lot, too). I’ve yet to come across another film that either rivals this one or one-ups it in showing just how inextricably connected reality is with fantasy.
Though my go-to genre for musical inspiration has always been classical music, there are some contemporary songs that have fueled some of my historical fantasies. Contemporary folk songs such as Seth Lakeman’s “Lady of the Sea (Hear Her Calling)” and Genticorum’s “Les Culottes De V’Lour” work like folktales in the way they tell stories of shipwrecks (Lakeman) or cuckolds (Genticorum).
Classical music tends to inspire me to come up with more grandiose elements (settings, plots, characters), but simple folk songs like these inspire me to look at the everyman (or, in the case of my chosen market, the everyboy) and tell his story. Fairy tales, after all, aren’t just about nobility; at this day and age, a shifting emphasis to the working-class is, I think, more appropriate for allegory, and I’ve been focusing more and more on the less privileged for my protagonists. Just like those archetypal princes and princesses, they deserve their time in the sun as heroes of their own special quests – even more so, in fact, given the odds stacked up against them.
Other forms of art inspire me in so many ways, but I’d like to stop here before I kill Lisa’s blog with too much text. 😀 Thanks for having me aboard!
THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED