Monday, March 7, 2016

The Freedom of Fantasy

If you're a faithful reader it's pretty obvious to you by now that I'm a genre jumper. My first two novels were post-apocalyptic, the third a historical, my upcoming fourth novel THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES is a contemporary. Hot on the heels of that - coming from Putnam/Penguin in April of 2017 - will be the first in my fantasy series, GIVEN TO THE SEA.

Any author, regardless of genre, will tell you that every novel presents its own unique issues. When I felt the tiny seeds that were to become my fantasy series starting to bud in my mind, I was ecstatic. I'd just come off of writing A MADNESS SO DISCREET which came about after nearly two years of research, followed by a frantic writing period that nearly killed me.

I thought writing a fantasy was just what I needed. No rules. No boundaries. No having to worry what type of lighting would be in use in 1890 so that one person could correct me on it. No more ten minutes of research before finishing a sentence because I need to know what a cop would have been called in 1890 in Boston.

Pure freedom. Or so I thought.

Instead what I discovered is what Janis Joplin could have told me a long time ago. Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. Or, in my case... freedom's just another word where nothing is assumed.

Yep. That's the catch with fantasy. If I'm writing a contemporary and I tell you that my main character goes to a wealthy private school, that's all I need to say. You know what that school looks like. You know what her house probably looks like. You have a good idea of her culture without me saying much more than that.

If I tell you that my main character in fantasy is the Given, you're like, "Cool... um, what?"

So I have to explain that. And underneath her role as the Given lies an entire cultural mindset which the reader is entirely unfamiliar with. Yes, I get to create my own world and make my own rules, but I also have to paint it for you, and - even more difficult - sell it to you. I can't rely on any assumptions because this is an entirely new world for the reader, even if I have been inhabiting it for quite some time in my own mind.

I've been working on GIVEN TO THE SEA for over a year now, and it's consumed me in an entirely different way than any of my other books have. Yes, there's freedom in fantasy - one that I've been enjoying a lot. But there's also a lot of responsibility and heavy lifting in the world building.

Here's hoping I got it right.