Only Make Believe

Be your own Buddha

When you tell people you’re a writer the first thing they ask is, “Oh, what do you write?”

Then, after you tell them you write fiction, they tell you what kind of book they read, if they read at all. If you don’t write the sort of book they prefer, that pretty much ends the conversation. Occasionally you run into an omnivore—someone who reads anything and everything. This sort of reader will usually be kind enough to make an attempt to appear interested in whatever it is you write.

Generally speaking, I try to avoid talking about what I write beyond saying that it’s mostly fantasy. This isn’t strictly true, but it makes for a simpler interface with the non-reading public.

I’ve been a daydreamer all my life. As a child I did it to escape the casual cruelty and numbing boredom that fester in the savage wilds of public school. As an adult I’ve learned to channel my daydreaming into imaginary worlds which offer some respite from the daily horror stories that flood the news channels.

Apparently I’m not the only one looking to escape.

These days fantasy is big business. Books in the sword and sorcery genre abound, dragons are a growth industry, and butt-kicking heroines with paranormal powers have become a genre unto themselves. Yet still the fantasies that thrill me are the ones that lurk on the edges of the mainstream fantasy realms. There aren’t many writers like Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett and Christopher Moore, who write wildly imaginative fantasy replete with humor and philosophy.

I’m not a big fan of fantasy in which writers rely on the trappings of violence and creepy gore to make up for lack of imagination and humor.

I yearn for the Buffy factor. What made that landmark show so remarkable wasn’t simply the “girl kills monsters” theme, but the way humor was woven into every aspect of the show, from the romantic plotlines to the apocalypse scenarios. Joss Whedon understood that a good apocalypse needs more than a few laugh lines.

And this is where I draw my own personal line in the sand when it comes to fantasy. I will put up with a lot of gore and violence if I can trust the writer to punish villainy in the fullness of time and to make sure that everyone has a few laughs before the lights go out.

Many very intelligent and thoughtful readers have no interest in fantasy, or even fiction of any kind. They view reality as the whole picture. They consider history and science the only worthwhile detours from the serious business of Life. And, of course, such readers are essential to us all.

But I believe fantasy matters. And here’s the point of the sword: There’s no wall between fantasy and reality. Gravity may seem inescapable here on Earth, but if humans hadn’t imagined flight we’d never have walked on the moon.

It takes courage to be a dreamer in this rough and rude world. Not everyone will respect you for it. But you have to decide if you want to live your own life. You have the choice to be the hero or the villain or the comic relief in your own story. Whether you write it down or not is also up to you.

Be your own hero. You may never make your parents proud, but you can be proud of trying. Whether you walk through walls or into them, the important thing is to keep going. Even make believe wings can give you a lift.