Write The Stories You Want To Read

When I was hovering on the cusp of an unfortunate adolescence, a teacher had our class create time capsules. The prompt, I recall, had something to do with warning our future selves away from the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

My twelve-year-old self had other ideas.

I got the time capsule back halfway through college and way too late for the well-intentioned warning, but the real message was loud and clear.

“If you still want to be a writer when you grow up, write stories for people like us,” I wrote, ignoring the prompt like any good English major.

People like us. What did I mean? What did that child want from me? And why was she so certain that I would listen?

I “came of age” right as YA literature began to establish itself, but right before it really took off. I had Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, and J.K. Rowling to get me through middle school, but I had read them all cover to cover enough times to break the book spines by the time I reached a disturbing conclusion.

There was nothing after them.

As I grew older, the genres I loved felt less and less relevant. Where were the tough girls I’d been promised in YA literature? Where were the complicated, complex women, queer or otherwise, who so clearly populated my own life? Sure, they were out there, but finding them in fiction was an art form in itself.

The majority of the stories I read were still dominated by the same obnoxiously dashing heroes, and any truly interesting characters had to pay them homage for every line of dialogue they were allowed. There were notable exceptions, but I didn’t want to feel like an exception. It was speculative fiction. These authors were literally making up worlds. Would it have killed them to make up new rules?

I stopped reading science fiction and fantasy around that time. I was tired of seeing the same tropes play out over and over again, pallid reflections of my own world not-so-cleverly masked and armed with familiar props. The Patriarchy in Space. The Patriarchy in A Million Tired Renditions of Middle Earth. The Whitewashing of Entire Alternate Universes. You get the idea.

Bored and fed up, I managed to convince myself in college that I wanted to write and read exclusively literary fiction. [Cue the limp applause.] Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy literary fiction, but my stories fell flat. There was just nothing there. I did not want to write them.

And then I got that letter.

I don’t have a whole lot of faith in the innocence of childhood. I was a child not that long ago, and you could not pay me to go back to that awkward, painful, incredibly self-conscious time, but that girl was on to something. What was the point of writing stories if they were not the stories I wanted to tell?

Compass Rose, whether you love it or hate it, is my kind of story. Strong women. Weird science. A little bit of magic and a whole lot of action. More importantly, it is the story I wanted to write.

I never really thought I would be in a position to offer advice to aspiring writers, and maybe I’m not, but if you’ll allow me one moment of hubris, it’s this: write the kind of stories you want to read, because otherwise the world will continue to reflect other people’s dreams.

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