Why do you read so much?
This is a question that I have been asked so many times that I have lost count. Growing up I spent almost all my free time with my nose stuck in a book. When my mom wanted to punish me, she would take away the book I was reading. I got yelled at while reading at a baseball game when I was 14 years old. And even today, now that I have moved on to writing as well, I will spend weekends glued to my computer reading whole series of books in one sitting.
So, back to the question at hand (as some would phrase it), Why waste your time with stuff that’s just fiction?
To that I would reply, there is no such thing as just fiction, just a story. Stories, myth, fairy tales, these all illuminate deeper truths, deeper realities. They open worlds of truth beyond what we experience in our everyday lives. Author G.K. Chesterson once said, "Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed."
In my day job, I work with families who have recently experienced loss; I work with patients who have just been given difficult or fatal diagnoses; I work with doctors and nurses who have just lost a patient. I come home at the end of the day and I know the dragon exists. I have been helping to clean up the dragon’s mess all day long. It is then that I need most to be reminded that the dragon can be defeated. Not that death and pain can be beaten or avoided but rather that despair and hopelessness are not the only answers.
It is then that I settle into my couch with a modern day fairy tale and my cats and I allow the words on the page to weave a world into being, a world in which the little guy can defeat the big bad, the ugly duckling can find true love, the cast off can become the beloved prince. Because, as Jon Foreman wrote, “Words have incredible power. Words create worlds. The words we use define ourselves and the world around us. They shape our reality. Our words determine our ideologies.”
The worlds created on the page are worlds full of magic, dark evil, mythical creatures and true love overcoming all that bears no resemblance to the “real” world. And yet, it is the same. Stories, myths and fairy tales can point out to us truths that go beyond fact. They are symbols of the deep well that is in us which is just out of our perception. They are the truth which casts the shadow on back of our caves.
So I must ask myself, would I be the same person I am today if I hadn’t grown up reading about King Arthur and Merlin, Harry Potter, Harry Dresden and many others, if I didn’t still read stories beyond counting about wizards, vampires, shapeshifters, and any creature a writer could imagine? I like to think not.
When I write my stories, whether they are in contemporary settings or in a paranormal setting, I try to create a world that, if not in it’s physical realities, at least in it’s symbolic realities, is a world I want to help create. My stories are almost always filled with broken, wounded or just dreary people who somehow manage to find hope despite whatever the world might throw at them.
What kind of worlds do you want to weave?