There are questions that every author dreads to hear. Usually it’s something along the lines of “Where do you get your ideas?”, which I don’t actually mind. Mine is “What kind of stories do you write?”
It’s a fair question I ask. I often glare jealously at my friends as they whip out answers to this at dinner conversations while dreading the moment all eyes fall upon me and I say, “Uhm, well, I don’t usually write hard Science Fiction, or anything with space ships or aliens. Unless it’s satire. My fantasy tends to be sort of in-between reality and the bizarre. Oh, and I like dwarves.”
Except none of that describes what I write. Not really. One of the things that drew me to being a writer was that I like being a jack of all trades. I like knowing a little bit about lots of things. I have too many hobbies. I’m rarely bored. I could watch the news all day long. I people watch. There’s nothing I don’t want to know how to do or learn how it works. It’s how I’m wired.
A lot of the books I read growing up were entertaining and escapist but the ones that really captured my imagination were the ones that I reread over and over and found new meaning in. From some of Heinlein’s work that explored moral, social, religious, and political issues, like Time Enough for Love and Asimov’s Robots, Empire and Foundation series’ to Frank Herbert’s Dune, I found myself engrossed in thematic complexities that were often (but not always) carefully handled.
I’ve heard differing opinions on writing with theme in mind. I don’t always consider it when I’m writing a first draft but by the time that’s done there’s usually an underlying theme emerging that I’ll tease out of the dark in subsequent drafts like a shy kitten. Others ignore theme completely and let the reader make their own interpretation. There is no wrong way, just your way.
Most of what I write, on either side of the genre, might best be classified as social. I wrote about a garbage men put out of work by garbage disposal/recycling technology. A blind man who’s sight is restored with augmented reality and he realizes that he was happier before he could see because of how it changed his relationships with the world. The crippled woman who volunteers to transfer her consciousness into a space ship so she can be with her wife again. All stories that depend on Science Fiction to work, but the focus is on the people and their struggles, not the technology or science.
Even while I’m plotting out my novel chock full of Kiwi dwarves, sparkpunk, and airships in an alternate New Zealand, which should be a good adventure romp, I’m considering issues of class, racism, economics, and colonialism. Themes emerge and can’t be ignored.
So when the question of what I write comes up, I’m not sure how to answer without sounding like I have a pencil crammed up my tailpipe. Saying sociological fantasy is too complicated for casual conversation. Plus, it’s too easy to mumble and say scatological and that’s a reputation you’ll never get back. Social Science Fiction just sounds pretentious. Sorry, it does.
Part of a writer’s identity if figuring out why they write and what they write about. Why I write short stories is that I can’t sit still. Or because I like to look in the windows to lots of characters lives. What you write is going to change over the course of your lifetime, but, like a story, a theme will emerge.
I write about interesting people in difficult situations, usually on the best or worst day(s) of their lives. What do you write about?