If writing fantasy means I’m “weird,” so be it

I am weird.

Or so I’m frequently told by family, friends, acquaintances, and former co-workers, sometimes directly: “you are weird” or, if they’re feeling exuberant, “you are super weird,” and sometimes by implication through widened eyes, raised eyebrows, nervous giggles, and/or quickly suppressed, incredulous smirks.

So, what makes me weird, you wonder? Well, I (gasp) write and edit speculative fiction, of course! Like, with magic, and creatures, and blood, and make-believe places, and strange things happening to people who might not even be people at all, etc. etc. I also go to conventions to hang out with other folks who like and write this stuff, and some of them even dress up in costumes. And I’m part of a strong spec fic community on Twitter and Google+, which aren’t Facebook, and are therefore weird.

Mostly I’m not bothered by these accusations, though I don’t necessarily agree that all of the above adds up to “weird.” I know that those closest to me accept my “quirks” and only tease me in the most well-meaning, affectionate way. They don’t get it, and I understand and accept that. I don’t get shopaholic books or hotrod magazines, but I also don’t care if people want to read them. If they ask why I choose to write what I write, I often respond with Stephen King’s supposed answer to this question: “What makes you think I have a choice?”

If they still seem curious, they’ll get a more long-winded explanation, starting with…

I’ve always been “weird.” As a kid, my room was decorated with fairy plates; a gold colored, unicorn mobile; assorted fantastical figurines; and a large collection of sentient stuffed animals of whom I was very protective (not to mention imaginary friends and pets, including a spider monkey who sat on my shoulder at all times). I once sculpted a pyramid in my backyard sandbox, which I then became convinced was exerting evil powers over the neighborhood. I couldn’t destroy it, lest some terrible curse befall me, but thankfully the bratty kid down the street ran it over with a toy dump truck when we weren’t home. I’m not sure what the consequences were for him. I once told my dad the Green Goblin was after me and was hiding in our garage—I’d seen him peeking through the window. My dad handled the situation, or so he told me. During long summer days I played “cloud people” with my one and only girl friend, and Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers with the boys. My favorite movies were The Last Unicorn, The Secret of NIMH, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth, and my favorite books were Watership Down and The Chronicles of Prydain. I spent a lot of time drawing maps, world building, and writing the beginnings of epic fantasy stories. What seems in retrospect quite sad, I purchased an Advanced Dungeons and Dragons book which I flipped through frequently but never used because no one was interested in playing with me. (Side note: fellow Inkpunk Morgan Dempsey has kindly agreed to organize a D&D game for me—my first ever—at an upcoming convention. Who said childhood dreams don’t come true?)

As a teen I began to get my first inkling that liking fantasy wasn’t necessarily cool, and began to read stuff like Sweet Valley High to better fit in. But in the private confines of my bedroom I still devoured the offerings of David Eddings, Piers Anthony, Stephen R. Donaldson, Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman etc., and I swear I saw Willow in the theater five or six times.

After reciting my mini-autobiography to establish that I really had no chance in life to become anything other than a fantasy author, I embark on the advocacy portion of my explanation: I may be weird, but so is everyone else. Evidence:

An astonishing 8 out of the top 10, and 37 out of the top 50 highest grossing films of all time, are science fiction or fantasy. And that’s excluding 9 animated films, most if not all of which could be considered fantasy. So…who’s going to see these films? Answer: practically everyone.

The situation is not as clear-cut with the best selling books of all time, but there are several spec fic books prominently represented, including Lord of the Rings (150 million), The Hobbit (100 million), Nineteen Eighty-Four (25 million), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (14 million), and Dune (12 million), to name but a handful. And, of course, Harry Potter is the top selling series of all time, at about 450 million copies sold. Again, lots of people reading these books.

Being a music lover, I take special pleasure in noting that even the most mainstream, popular artists are incorporating fantasy and science fiction imagery into their videos. (I actually keep a list on this–I have no idea why.) Examples:

Superheroes:

Aliens:

Zombies:

Space:

Space opera:

Monsters:

High fantasy:

Perhaps the best example is the all-genre mashup in the video for “Knights of Cyndonia” by MUSE (which for some reason won’t embed, so I’ve just included a link).

And I could go on.

I’m not sure why I’m supposedly weird for liking this stuff when it seems so many other people do, too. Maybe it’s just the writing of it that makes me strange. Or maybe the aspiring to write. Perhaps if I were to become successful, “weird” would no longer apply.

For several years I abandoned fantasy and writing to focus on other things: school, a demanding job, reading works of great literature such as Anna Karenina (which I’m very glad I read) and Tropic of Cancer (ugh, not so much), but ultimately I came back. At first I was shy to admit what I writing; I was worried about being judged or laughed at, or disappointing people who expected me to write…something else. It was such a relief to join up with the folks in the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association, my local spec-fic writing group, and pure joy to meet my fellow Inkpunks and a whole community of other wonderful writers, editors, publishers etc. Finding others who share my interests makes me feel less alone in my supposed strangeness. I like being able to talk about zombie erotica without getting quizzical looks (okay, I still get those looks, but they’re mostly of the delighted or morbidly curious sort, rather than the ohmyGodyou’velostyourmind and Idon’twanttotalktoyou sort). Sometimes I still feel a bit out of place and out of my depth—my geek cred admittedly needs work (e.g. I only recently learned what a dirigible is, or that having a goatee could mean you’re somebody’s evil twin, such as was the case with Evil Spock, who of course I hadn’t heard of, either)—but I on the whole I feel comfortable, happy, and most at home around my fellow “weirdos.”

If writing fantasy means I’m weird, then so be it. I’m weird. I embrace my weirdness. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Have you had a similar experience? Why do you write spec fic? How do people react when you tell them? I’d love to hear your stories.

 

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  • John Dewey Nakamura Remy

    So much here I can relate to–starting with the awesomeness that is the Knights of Cydonia video, reading RPGs that I never played with others, growing up on Donaldson, Weis & Hickman, Piers Anthony, etc. My favorite childhood dream was when all my stuffed animals came to life and we went to an amusement park together.

    But I agree, weird is mainstreaming. What then, is the new weird?

    Like Robert Bennett said in his recent blog post, I only hesitantly share that I write SF. And zombie erotica. People either seem to react by “oh, that’s nice” and changing the subject, or by suddenly revealing that they write furry fanfic or something similar.

    At any rate, I’m glad that we can be in the Weird Tribe together. 🙂

    • Erika Holt

      I used to be hesitant about telling people, but now I just come right out with everything, zombie erotica included. It’s kind of fun actually. Like you’re challenging people to open their minds or at the very least be polite. The startled reactions can be *quite* amusing.

      And yes, so glad to be in the Weird Tribe!

      • Ruadhan

        I’ve wondered about the ‘weird’ label before. In my own tender years, I got it a lot, and really offended many people, including family, when I said, “I read this stuff because it is interesting, and whatever it is you’re doing? Not.”

        “But Renee! Reading is *boring*!”

        Thought balloon: It’s okay to bore me, but not you?

        I’ve come to the decision that ‘weird’ is what people call other people who obviously aren’t trying to ‘fit in’… whatever that means. In my family, that meant I read a lot, and didn’t make my mother a grandmother before I was twenty years old, and I use words longer than six letters. Often.

        Oh, yeah. And I make up stories, instead of sitting on the couch and watching them on TV. What’s up with that?!

  • Andy R

    Excellent post, Erika! I’m glad to be weird like you. And “Knights of Cydonia” is one of the greatest songs/videos of all time.

    • Erika Holt

      Yay! This makes me so happy. Weirdos unite!

  • Galendara

    erika, wow, it freaked me out a bit how you are like my long lost twin… #wierd.

    Brilliant post. And I’m very proud to be a part of the weirdness.

    • Erika Holt

      Really?! You’ll have to tell me all about it some time, weird sister!

  • Simon C. Larter

    I see nothing at all wrong with being weird. At this point, I’ve grown to enjoy the discomfited looks people give me when I explain the kinds of stories I write.

    I think my favorite was when I told my priest I’d accidentally tripped and fallen and crucified a priest in the opening of my urban fantasy novel. Thankfully he laughed. Then we had drinks. Good times.

    • Erika Holt

      Haha! That’s great. I’m getting to this point, too. What could be more fun than making people squirm?

  • Anthony Lanni

    The Weird Tribe!  Love it.  Count me in.  I spent several years, like you, straying from the Tribe, and found myself inexorably pulled back… and boy am I so much happier.  Fortunately everyone I know is either in the Tribe or pretty OK with it. 😉 

    • Erika Holt

      Soon the Weird Tribe will take over! Or, wait. Maybe we already have… 😉

  • Hi, my name is Emma and I’ve been a SF/F fan my whole life… I feel like this is some kind of AA admission! Except that I never want to be cured, and am even delving deeper to write some of my own. 
    Bring on the weirdness!

  • Vincentmarshall1

    Well said Erika!  I hope that all goes well with your first RPG experience.  The newer game systems encourage a smooth gameplay.  With a good story teller, I think that you will enjoy it.  I look forward to hearing about it.