Amelia Robinson

Hey there! I'm a student at the University of Kentucky and an aspiring writer. This blog serves as an outlet for all the things I want to talk about that are writing-related. I'll post some of my writing, too, for your enjoyment and critique. Thank you for stopping by! If you'd like to know more about me, feel free to visit here!

My Hauntings Are My Themes

Friday, May 31, 2013

Have you ever had that awesome moment when someone you respect has the exact thought you've had?  It's especially awesome if you haven't been able to put that thought into words before, and when you hear the idea come out of the mouth of one of your favorite authors, it's particularly electrifying.

That first happened to me when I saw Robin LaFevers (Grave Mercy) in Cincinnati, Ohio, a month or two ago.  She spoke about having struggled with self-empowerment nearly her entire life and how it was something that cropped up as a theme in her books.
Writers end up writing about their obsessions.  Things that haunt them; things they can't forget; stories they carry in their bodies waiting to be released.  - Natalie Goldberg
I recognized that.  It resonated with me deeply.  For the past year or two, I've noticed that things I think about when I'm reading or watching TV, things I puzzle over and contemplate, tend to show up in my stories in some form or another.  For example, in high school I was constantly thinking about social dynamics.  Action and reaction.  Dominance games.  I thought about these things and they ended up in my writing, just like Robin LaFevers's self-empowerment struggles showed up in hers.

Quick side note: I said "the past year or two" earlier.  That corresponds perfectly with how long I've been working on my current project, a project that I'm thinking of temporarily shelving for a few years because I think it's a little too personal.  Frankly, it's freaking me out just a bit.*

Recently, I finished reading an anthology called The Curiosities by authors Maggie Stiefvater (The Scorpio Races), Tessa Gratton (Blood Magic), and Brenna Yovanoff (The Replacement).  Wherein they annotate their (absolutely brilliant) short stories.  Also, before each story, they would say a little something about it.  I noticed many phrases that went like this:
Magical powers frighten me.  This is a story about that.  No matter how benevolent or valuable a superpower seems, I can't help thinking that this is not going to end well for someone.  Which is probably why I write a lot of horror stories.  - Brenna (The Bone-Tender)
I've always been fascinated by leadership and by power and talent and how that affects the most intense of friendships, how it unbalances them or how it doesn't.  This story was my playground, my workshop, for that.  - Maggie (Heart-Shaped Box)
...many of the stories I wrote I can see now are part of a pattern of exploring all the thematic issues I write novels about.  - Tessa (Stories as Novel Playgrounds)
[Stories] come in different forms, countless variations on the same characters and themes.  In a way, it's like I've written the same story over and over, trying to get it right.  - Brenna (Lazarus Girl)
What these phrases have in common is that they all allude to haunting themes.   These authors (and many more, obvs) have dug deep into their mental processes to find things that they think about, things they observe and then take apart strand by strand.  They are authors who, I say, write from a place of quality.

I believe there are two kinds of authors.  The author that writes from a place of quality and the author that writes for entertainment.

That's not to say that an author who writes from a place of quality doesn't also write for entertainment, but an author who sets off to write for entertainment doesn't write from a place of quality.

(I had a very lengthy debate with my dad about this topic while we drove home from Robin LaFevers's book signing.)

When I think of authors who write purely for entertainment, I think of Stephenie Meyer (Twilight) and E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Gray).  These two authors, by their own admission, started writing their books for the hell of it.  For the fame.  They had a shiny, shimmery idea that they thought would look nice on paper.  Stephenie Meyer had a dream, E.L. James wrote erotic Twilight fan fiction.  Neither wrote to unravel a question that has dogged them for years.  They just wrote what entertained them.

This isn't a bad thing.  (And jeez, don't give me that look.  My best friend's sister adores Twilight.)  Writing for entertainment is not a bad thing.  (It's merely a coincidence that I happen to not have high opinions of Twilight or Fifty Shades of Gray.)  But it's something that I think should be grown out of.

When I first started writing at twelve -- when I was homeschooled and bored and read my weight in books -- I wrote what I saw.  Shiny things like the petty drama in ABC Family shows and Hallmark movies.  I wrote about things I didn't know the first thing about, like high school and boys and archenemies, and I wrote ceaselessly, with very little mental engagement**.  I didn't write about things that weighed on my mind.  I wrote what I enjoyed seeing, and it was mindless nonsense.

Then high school hit me like a freight train and I started experiencing life and started to notice things, things that got me thinking.  And because I was still writing, they showed up in my stories.  I grew out of the petty entertainment.  I started unraveling those shadowy questions.

I do get highly agitated when I see an entertainment author having their book put up on a high pedestal instead of the work of someone who dug deep and searched for those haunting themes.  But I do realize that, by my own theory, it's something that will be grown out of.  Stephenie Meyer got a taste for writing with her Twilight series and adult sci/fi novel.  Now what I want to see is her tackle something that haunts her.  If she could set aside the thought of how to best make the love triangle dramatic, and instead think about things that stretch a person's willpower, or how far someone will go to save themselves, I would be very interested in the product.  (I don't have much to say about E.L. James because I haven't read her books, and don't have any plans to.)  Every writer that starts for entertainment can grow into an author who writes from a place of quality.

These two authors are obviously not the only ones on my mental list of entertainment writers.  I see them in vast quantities wherever I go, whether online to Goodreads or to a brick and mortar bookstore, books promising cheap thrills put in the spotlight over the ones that will stimulate your system and make you think.

One of the things I brought up to my dad was why these books sell.  Why.  Oh.  Why.  Because I don't see much quality in these pure entertainment stories.  My theory?  It appeals to people who want to be entertained but not involved in the murky stuff.  Even people who read things of quality step out of their zone to have a cheap thrill involving sparkly vampires and erotic love affairs.  When writers write about their fantasies, they're dreaming about perfection, their ideal story.  It's why Edward Cullen ends up looking and acting like a Greek god.  (In comparison to other heroes, like Sean or Sam from Maggie Stiefvater's book, whose physical prowess is rarely remarked upon.)  It's a kind of perfection that other people dream about; it's a story that appeals to their version of the ideal story.

What do you think?  It's with wild theories like this that make me feel like I'm on my own deserted island with only a holey parachute and a water bottle.

* = Seriously. It does. I'm inspired by things that happen in my life and they end up in my books.  What if someone who was involved in one of these "inspiring" happenings reads it and recognizes it?  And what if that inspiration happening was a negative experience?  These things worry me.
** = In consequence, my writing was absolute complete crap.  But I loved what I was doing, and it was only crap in hindsight. 

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