I’m 40 years old and I have no idea how many books I’ve read in my lifetime. I was the kind of kid that devoured books on horses, and nature and mysteries in elementary. I loved the Hardy Boys but didn’t care too much for Nancy Drew–imagine that. In high school I began to gravitate to action, science fiction, fantasy and horror. I tried romance and “chick” books but they rarely ever appealed to me. In college I was introduced to stories from all over the world. There were some things I greatly enjoyed but others I just couldn’t wrap my head around.
Since then I’ve had modes where I read strictly horror or fantasy for a few months then bounce over to some mysteries or science fiction. I don’t mind reading two or three books at a time (so long as I can keep the plot lines straight.) On a few long weekends I find myself hungry for words and devour 3-4 books at a time. I often read for escape but sometimes I pick up a story that is so much more.
Those are books and stories that make me pause–sometimes in the middle of the story–and really think about the implications that are either blatantly stated or delicately inserted into the thoughts of the readers. These stories aren’t a “day in the life” type of thing, nor are they fluff pieces that zip through an adventure.
Instead these stories deal with the dark and dirty things that we try to avoid in our lives. Things that make us uncomfortable. Things that our society tries to gloss over or misdirect you into other non-important things. Things that really matter like the absolute basics of living. Things that are even now denied to people all over the world.
These are often my favorite stories. They make me angry, afraid and thoughtful as I follow the main characters through trials that hopefully I’ll never face.
I think that is why I’m drawn to speculative fiction. This genre has a habit of stripping that gloss away and making you stand face-to-face with the realities of our world. It makes you uncomfortable and that’s often the point. It introduces concepts that apply to our everyday would disguised as heroes, villains and exotic locations. It gives you the time to digest the concepts and then look around to see how they apply to your own life.
These are the stories I enjoy the most. The stories that twist your gut and make you wonder how many nights the writer stayed up questioning whether they should write it. Stories that pull in painful bits of life and make the reader face them head on. You aren’t allowed to blink. You aren’t allowed to turn away. Your only recourse it to close the book and walk away.
But that’s the thing about stories like these. Once you read them, those words are in your mind and heart. For most of us they gnaw at our soul and make us feel guilty, afraid or concerned. Those emotions cause action, no matter how small. Even the tiniest act can cause a revolution.
I think that’s where a lot of important stories come in. How they are labeled as “dangerous” to some. They make you think. They make you examine your world. They are some of the catalyst that produces change in our society. And for some that is terrifying.
So if you are ever in doubt about writing about a controversial subject, don’t hesitate. Write it. Give it life. I want to read it.