Writing Roots and Influencers-Why Dark Fantasy?

Since the release of The Manian’s Spear, the first book in the Korian dark fantasy series, I’ve been pondering the subject line. If I were asked this question, would I have a response at the ready? There never really is one specific reason for it, is there? Reasons are unique to each one of us and likely quite involved . . . sometimes even complex.  I took a hard look into my past to recall one key thing that brought me here: that certain book, or books—those so inspiring they changed my path; maybe it was a movie; maybe a story I had read—one that hit that emotional sweet spot; maybe it was simply just to satisfy an urge to create; maybe I owe it all to that certain someone who opened my mind and introduced me to a whole new world of reading and its rewards, or maybe it was a combination of some or all of the above. I’ve always loved to read and have always treasured the freedom it offered. Okay, maybe that’s not always been the case, but it definitely was once my interest was piqued.

Reading has been educational, entertaining and inspiring. I’ve got great admiration for the imagination of the creators and I’ve always been especially intrigued with complex tales and the skill authors had in weaving them. My affinity has always been for tales involving quests, where the principle characters—usually infallible and human (or human-like)—explore the unknown and are faced with having to overcome fears and insecurities and who may encounter seemingly inescapable situations. Often, the best tales would include a moral dilemma and a choice. Those tales that draw an emotional response and also contain a message, the ones that offer a glimpse into the minds of the writers . . . well those ones have always been especially appealing.

When I played the years forward in my mind, two books always came up as having the biggest impact on me for very different reasons. The first was Mary Shelly’s, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, and the second was the short story, The Streets of Askelon, by Harry Harisson, released in 1962, also published under the title, Alien Agony

When I was sixteen years old, my mother decided that I needed a tutor—I had been far too buried in grandiose dreams of music stardom to focus on school. She reached out to my older and wiser cousin for the task. It wasn’t surprising after all that an Italian immigrant mother would seek assistance from family – family was sought for just about everything in those days. My cousin did have a Degree in English—an inspiring story in itself. I found him intimidating and at the same time, inspiring.   

At the request of my tutor, I picked up Frankenstein at the local library. He knew me well enough to know the kinds of stories I was interested in. We spoke occasionally of my Friday afternoon Godzilla, Rodan and The War of the Gargantuas binges, and of the Friday Night horror classics with Christopher Lee as Dracula. For those old enough to remember the movie, The Karate Kid, it was my own Danielson and Mr. Miyagi moment. I followed his instructions: I was to read the book and make notes—bullet points—of what I took away from each paragraph. 

I expected a story reminiscent of the sensationalized Hollywood Frankenstein monster flicks, but I found something far different. Needless to say, it became too challenging a task. We connected a month later to go over my notes. I abashedly presented what I had prepared—very thin scribbles to say the least. He smiled. “Okay, now let’s talk about it,” he said. He pointed to one of my hand written notes and asked, “Why do you think the author included that paragraph in the story and what contribution do you think it had to the rest of the tale?” 

“This paragraph was inserted to increase tension; this was added to introduce something new. See how it’s brought up again on page x . . .”  Then he said, “If you look close enough, sometimes you may be able to get a glimpse into the author’s mind. Maybe you can even see a little of what prompted them to write the story; maybe it’ll tell you a little about who they are.” That discussion at sixteen years of age, for a reason that I cannot explain, opened my mind. It was my own personal ‘aha’ moment. 

I was drawn into Mary Shelley’s story—the person, not the book—and decided to do some digging. What would compel someone to write that powerful story whose themes are just as relevant today? I learned Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein was published in 1818. She was eighteen years of age, during a time when primly-brought up girls who knew little of the world should certainly not be writing about murderous monsters. Mary’s mother died less than a month after giving birth to her. It’s been well documented that Mary had a troubled relationship with her stepmother. She married at the age of sixteen to Percy Shelly, a man who was already married, a father with another child on the way. Mary had several pregnancies, but only one surviving child. Her first, in 1815, a premature baby died eight days after birth. In her diary, Mary wrote, “Dream that my little baby came to life again – that it had only been cold and that we rubbed it by the fire and it lived.”

On one particularly dreary night, the poet, Lord Byron said,”We will each write a ghost story.” The challenge marked the genesis of Frankenstein. We all know the story, not the Hollywood interpretation, but Shelly’s work. Perhaps, Mary’s motivation, her thoughts or even her message may have been hidden in the following words spoken by her monster, “I’m lonely, an outcast, hated. So I take my revenge. I destroy. I have learnt, in the absence of love, how to hate.”  

I read everything I could get my hands on. Reading  became a way of life; a routine. I wasn’t able to sleep without at least taking some time to delve into an author’s mind and their imaginary world. Several years later, in a Science Fiction elective course in my Bachelor of Science program in University, I came across, my second most influential story.

The Streets of Askelon was about an atheist on an alien planet inhabited by a race of amphibian-like beings. They were logic by nature and lived in Utopian conditions. The premise was, the beings had no concept of religion, god or sins. The atheist taught them the scientific method and was making progress. Along comes a priest who endeavored to save the alien’s souls and attempted to teach them religion. The story has a powerful ending whereby the aliens test the priest’s hypothesis that a man could rise from the dead after three days. They nailed the priest to a cross. The result . . . they indeed proved the priest’s hypothesis false and they became murderers. The genre of Science Fiction, in this case, expertly explored the paradox between religion and science; faith versus the pursuit of proof as conveyed by the author in Alien Agony. It showed me how fantasy and science fiction gave the author the freedom to explore a theme and present it in a unique and an unconventional way.

As I continued to fill my mind with imaginative works of fiction over a wide breadth of genres, I managed to finish University and somehow forged a career in the pharma business. Despite everything, I never really felt I had outgrown my inner child. Have you ever felt, despite your years, a child living in an adult world? Even now, with two adult children and long in my career, I still feel that inner child screaming louder than the adult one. Sometimes, I admit, it gets close—the competing voices, but usually the inner child, albeit with some adult logic thrown in, wins out. Sometimes . . . that can be dangerous!

I don’t recall specifically what prompted me to start writing. I think it may have served as means of an escape. I would write about my experiences and visions of the world and personal feelings of what makes us human, our strengths and even greater weaknesses. Strangely a story started to take shape. That was many, many years ago.  The second book in the series, Korian: Ark of the Fallen King, is progressing nicely, not the years it took to write, The Manian’s Spear.

I think I found that one book and short story that started me on my journey. I’ve learned that a tale, regardless of the genre, will touch you if it can hook you emotionally. Usually, in the way you can relate to a character’s situation, their pain; fear; love and loss and those infallible things that make us human. If there is a message buried in the compelling tale, it elevates the story to another level. Now, if I throw in my own personal experiences, lessons from the authors I’ve admired, and the world through my own personal lenses, the outcome . . . Korian. What better way than utilizing fantasy is there to present themes while taking a reader away for a while to another world? The sub-genre, ‘Dark’ part . . .? Perhaps its the best of both worlds and aligned with what I lean to most: fantasy and horror.  

So, I ask you . . . have you ever given any thought to that book or books, or any other influencer that’s hit that emotional sweet spot for you? If someone asks you why you chose to read or write ‘that’ genre, or what is it about a book that makes it appealing to you, what would you say?

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