I first fell in love with dark fiction when I discovered The Twilight Zone, the horrific thrill of fantastic worlds laden with cosmic justice capturing my very young and impressionable heart. Although I was first inspired to take hand to paper by the works of Roald Dahl and Caroline Keene (I was in 2nd or 3rd grade), my work most emulated stories I’d watched on The Twilight Zone. Even as a child, I was writing about possessed China dolls, supernatural powers, and mysterious murders. As I grew older, my writing evolved to add in more of that cosmic justice: torture my characters for their bad choices, and make it meaningful.
We throw around “genre” and “style” a lot, and no matter what kind of fiction you write, you’ll find there’s no shortage of opinions about both. It is fashionable these days to disavow meaningful or provocative content in sci-fi and horror—that the purpose of fiction is to entertain its readership, not to inform or make any social, political, or religious statements. I recently read a Facebook post that insisted authors who wrote to make statements were full of themselves. At least one peer tossed the word “preachy” into the pot. Another said (with what seemed to me a tone of great self-satisfaction) that ego ultimately drove a person to write literary works.
I scrolled on by without acknowledging any of it, but the statement did sting a little. Is horror with a message really all that bad? All of my literary works have stemmed from a place of passion, each of them a labor of love. That’s what writing is to any author, regardless of the person’s specific interests. What’s important to you? What makes you feel complete? Writing gruesome dystopian worlds addressing my deepest personal fears is important to me. That’s one of the essential pieces that make my life complete. I wonder: Do these literary naysayers also write so disdainfully about Orwell and Vonnegut for having the audacity to write about communism, conformity, social upheaval, and misuse of power? Did Nineteen Eighty-Four spring from an inflated ego?
Another post recently circulating on Facebook asked for the definition of “literary,” and the broad array of answers was fascinating. Many insisted it’s purely stylistic: flowery words and long-winded sentences. But reading a great literary work isn’t about drudging through 400 pages of purple prose; it’s about solving the riddles the author left in between the lines. Put simply, “literary” is anything that can be critically analyzed. Remember all those essays you had to write in high school and college, the ones explicating literary devices such as theme, symbolism, foreshadowing, etc.? The presence of those literary devices is what makes those works literary. And, as bizarre as it might sound to most, some people actually do enjoy playing with those devices. I love them.
There are a couple of main schools when it comes to literary theory: reader response theory (the idea that a work is meant for personal interpretation regardless of the author’s objective) and author intent theory (the idea that a sound analysis should be considered a true interpretation of the author’s message). I personally feel a good analysis should hope to cover a little of both, and that’s something I keep in mind while I’m writing. For example, sometimes the muses will toss in a literary device from out of nowhere, and I’ll think, “Whoa—I really like that!” So I’ll go back through my book and find other ways to integrate that device. If a person were to critically analyze all of the places I used that device, would they be correct in presuming I’d applied it intentionally where the muses had tossed it in, even when I’d developed its meaning afterward? If it ultimately sent a different, but equally relevant, message to another reader, couldn’t that also count as meaningful? I know quite a few people who mock literary devices and critical analyses altogether, insisting no real writer would ever intentionally use (or have used) them. It might not be so fashionable now, it was before and during the pulp era—and its traditions do live on.
As a female sci-fi/horror writer, I’m well aware I have a lot to prove. While I do write a broad range of fiction, some of it hardly literary at all (see the delineation between Lisa and Leigh M. Lane), I always gravitate back toward Orwell, Vonnegut, Serling, even wrote one book dedicated to Poe. I earn no extra points for some of my stylistic choices, but I stand by them—and I’m not trying to be any of these literary greats; I wouldn’t dare compare myself to them, as much as they have inspired me. I’m just writing from the heart, doing what I’m driven to do. It might be a little different from the contemporary norm, but different isn’t always a bad thing.
In addition to over twenty-five years of speculative fiction writing, Lisa Lane has earned a black belt in karate, performed the National Anthem for the opening of a Dodger’s game, and sung lead and backup vocals in bands ranging from classic rock to the blues. She currently lives in the dusty outskirts of Sin City with her husband, an editor and educator. Her biggest influences have been Serling, Vonnegut, Orwell, Wells, Bradbury, Poe, King, Rice, and Dahl. For more about Lisa and her books, visit her website.