I was recently on vacation with my family and watched my eight year-old daughter come to terms with absolute terror. My oldest wanted to go on a ride at the Santa Cruz boardwalk that propels you vertically like a rocket and then zips you up and down, kind of like Tower of Terror at Disneyland but without all the mind games. My eight year-old was determined not to go on the ride at first, but after watching others, she finally steeled herself and made the decision to give it a try. The look on her face before and after was priceless. Terror and Triumph.
It led to an interesting discussion later on how powerful emotions affect our minds and our memories. Not many emotions are as powerful as fear. I pointed out to the kids that most of the rides they have been on introduce an element of fear before the exhilaration begins. The steep climb of a roller coaster. Dark rooms and eerie music. Even the Winnie the Pooh ride at Disneyland ups the tension to generate some fear. This makes the experiences memorable, which is what theme parks and attractions are all about.
Writers, regardless of genre, work hard to hone our skills at manipulating emotions and books are the emotional equivalent of eating a candy bar. They give our emotions a little jolt and come in a variety of sizes and flavors and ingredients. At the end of the day, a book tries to fulfill an emotional craving. It’s why readers keep coming back. When an author delivers the emotion of boredom, they lose readers. It’s that simple.
If you look at the most popular books on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/author-rank/Kindle-eBooks/) you can often judge some of the emotions being sold just by looking at the covers. The variety is amazing, but there are some repetitive themes, especially if you look at the entire top 100 list. What does this say about our society? About human nature? What emotional fixes are we craving?
After publishing Deep Magic, I went through some deep soul-searching on whether I wanted to keep writing or whether I should quit and take up a different hobby. I’ve always enjoyed the writing craft and plot ideas continually bloom in my mind. But was it going to be more than a hobby? What kind of books would I choose to write? What kind of candy bars would I produce, so to speak. I saw that the trend in my genre was getting grittier and grittier. Many of the top-selling authors had disturbing themes, harsh language, and vivid violence. I noticed even some of my favorite authors, who I had read for years, began to serve up more offerings with the darker emotions.
After staring long and hard at that trend, I decided that I had to be true to myself even if that limited my readership. I also didn’t want my children, my wife, or my friends looking at me with raised eyebrows, wondering why I had chosen to make a dark chocolate bar with lots of nuts. I decided I would continue to write books that would be safe places for minds to wander. I wanted my readers to enjoy feelings of excitement, love, betrayal, duty, and yes…even a little fear. But there are some emotions I’m just going to leave to other writers to deliver.
Let me put it this way. To write you have to immerse yourself into your characters and situations. You have to think like the heroes as well as the villains. I learned long ago that the thoughts you entertain inside your mind reveal themselves into your character. So why not write about noble themes so that those themes would become part of my character? Or as William James put it: “Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.” Of course, he didn’t invent the idea, it’s in the Bible (Proverbs 23:7).
When the manuscript for Wretched of Muirwood was rejected over and over by agents and publishers, I thought that the audience for clean fantasy fiction was probably very small and shrinking. Clean wasn’t the trend. I’m thankful that 47North found it, had faith in it, and began publishing my books in January. It’s proven to me, with data, that there is a demand for positive emotions.
My commitment to you—I will keep writing more books like this. Enjoy!