With Road to the Soul’s release, I’ve taken time to reread some of the emails and letters I’ve received since Path of the Stray came out last year. Mostly they are notes of support and thrill in the new series and well wishes (and ‘write faster!’) but a few stand out because of their deeper enquiry. One in particular interested me, so I thought I would share it here.
The question was on the intensity and drama in Path of the Stray, particularly the vivid imagery and violence. Was it necessary to go there?
I think it helps to remember that stories, meaningful ones, reflect archetypal motifs in the human condition like birth, death, service, accomplishment, relationship, challenge, choice, arrival and departure. Speculative fiction is notorious for ‘going there’ and exploring extreme experiences. My novels build on these themes and also contemporary confrontations like geo-engineering, extinction, gender biases, sentience and speciesism. Sometimes the violence and imagery (and sex) is heavy-duty, perhaps even more so in book 2, Road to the Soul.
I find balancing intense and subtle imagery an essential part of storytelling if for no other reason than experiencing contrast. Too much action and we become numb; too little and we fall asleep. But if the reader immerses in the tale, what happens to the character is happening to them too. They are in the thick of it, frightened, thrilled, devastated and hopeful right alongside the heroes and villains. What an amazing thing! It opens doors to expanded ways of thinking and being. For example, on Gaela, the genders are equal. On a contrasting Earth, they are not. When readers are on Gaela, they experience that reality and like they say, if you can go there in the mind, you can go there in the body. In other words, speculative fiction can open the mind to new horizons because the brain can’t tell the difference between something imagined and something ‘real’. That kind of immersion can help move us along towards the next cultural paradigm shift.
But can it be argued the other way? Is immersion in intense and violent imagery reinforcing it in our lives? In Road to the Soul I explore ‘good’ and ‘evil’ from the inside out, influenced by James Hillman’s view that there is no ‘pathology’. Nothing needs fixing. Everything is an expression of energy, just as it is. Can this be true? On the surface I think Kay needs help and his parents are complete psychopaths. Don’t they need fixing? They do terrible things. The rogue Lupins and Serko, ASSIST and the second JARROD, they all seem horribly unconscious and not coming from a place of love. Is this ‘mad’ or ‘evil’ or simply another expression of being? The big question Road to the Soul asks is where in the darkness is love? That’s what I’m looking for, and I had to turn out a lot of lights to find it.
What do you think about levels of violence and explicit imagery in storytelling? Are you into the power struggle and knife edge intensity or keen for a buffer from it all? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Comments welcome!
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