Mirrors, Windows, and Hatches

Mirrors, Windows, and Hatches

“The world is in such a mess. Why do you write/read/watch ‘dark’ stuff?”

I get this question in various forms from time to time, usually from sweet souls who prefer their fiction with a dash of cinnamon and sugar and a dollop of vanilla-laced potpourri.

Sometimes comments like this come from folks who want to “help” me by pointing out that my life and/or attitude is, on occasion, a mess, and perhaps I should regulate my output/consumption of “dark” stuff.

I have a multi-layered response to this.

When I sit down to write a story, especially if it’s short fiction, I don’t know what genre it will land in until Little Miss Muse takes the reins and starts the magic show. Will she throw in snickerdoodle-esque ingredients or a Molotov cocktail?

Real-world setting? Fantasy? Outer space?

We just don’t know until things get rolling.

If I could choose a genre (it’s not up to me, you see, it’s up to my Little Miss), I’d land in mystery or dystopian. Definitely more twisted than tender.

I’ve written snickerdoodles. I’ve written cotton candy. I’ve written silly. I’ve written feel-goody, tear-jerking-ish.

But I seem the most satisfied when I push back from the keyboard after I’ve colored the world dark.

I think this is because I need to let out that bit of darkness in me. It’s in all of us. (Yes, all of us—even you, dear Reader). It takes up less room “out” than it does in. “Out” is a larger container.

And it’s a release.

I used to call writing therapy. But I have a Couch Lady now; therapy is therapy, and writing is… well, perhaps it’s still therapy. Working stuff out with words. A release.  

As far as reading?

There are mirrors, windows, and hatches. Oh my! (Now the chant from The Wizard of Oz is in my head, with different words, of course…)

I live for the moments when a character or narrator drops a nugget—just a small one. A sentence. A fragment. A morsel of truth that holds a mirror up to one of my personal issues.

Stories that say, “Hey! This is what that ‘thing you have no words for’ looks like from another angle.” Different, but the same.

“Hey! You! Yeah, you… sitting there with your nose between the pages, hanging on for dear life. You’re not the only one. See? I also have a ‘thing there are no words for.”

And in that moment, I pause the reading, hold the book away from me just a bit, and realize I’m not alone. Someone else… gets it.

These mirror moments don’t happen every time I read, but I can tell you this: They happen more in the “darker” genres than they do in a cozy mystery or something more “innocent.”  

Perhaps because life isn’t cozy, and rarely is it innocent. Sweet and cozy doesn’t match my worldview; it doesn’t make sense.

When I read, I yearn for a window. A glimpse somewhere else. Another place, time, set of circumstances.

I want a world that is absolutely nothing like the one we’re in. If the setting does resemble modern day, the circumstances the characters find themselves in are so impossible that they may as well be commissioned to fight an army of Orcs lest The Shire burn to the ground.

I can look through a fictional window to these worlds and know, as bad/strange/messed up as my head/circumstances/life is right now, it’s not that bad…

  • My cats may be mad about tuna-time timing and knock breakable electronics off my desk, but I don’t have a serial killer after me. At least not that I’m aware of.
  • I’m behind on spring cleaning, but at least I didn’t purchase a defunct magical kingdom with an untamable dragon and a useless wizard who can’t harness his magic.
  • AI is taking over my day job, but at least I don’t have defunct robots chasing me down the road. (Yet.)
  • My SUV may need tires, but at least my spaceship hasn’t blown a gasket and now I face impending suffocation.
  • I may have trouble getting an appointment with my back guy, but at least he’s not assembling sub-human lifeforms in the basement of the chiropractic clinic. At least I don’t think he is…

Cozies and sweets don’t give me this “at least” scenario. Cozies and sweets make my reality seem dire. What those books portray is… utterly unattainable.

An even rarer occurrence is what I call “the hatch.” When those windows and mirrors collide, I totally escape. The room falls away. Sounds muffle and then mute totally. I’m unaware of my body except for a rapid heartbeat if I’m on the street with that robot. Or in Frankestein’s basement.

I might be exploring Landover with my wobbling wizard or in a NYC courtroom facing that killer. I might be holding my breath so I can fix the airlock on the spaceship.  

But I’m through the hatch. I’m there, but not. I’m here, but not. (If you know, you know…)

I’m free somewhere else.

When I find an author who can do that for me story after story, it’s magic. Magic that works

If cozy and sweet scratch your itch, that’s great. If King, Koontz and the Gang of twisted minds connect you to your ideal “elsewhere,” that’s fine, too.

I say, “Pull the lever, Kronk!” — send us down the hatch. That’s why we have the lever.

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