“What do you write?”
That is the first question everyone asks me when they learn that I’m an author. In a perfect world, my answer would be to smoothly launch into a well organized pitch, e.g., “Right now I’m working on a young adult fantasy about the accident-prone son of a war hero who undergoes the trials of war and dragon fire to prove his worth to his estranged father.”
But alas, when someone asks me about my writing I freeze up, get all awkward, and lamely spit out “Fantasy”. The conversation rarely lasts long after that. Then I have to ask myself why? What is fantasy, and why in all the world should I feel awkward or embarrassed—to feel that I have to admit— that I write and read the genre?
To answer the latter first (because that’s how we do things here, apparently), I grew up reading about horses—as most young girls tend to do. It graduated to fairies and unicorns, and in the books and art for my age group at the time, they were cute, flowery, and cartoonish without much lore to back them up. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s a perfectly good place to start for a budding imagination, and I ate the stuff up.
But I think because that’s how the genre of fantasy was introduced to me, that’s the impression I’ve always kept. Even though I know better, subconsciously believing that that’s how everyone else perceives the word. Something cheesy, immature, and insubstantial.
But fantasy does involve rose fairies and pretty horses, lollypop fields and poufy dresses. But it also has fire-breathing dragons and ancient magics, star cruisers and pseudo-humans. And people who deal with real-life problems—just maybe not always in the most real-life extremes.
So what is fantasy?
By definition, fantasy as a noun is ‘the faculty or activity of imagining things, especially things that are considered impossible or improbable’. Or a fanciful image. Or an idea with no basis in reality.
In other words, it is the realm of the imagination, fed by the ‘what if?’s of every human experience. If you’re imagining (dreaming, wishing) it wasn’t overcast and snowing today, or that you didn’t have to go to work and could do whatever you wanted, then my friend, you are fantasizing. If you’ve ever thought, “Well, what if I bought this ticket and won the lottery? Then I could . . .”. That is dwelling in fantasy (and also a great story prompt). And I mean, who wouldn’t want to walk into their closet and find themselves in Narnia? Who knows what worlds lie beyond the hidden places in our everyday lives!
Fantasy is exploring the concept of what isn’t. It’s kindled and fed by story, art, music—all that ‘impractical’ stuff that gives our souls life—and helps us to see the reality we live in a little differently.
Kinda like “Oh, well it’s not an organization of evil undead wizards who’re holding my family hostage in order to secure my aid in overthrowing the kingdom. I guess my job isn’t all that bad.”
Or “If Frodo can brave the armies of Sauron, I can handle a family reunion.”
Or “Yeah, now that I think about it, being whisked away to Mars where there are aliens trying to kill me, a rebellion hinging on my help, and no flushing toilets wouldn’t be so great. My life’s pretty good after all.”
Fantasy is a raw ore, a wild creature that stories forge and wrangle into adventures that, if done well, leave a lasting impression on our hearts and influences who we are in real ways. It’s the language of the human imagination. It is vast and not something to be trifled with or taken lightly. It is powerful—and we all know what Uncle Ben has to say about great power.
So maybe next time someone asks “What do you write?” I shouldn’t respond with childish embarrassment and answer with more enthusiasm “I write fantasy!” (“And right now I’m working on . . .”😜)