Today sees the release (in the US and Canada) of my new digital short, “Something Wikkid This Way Comes,” I’m excited about this story for a number of reasons. There’s the fact I get to write about Moo, Shar, and Capitola, the girls of Triptych that you met in book three. They’re so much fun, and I really had a great time getting to know them better. I also got to experiment with form, having written this story in present tense in an attempt to give it a more immediate, noir feel.
But a big reason this story was so much fun is that it’s set in Borealis, Illinois.
Now, that probably means nothing to you, and if you’ve made the mistake of Googling it, you’ll discover Borealis does not exist. But Aurora, Illinois, does, and savvy readers may know that Aurora is where I grew up.
They’ll also notice that Borealis very, very closely resembles Aurora.
So why did I not call it Aurora? For me it was important to get a little psychic distance, both as a writer and as an urban fantasist. As a writer, I’m not recreating Aurora. If anything, I’m using Aurora as a vehicle for fantasy, which, as an urban fantasist, has to come first.
That said, rooting Borealis in Aurora gave me a firm grip on reality. After all, I know Aurora so well, and it was a very unique place to grow up. Racially, Aurora’s very diverse, and economically, it ranges from solidly working to middle class.
All of this made Borealis a perfect place to set the kind of fiction I wanted to write after Jane. First off, I wanted to show people that were like the people I grew up with, which means characters that aren’t all white. So I wanted to show more diversity in my fiction. And yet, at the same time, I grew up with just such a diverse group of friends, for whom race or class was not a primary issue, at least not as a group dynamic. At the same time, however, issues of gender, race, and class permeate all stratums of culture, simply because that’s what such issues do.
My goal, if I get to write more about these ladies, is to subtly explore some of these issues, under the guise of telling a rousing good story. As a PhD in literature and a professor, I talk and write a lot about these ideas, but my message doesn’t go very far. Meanwhile, “going far” is the real power of popular fiction. We have to tell good stories, but we also have an opportunity to inject those stories with a little bit of what we want to talk about, in terms of social issues. And yeah, those injections might need to be subtle, or slight, but that’s the beauty of pop culture. It’s popular.
Which means a little goes a very long way.
At the end of the day, I’d like to give my readers a little glimpse of the way I grew up–with a diverse group of friends who came together because we shared interests, and humor, and a certain bizarre sensibility. Our relationships, however, weren’t some made for TV movie, with a rousing message of racial and social equality. We were just people who liked each other, and didn’t let anything detract from that fact.
I think there’s power in that idea, and it’s a vision I’d love to share, pop fiction-style.