I have decided to start calling my novels ‘Dawndark.’ Some of them will express this more than others, but I realized that it’s a perfect term to describe what my novels are. I’ve been fumbling for a long time for a genre descriptor, something that gives people an idea what to expect, in a world that seems to operate with concepts and dichotomies that fit neither myself nor my stories. While dawndark doesn’t describe everything – like the specific kind of fantasy Areaer is – it describes a lot, it describes something common to almost everything I write or see myself ever writing, and it describes something that I don’t see a lot of out there. There are novels here and there, but not many, and very, very few indeed – if any, that I have seen – that express it to the extent my stories do.
I’m an idealist. I really am. I believe in holding to one’s ideals, to one’s vision, to one’s nature, no matter what. No matter what arguments other people have. No matter what horrors life throws at one. No matter how hard circumstances seem to be trying to force one to give in and let oneself be carved into another image. I don’t think that anyone ever fully succeeds. I certainly don’t believe that the ideal is the same for everyone, or even the same at all times in a person’s life. But I believe that holding to that ideal, to that vision, is desirable, even if we find it impossible.
And I believe that this is the victory.
My words right there are very important. I don’t mean it brings about victory. I do not mean it is always, or even usually, successful. I mean it is the victory.
I used to read some of these novels that ended with everything coming together “perfectly,” all the problems solved and neatly wrapped up, everything brought to a satisfying conclusion. Everyone alive, with no death or lasting sorrow. I still find them sometimes, and I still enjoy the novels sometimes (though I’m not sure this is what I enjoy about them, but that is neither here nor there; this is not a book review). I decided that I needed to write stories that were not like that. Stories where people died. Even stories where the protagonist died. Stories that dealt honestly and rawly with the wounds and grief left behind by life and death. Stories where everything was not resolved in the end. Stories where whatever the sufferings and strivings of the protagonists and their allies achieved, it was not every problem solved, or even every problem that impacted them resolved, everything they were trying to do successful.
Life is not like that. It does not work like that. People grieve, work, fight, die, are tortured, go to prison, live for what they believe in, for change, for a better world. Sometimes, they have a huge impact. Sometimes, they don’t appear to change even a small corner of the world. They never get everything they lived and strove for. They might achieve a lot of it. They might even be “successful,” or “victorious.” But there are still problems. The struggle is not over. At least, I don’t know of a single instance in history or in my experience where that is so. Sometimes, the overt problem goes underground for a while, only to resurface later. Always, the darkness is still there to be fought. Or to succumb to.
I’m a realist. I want to deal with the real world. I don’t want to make easy, cliche resolutions to my character’s struggles or sorrows. I want to work through my ideals and my beliefs in reality. If they can’t stand up to reality, they aren’t real. I want to think through and present my vision in the context of the very real struggles and challenges life presents, where sometimes people die and you don’t see them again. Where sometimes evil seems to have won and crushed everything you believe in and everything you strove for. Where sometimes you’re left to live alone. Where sometimes all you can do is a tiny dent in the bigger problem. Where sometimes, give your life in the attempt, you can only rescue a tiny handful from their slavery, when you wish you could rescue thousands. Where sometimes people’s very minds seem to be enslaved and darkened. Where sometimes people hate and detest you for trying to rescue them. Where sometimes your own mind is enslaved and darkened. Where sometimes you’re confused and you don’t know what’s right or wrong. Or you don’t know how to do what you believe is right, or not do what you believe is wrong. Where sometimes you don’t know how to hold out against your own despair. Where life leaves wounds and scars that don’t heal, or at least not like they were before, and not just on your body, but on your heart and mind.
To me, my idealism and this realism go together. But I don’t see a lot of that. I don’t see it in fiction, and I don’t see it in non-fiction. When either presents idealism, it’s usually apt to completely ignore the darker things in the world, in the human heart, in the human experience. Realism fiction and non-fiction tends to present idealism as naïvety, or even as selfishness, as something that must break before the force of the horror and terror that this world can throw at us. I don’t mean that the characters completely stop fighting for what they care about. Very often, they don’t. But they compromise their ideals, their natures. They fight with the enemy’s weapons. And let me be very clear here: I am not talking about assassins. I don’t understand where the idea of “honorable combat” as opposed to “dishonorable combat” came from. It took me very recently to even notice that a lot of people and a lot of novels assume that it is more honorable to kill the evil overlord’s minions – or even the evil overlord himself – in face-to-face combat with “fair” weapons than it is to slip a knife into his back or poison into his cup when he is not looking. Or at least, that is more culturally accepted as honorable, even if a few privileged individuals realize otherwise.
Once again, this is not about criticizing what other people write. I like it. I have enjoyed some novels that are like this very much indeed. I would not ask their authors to change them for the world. I don’t read to see nothing but my own thoughts reflected back at me (though I do enjoy that, too). This is about what I write, what I want to write, and specifically about how it differs from almost everything I have seen, because that’s what needs to be mentioned, not the ways in which it is alike!
This is what my novels are. Idealism and realism. Victory and defeat. Fantastical beauty and unvarnished horror. Breath-taking hope in the midst of crushing despair.
Copyright 2021 Raina Nightingale