I’m often asked why it is that I chose to write dystopian. After all, the market is saturated with dystopian literature these days (I think we can all hail Suzanne Collins for that burst of life). In fact, about four years ago, I found myself pitching to an agent from New York and after she requested to read my manuscript for AFTERIMAGE, I found myself reading her response:
The market is just too saturated with dystopian right now. But, I love your writing. Please send me more of your work when you have something new!
Well, I thought on that reply for a while and realized that 1) People still love dystopian, and 2) I don’t care. I love it, too, so I’m going to publish it anyway 🙂
I chose dystopian initially because one of the great things I love about science fiction and especially dystopian is that it’s this escapist way of actually examining the current human experience in a dark and exaggerated way. What choices are we making that could prove to be ill-conceived? How much of a good thing is too much? Is it possible to remain a good person when there are no real laws to tie you down? Or, on the flipside, is it possible to create good people just by forcing them?
Back in 1932, an author by the name of Aldous Huxley published a novel that, I believe, was centuries ahead of its time. A Brave New World dealt with issues like free love, eugenics, selective breeding, mass production of people, homogeneity, predictability, class superiority, emotion management, and consumption of disposable consumer goods. This book, while obviously unrealistic, like 1984, Animal Farm, The Handmaid’s Tale, and so many other dystopians since paints a picture of a society that’s just real enough to make us take note of the mistakes we’re making.
Additionally, science fiction allows us to not just think outside the box of reality, but think outside the box and try to drag the good parts INTO reality. After all, if it weren’t for the writers who imagined the communicators on Star Trek, we might not have cell phones today.
With the publishing of books like Collins’s The Hunger Games, and Lois Lowry’s 1993 The Giver, dystopian took a new turn into the YA genre to attract a whole new generation of readers. Children being killed, teenage heroes, and body mutilation in the claim of “style” and “beauty”–as well as the ever popular “class superiority”–gave us stories that engaged us and drew us in. Yet, we wondered why in the world we wanted to be a part of these worlds so much! It was horrible! Why would I want to visit!?
Because . . . “I want to go there.”
And that’s where my book picked up for me. See, as much as I LOVE YA books, I found myself standing in this weird place. I liked YA, but I was in my late 20s at the time and I didn’t really identify with the characters anymore. I mean, come on. A world-full (granted, a slim world-full) of people left on the planet and the only person who can save us all is a seventeen-year-old girl who’s never fought in her life, yet has the abilities of a Navy Seal? Or, my favorite . . . the love triangle.
Yeah, I started to get all old lady and cynical 🙂
So, when I started to write The Enertia Trials I wanted to create a world that wasn’t quite as unbelievable as the existing YA books, but yet still had that fun escapist quality to it. So, I transitioned into the New Adult category. Main characters that were legitimately old enough to save the world, but dealt with some slightly heavier experiences. In fact, I still get comments about the chopped-off fingers scene in AFTERIMAGE.
Which is another thing about Dystopian that I really love. It’s the stark contrast being dark, depressing, and horrific . . . to light, joy, and goodness. Most of the time it’s dark. It’s violent, it’s terrible. But, when those moments of light peek through, they’re so much more amazing because of how nasty it’s been. Like, when you’re in a dark room in the middle of the night and you turn the screen of your cell phone or computer on. It blinds you! And it makes those moments sweet. Like one of my characters–who will remain nameless–says at the end of DOMINION, “The key is learning to keep the light on, even after the sun’s gone down.”
Additionally, being an even mix of logical and emotional when it comes to love, I knew I HAD to have romance in these books. To me, they wouldn’t be worth writing if I didn’t. But, where I diverged, I think, from the existing YA romance books (for the most part), I wanted characters that fell in love with each other not because of how they looked or how gorgeous or dreamy they were, but I wanted them to fall in love because of the sacrifices they made for each other. Even Roy and Ransley who were “destined” I suppose you could say, to be with each other had to make that choice. I’m a big fan of characters choosing their loves and loving their choice even if their love isn’t always perfect. Because despite, again, Roy and Ransley, I don’t believe in “the one.” I believe in choosing “one.”
The Enertia Trials is a world based on what we’re deciding today. It’s based on our past behavior. It’s based on fun super powers and real people. The twists and turns are made to keep you guessing and shock you into oblivion:)
More importantly, dystopian is a genre that’s here to stay (I say in defiance to the publishing industry). Like Romance, Fantasy, and Mystery, it’s in a class all of its own and I can’t wait to see what warnings come our way and I fear to see what darkness . . . unfolds in our reality.
Thank you so much J. Kowallis for writing this guest post and shedding some light on the subject of dystopian and sci-fi! I wish you well with the launch of Dominion!
If you’d like to buy the Enertia Trials by J. Kowallis, click this link: J. Kowallis website