Among the many blessings in my life, I have amazing friends. In fact, I could write an entire post about the joys of friendship, and I probably will, but for today, I want to mention a friend of mine who hosts salons. Not the kind where you get your hair cut and your nails painted, but the kind where intellectually-minded folks gather (the original meaning of salon) in someone’s living room to discuss the issues of the day or other erudite topics for the sheer joy of exercising their brains. How cool is that? I’ve long admired her commitment to furthering the cerebral pursuits of her friends and acquaintances. Anyway, before I go too far afield, the reason I’m telling you about this is because the speaker at yesterday’s salon was none other than yours truly! And the reason I want to tell you about my experience speaking to a group of folks who don’t read paranormal and urban fantasy (except for our host, my friend, who is an avid fan), is because the experience intensified my mission to spread the word about our favorite genre to as many people as possible.
The format of this salon involves a speaker, me, in this case, pontificating for about 30 minutes or so, and then engaging in a group discussion about the subject at hand. I began my talk with an abbreviated curriculum vitae—just to assure everyone that I could hold my own among the incredibly accomplished company attending this event in Washington DC. Once I had established my bona fides, I told them about my deep happiness in reading fantasy and I explained why it was so compelling for me. There was skepticism, for sure. But I think I was able to win a number of them over to the dark side by explaining all the intellectual reasons to read these books (if you need a reason beyond hot, steamy vampire sex—boo-yah!),
My first hook, so to speak, was the concept of world building. World building interests me for many reasons. The quality of the world building is usually indicative of the quality of the writing. A fertile imagination can conjure complex and fascinating rules for whether vampires can come out at night, or reproduce, or eat food, or have bodily functions. World building may also involve the description of exotic, paranormal locales, such as the pockets of Otherland in Thea Harrison’s Elder Races series (Thea is a master of finding beautiful pictures and photos that could be Otherworld locations that she posts on her Facebook page, which are amazing). World building includes descriptions of the creatures that inhabit these worlds as well as the details of their societies, customs, habits, etc., such as the social mores of shifter cultures, for example, or the anthropological evolution of the opposing courts of the Fae. Authors who construct worlds get to write their own creation stories, which appeals to the theologian in me.
But the most amazing aspect of world building in fantasy novels is the analogy to our normal, as opposed to paranormal, lives, where, if we are both lucky and good, we are able to build our own worlds and, at a minimum, co-create our own lives. We are all the authors of our destinies, and the worlds that are built in my beloved books remind me that I am the author of my own creation. It pays to be reminded of that.
Another aspect of paranormal fiction that I discussed at some length at this salon was the trope involving illusion and glamour that is so common in these books. I’ve written about this before here, and I’m intrigued by the concept of illusion and the ability to see through it—or even the desire to see through it. Not everyone is interested in seeing what is true. A lot of us prefer to have our truths adorned with lies to make them more palatable. Mac, in the Fever world of Karen Marie Moning, claims she would rather live a hard life of fact than a sweet life of lies, but I think she’s the exception that proves the rule. Most of us like our illusions because they feed our denial—another topic I’ve explored in this space here. And there is nothing that holds a mirror up to our own predilection for deceit than a fantasy world where nothing is as it seems and everyone is peddling their own self-serving versions of the truth. In many cases, truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
But the most compelling aspect of these books for me, and for my audience last night as well, is the exploration of mortality that the world of immortals allows us to access. I have found it nothing short of mind blowing to read about the consequences of immortality—none of which are pleasant or desirable—that help me to value the poignancy of our own mortal coil. In one of my favorite songs, Queen asks, “Who wants to live forever?” And the answer, especially after reading enough paranormal fiction in which immortal beings become jaded beyond apathy, cruel with the continual need to up the ante, or simply insane as a result of the passage of eons, is not me. If time is of no consequence, there is no urgency to do anything, and nothing has value because for those who cannot die, tomorrow is always another day. For the rest of us, we could have an appointment with Death that no one bothered to pencil into our calendars. The uncertainty and fragility of existence, the inexorable progress toward the end of life as we know it, is and should be the flame under our asses motivating us to pack as much as we can into our brief sojourn as possible. We aren’t going to live forever, and therefore we have an absolute imperative to seize the day. For all of these reasons, I urged my audience last night to check out my “Favorites” page and take a dive into the deep end of these remarkable books. Because vampire porn is fun and educational. And not just to learn better technique from those who’ve been perfecting theirs for millennia. After all, everything I know I learned from reading smut. And you can too.