When I started talking about Arsenal of Hope to friends who are also authors, I didn’t expect it to pique as much interest as it did. In hindsight, I shouldn’t be surprised that several of the other writers… well, broken birds of a feather flock together, eh? And for the rest, I provided them with “here’s a really cool book that gives you a lot of insight into how people different from you tick.” Of course some were gonna start making interested noises about research. Compulsive research geeks… well, that explains authorial search histories, anyway.
But as Cedar’s been working through it, she’s been throwing quotes at me in the serene knowledge that 1.) I’ve already read it, so no worries about spoilers or lack of context, and 2.) it’s kinda my fault, since I introduced her to the book, so hey, let’s
open this can of wor… talk about this bit! (She put up an early review on her blog, too, here.)
So, last night, she threw this one at me, and asked “is this why we write fiction?”
My immediate smartass response was “People without PTSD write fiction, too!”
But yes, okay, fine, fiction can be a coping mechanism. When I have problems processing things, I can take it, pull it out of its current setting, put it at a fictional remove, and then run a character through it in order to see how it affects others. Or set up multiple characters experience the same thing, but making different choices, and… well, have you ever noticed how often the protagonist and the antagonist are mirror images of each other, with the same goal, but different starting points and different choices and values? So yes, it is a way to process something, often subconsciously, and consider it and chew over it. Not that I do it with such precision and forethought, no. It often starts in the subconscious and works its way forward as story, and thus I have learned to pay attention to what I’m writing on multiple levels.
Not that this is in any way, shape, or form limited to trauma. It’s a coping mechanism, and those tools are more like pocketknives than keys; they can be pressed into service when trying to do or understand a wide variety of things. I made the mistake of showing Cedar one such, years ago, when I was working on getting a mental handle on the different optimization of pathways in cellular metabolism. Yes, the title of the piece is, indeed, AKT vs. AMPK. Except it’s an urban fantasy set in Alaska, and since she was writing East Witch at the time, and we were discussing other things while I was beating my head against the biology, it not only covers the optimization in diet and power recruitment for strengthlifting vs. ultramarathon runners (those sports specialize in one channel vs. the other. especially when the ultramarathoners are doing keto)…
It also started folding in geopolitics, including the peculiar presence that international crime syndicates have in Alaska due to its customs clearing, the role of CBP in cargo vs. people customs, and how mythology adapts to new places when people move (we were discussing the mutation of the Child ballads into Appalachian folk songs), as expressed through Slavic mythology instead. (She was researching a lot of Slavic mythos for East Witch.) And the Glock vs. 1911 / 9mm vs. .45 religious debates, because that had flared up somewhere and I might have been making snarky remarks. (Okay, I was definitely making snarky remarks.) Cedar occasionally keeps feeding me public domain Slavic mythology to this day, gently teasing me and telling me she wants me to finish it as a proper story, because it made her laugh.
However, that and the rest of these scenarios are not the published books on the market – they are among the hundreds of one-off scenes, abandoned projects, bare outlines of stories, and shorthand-to-self sketched bare bones of an idea that litter the drafts folder. And yet, while I never consciously draw on any of those to write a novel, once it’s finished, I can often look back and see the influences over the last 3-5 years being drawn together and reworked into story.
After all, what is science fiction if not “if this goes on, how will it affect a world, a society, and the people in it?”
…although this probably helps explain why I look at light, sweet, frothy things other people write, and go “Why can’t I do that?” Surely for once I could write something and not worry about making it tactically, economically, and ecologically correct!
I wonder where they pull their fiction from?