Monday, February 1, 2016

Literary Voids

In filling out January's Beautiful People tag, question #9 started me thinking again about a subject that's been on my mind for a few months: holes in our literary world.

9. Toni Morrison once said, "If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."  What are the books that you want to see more of, and what "holes" do you think need filling in the literary world?

My answer was:
I think there is a lack of diversity in the literary world.  As for books I'd like to see more of: more well written, clean, books dealing with tough issues and showing that even in the dark, there can be hope and light.  I'd also like to see more English language historical fiction about little known historical figures and Asian and Middle Eastern history.

I'd like to elaborate on that.

There are dozens of YA paranormal and dystopian books on the market, but most of them seem to be cliche-ridden fluff that teens gobble up. I'd like to see thought-provoking YA and New Adult paranormal and dystopian.  Dystopian that really makes me think about the world around us.  That traces lines about where we might be headed based on real world events.  Paranormal that digs into the origins of 'other-that-human' creatures/people and presents them with a fresh viewpoint.  I don't think such books have to be hugely long or heavy in style in order to handle these issues well.

As Faith also pointed out, there is a lack of cultural diversity in the English language literary world.  Historical fiction about American and European history is all over, naturally.  We speak English, thus it only makes sense that many HiFi books in our language deal with the English speaking world, or the rest of Europe- from which America's ancestors came.  I have no problem with this, but I'd also like to see more cultural diversity.  America is a melting pot; there are people here from every continent.  How about more HiFi about South America or Africa?  Or Asia?  Asia is a huge and varied continent, from the Middle East to the Orient to the Southeast to the frozen North- believe you me, there are a LOT of books one could write about it.

Even in the limited amount of English HiFi about Asia, there is a sad dearth of books about Chinese, Japanese and Korean history in particular.  We have some novels about Marco Polo and there are a few Oriental fiction novels (Lisa See and Pearl S Buck are two authors who spring to mind) but China has a recorded history that reaches back much farther than America and we in America have too few novels about it. 

Everyone knows about Joan of Arc, the warrior maid who saved France.  But how many know about Khutulun, a great great granddaughter of Genghis Khan and niece of Kublai Khan, a formidable warrior in her own right and a woman who said she would never marry unless a man could defeat her in wrestling?  Many men tried and failed and forfeited horses to her.  She amassed a herd of 10,000 horses this way.  (*cough* No, she's not a fascination of mine, why would anyone think that?)

Historical China was notoriously male-centric, but did you know that in the Mongol era, particularly the days of Genghis Khan, women were hugely influential and kept his empire together more than once?

You've heard of Bonnie Prince Charlie, but have you heard of Crown Prince Sohyeon of Joseon (Korea) in the 1600s, a learned and kind man who tried to further peace and knowledge in his kingdom but who was exiled by his father and then poisoned along with most of his family?

Alexander the Great is well known, but what about Akbar the Great- conqueror of much of India and beyond and foundational pillar of the Mughal dynasty in India?  The story behind the building of the Taj Mahal is well known, but there was far more to the Mughal court than just that story.

There are also many untapped periods of European history.  For example, I have yet to find a good HiFi series about Queen Margaret I of Denmark- the woman who united Scandinavia in the Kalmar Union and ruled it as queen regnant for twenty-two years.

I think there is also a huge drought of good historical fantasy in the world.  HiFy is my favorite genre because it combines my two favorite things- fantasy and history- but aside from the books that some of my friends write (which are great and need to be published pronto), I have a hard time finding good HiFy.  For example, how about someone writing a book featuring French Musketeers with the power of touch telepathy?

I personally think we need more good, original fantasy.  Pretty much anyone can write something with elves and humans, or dwarves or anything resembling Tolkien or Lewis.  With good reason these authors stand as the giants of clean modern fantasy.  But we don't need another Tolkien or Lewis.  We need individualism.  We need more ordinary lives being made special by the touch of 'magic' from a source where we'd hardly think to look.  Or more ordinary people being transported to another world where they're forced to use their wits to survive.  Not that I have anything against a person having special powers that have lain dormant- it's just that after the tenth such book without much plot, I tend to want to throw my Kindle against the wall.

Let's also have more unique fairy tale and classics rewrites.  So many times Cinderella has been retold in a fantasy or European historical style, and don't even get me started on the modern pseudo-'retellings' of this story.  Browse a list of Hallmark or Hallmark-type movies; you'll see 'a Cinderella story' everywhere in the descriptions.  There is nothing wrong with retelling fairytales in a traditional fantasy or European historical setting.  I enjoy this kind of book and have myself set several fairy tale retellings in a psuedo European world.  But, in addition to these, I'd like to encourage people to think outside the box a little more.  What about a Brazilian Snow White?   Or a Mongolian Snow Queen?  Or a Chinese Little Mermaid?  I recently read a Bollywood-style retelling of Beauty and the Beast and loved it and I'm hoping the author will go on to do more Bollywood fairy tale retellings.

As far as classics go, please stop rewriting Pride and Prejudice unless you're going to do something other than what amounts to nothing more or less than fan fiction.  Give us the story of Mary Bennet sure, but don't blatantly contradict the original P&P while you're at it.  Give us the diary of a minor character in P&P, but don't change half the story while you're at it.  And if you're going to write the story of Darcy and Elizabeth's children, would you mind thoroughly researching the historical time period before you do it?

I'd like to reiterate that this post is not aimed at any particular writer or writers.  I myself have lots of plans to tackle many of these holes.  I'm simply presenting some alternate viewpoints to those of you who may not have thought of them.

Oh, and by the way, if anyone can persuade Tong Hua to translate her novels into English, I'll be forever grateful to you.

What are holes do you see in our English language literary world?  Are there any of these holes that you have plans to work toward filling?

4 comments:

  1. Heheheheheheheheheheheheeeee!!! I seem to remember hearing something like this before......like fifty million times!!! But you are SOOOOOO right, Sister!!!! And also let me remind you again, don't throw your Kindle. That will break it!! :)

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    1. You, my child, are a pill. Thank you kindly for your highly unnecessary reminder. ;)

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  2. Yes, yes and yes! There's seriously so much to be write about; readers & fellow writers definitely need to keep encouraging writers to feel free to be original and themselves and not just write what every other person is writing.

    And I seriously love Khutulun now! Lol. Talk about boss. I need a story about this lady pronto!! I'm also sad that HiFy seems to be dwindling right now. And where is the Bollywood-style retelling of Beauty and the Beast?? I'm super intrigued!

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  3. So I awarded you the Liebster Award! :D Not certain if you've done it before, but if you'd like to join in, here's the link: Liebster Award

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