Sunday, October 7, 2012

Belonging


Sometimes I worry that everything I write winds up circling the same basic theme.  “I should branch out,” I think. “I should try something different.” And I do. My first novel, due out next spring, is about stupid but brutal aliens, long-lost twins, a plot to destroy humanity, and a mini-Schnauzer who saves the world. I’ve had a short story published about an American living in eastern Europe, trying to deal with a strange Easter custom, and one about a taxi driver who takes a stand against a belligerent fare in a Jack-in-the-Box drive-thru. My second novel, the one that’s giving me serious fits as I try to ready it for submission right now, is about a woman’s power to write fables that come true and wreak havoc for herself, her friends, and her love life. The third novel, 2011’s NaNoWriMo yarn, puts an accidental murderess in the role of Death, and is named for a greyhound who was mistakenly made a saint by the Catholic church hundreds of years ago.

Sounds fairly diverse, doesn’t it? But when I read through the manuscripts, they all seem to come back to one question: where – or, more particularly, to whom – do we belong? That’s a pretty mundane, basic, human question, one we’ve all asked ourselves at one time or another. I know I’ve asked it a lot over the last few years as I’ve changed just about everything in my life (classic midlife crisis, complete with tattoo!).

That might seem like a funny theme for stories about aliens, dogs, magic stories, deceased saints, Death, Easter, and Jack-in-the-Box. Don’t good science fiction and fantasy tales take us out of our normal human world, and ask far more fantastical questions? Certainly they do. But I wonder  - maybe there is also no better way to pose the most essential human questions than via the points of view of non-human, or not-exactly-normal-human characters.

This is Charlie, the mini-Schauzer who inspired the
humanity-saving dog in my first book.
Doesn't he look heroic?
In the first novel, the heroine decides to try to save humanity, even though she doesn’t much feel like humanity has embraced her. She’s an outsider in her own life until she encounters a real alien, her boss, who is the color of lime Jell-O ™ gone horribly wrong. Facing that “real” alien finally makes her confront her secret terror that she is an alien in her own world. And by deciding to fight, she has to connect with other humans – all of whom turn out to be struggling with similar questions. She has to let herself be part of a family, with all the craziness, fear, loss, and joy that entails.

And then, of course, it’s her dog who saves the day. But isn’t that like real life, too?

***

Elizabeth Fountain’s first novel, working title Completely Absurd and Nearly Impossible, will be published by Champagne Book Group in spring 2013.

4 comments:

Big Mike said...

Interesting. I bet many authors have related themes across them writing. I'd say 50% of my 16 stories relate to two themes, "How far is too far" and what I call the "moral paradox" of modern society. Both concepts actually relate to your "who owns us" question. Hmmmm. Maybe we all feel a bit controlled by other sources that go against the right that most of us believe in for a democracy, namely independent thought and freedom.

Liz Fountain said...

I agree, Big Mike, that we also struggle with feeling controlled by others - individuals or organizations. In fact, in my first book, the aliens want to make humans into a cyborg army. In hindsight,the cyborgs are a metaphor for being only part human, and being controlled by someone else. Thanks for that insight!

January Bain said...

Heard a song recently that speaks to this and the first lines go: I will not be commanded, I will not be controlled, and I will not let my future go on without the help of my soul...

Liz Fountain said...

Love that lyric, January - who's the artist? It reminds me of a song from one of my favorites, Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs. called "Where I Come From:: "You don't know where I come from, and you don't know where I belong, and you can't tell me what I'm looking for. So I'm not gonna listen anymore." Great music to write by!