Today is Easter—it’s also April Fool’s Day. Do books surprise us, do they pull April Fool’s style pranks? Sometimes.
More often than not, though, they fulfill our expectations—and that’s often not a bad thing. The books I re-read the most are usually comfort fiction—when my world is dark, I turn to my old favorites. But the books that stick in my brain—the stories I think over at traffic lights—are something else. They are the novels that startled me, the series that defied my expectations, the works that changed my worldview. They are something I shoot for in my own writing.
Surprise is its own payoff. This is true in an April Fool’s prank and in a good plot twist. As readers, as much as we hunt for comfort fiction, sometimes we also want the tables turned on us. Perhaps I love Manga and Anime because they do this so frequently to me.
Kaichou wa Maid-sama!
As an adolescent I hated eating crow worse than anything. My change in taste may be one of the most profound evolutions of my adult self. Time and time again I have found crow to be the most delicious dish.
Even in high school, I hated Romance, I hated Comedy, I hated mortification for protagonists—I most definitely didn’t want to read a Romance where a highly meritorious student council president was forced to work in a maid café to make ends meet for her family and was then pursued—to her horror—by a dream guy she didn’t want.
Kaichou wa Maid-sama made me eat crow—and like it. I found I liked Romance, and Comedy, and well—a lot of things I thought I didn’t like. Crow is the best dish when you find new favorites through it. The best material is often what we loathe. I found I could identify with the protagonist’s plight because she was so like me in disliking the circumstances that accosted her—and I found myself uplifted along with her as she re-framed her circumstances.
April Fool’s—the joke was on me. But I liked it—and I decided to be fearless, emulating the protagonist I admired and finally admit what I wanted rather than shying away from it. There’s a bit of Maid-sama’s male love interest Takumi Usui in my protagonist Solaris. Particularly in how deeply he values Chara despite her appalling status as a slave at auction and the lengths he goes to prove himself to her. Solaris would be less daring if I hadn’t read Kaichou wa Maid-sama!
Yes, sometimes the best jokes are on yourself. They are the ones that teach you how to laugh and find your own freedom over your hang-ups.
What if a Bond Villain won? Come on—James Bond is revitalized in the new movies, but for a while there in the 80’s and 90’s I don’t think I was alone in rooting for the villains. They had epic plans—tortured pasts, the evil masterminds had better stories than our British spy gone boring. Jormungand takes you on an unexpected journey—in a world with no easy answers that is very close to our own. This was the story I kept wanting but Bond just wouldn’t deliver. It’s time to root for the dark side to accomplish world peace.
Hunter X Hunter
This series constantly defies my expectations in character development. Its riddled with things I didn’t see coming the first time. Re-watching it is still an experience of pure delight—the characters don’t get old, their choices don’t either. How did tropes get under my skin so much that Hunter X Hunter’s divergence from them catches me off guard over, and over, and over? I love it! As a writer it challenges me to be better. To find the core of tropes. What makes us love them? In contrast, what makes us arch away? What’s grown old and tired? Or how has the world changed causing a trope to lose traction?
Questioning tropes often shows me a more nuanced path to walk. What do I crave as a reader? What disappoints me? How can I tread the ultimate storyline of unremitting glee for both parts of me?
Boredom Is An Opportunity
Finding my own writing boring used to be horrible. Shame, self-recrimination, I indulged in it all.
But now I see it differently. When I come across my own weakness I feel a smile tugging at the corner of my mouth. This is where I get wicked. It’s a call to arms—a chance to challenge myself and my readers. April Fool’s Day now arrives for me unexpected, on strange dates not demarcated by April 1st. But still I’m off my feet, left breathless, just as surprised as any reader. What could be more in the spirit of the holiday than that?
The call to adventure has been sounded on Herne’s horn—the Wild Hunt is abroad. It’s time to saddle up your demons, my friends – to go to the dark places, to find our own magic and stitch it out of stagnation. What do you want as a reader that you fear as a writer? Nostalgia? Violating norms? Unrepentant indulgence of your trite side? Fear is the gateway of the awesome.
I’m a fearful creature—more than most. Thank goodness—that’s my treasure trove to mine, my mortification is my hoard, its abundance is my wealth. I have emeralds, you have sapphires, that writer over there has fire opals and an ore cart roller-coaster straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. We are a community of imagination freaks—let’s write some wild rides so we can trade for the reading.