I first read Stephen King’s The Stand as a high schooler, many an undisclosed amounts of moons ago. It’s one of my favorite books of his–between it and his Dark Tower series. This is the book where he introduces the man in black, and I think he hit many of his high points describing what I think of as 1980s Americana noir. (For some reason the 1980s as King writes about it seems the most logical time for a world-ending pandemic. Not sure why.) Almost a year ago, when COVID first landed in Denver, I posted the following on Facebook: Welcome to Denver, Captain Tripps. Not realizing how many people would die, I think–something like 460,000+ Americans now. Not realizing I would lose my aunt and my grandmother, and a year of my life, and a year away from my partner because of travel bans. I’ve mostly done what the CDC has advised–I haven’t traveled since the beginning of the pandemic. I don’t eat out. I don’t congregate in large groups. I wear my mask. In fact, in March of 2020 I cancelled a trip back home to see the same grandmother that died over Christmas, and I suppose that means I will never see her. Something about that has caused a slow, rankling anger that tastes like grief somewhere in me, and I’m not really sure what to do with that feeling, except write about it, I guess.
I believe deep down in my heart that fiction has the potential to bring solace in times that are dark, like this. It gives us an alternate world where that anger and grief can go, and where we can puzzle through our questions in the story arcs of our characters. I am not adivisng to Mary Sue, of course, but in many ways most of my character’s problems have come from my own experiences. Grief at a loss. Confusion at illness and injury. Pain from extended separation. Love and joy at reunion. All of these things are in Farther Than Elysium, but not in any one character, and not exactly the same as my life. I’ve read many times to “write what you know”, and while I clearly do not know about being a general or fighting a demonic cult in a pseudo-historical caliphate, I do know about the deeper issues Raoul, Julia, and Mikkel are muddling through. The trick, I think, is to reflect your own thoughts and feelings back through a broken mirror, so it becomes a new thing different than yourself.
I don’t know if there’s some redeeming that you can achieve by doing this in fiction, of course. Maybe there isn’t. But epic battles between demons and gods and heroes is certainly a more aesthetic, and altogether safer ground, for some of those feelings to go.
Happy reading, my friends.