Monday, March 1, 2021
In Defense of Wish-Fullfillment (An Essay about Writing) by Jarla Tangh
I’ve had it pointed out to me that I write wish-fulfillment stories.
My sister, Bobbi another writer, once took pleasure in a YA series called Sweet Valley High that I loathed. She loved it because it had the 1st-world problems of why won’t anyone in my peer group take me seriously, along with what dress to wear to that event, and what boy would be with the female characters on their quest to have an enviable semester or was it a summer. Who with any brain cells cares?
Yeah, I said it.
Sweet Valley High did nothing for me, as one can see, from my frothing at the mouth. First of all, the characters looked nothing like me. It’s not that I can’t relate to nonBlack characters. I’ll have you know I adore Lucy and Edmund Pevensie. The lovely thing about Narnia is I was able to just dwell there without being reminded of my otherness. C.S. Lewis put two humans in front of me and I wanted to know what would happen with the faun and the lion everyone kept talking about.
I am other. I am also Black. I accept that. So I want to read happy stories about others and Black characters that have magical things happening. I don’t want my others or my Black characters to suffer or struggle. People with 1st-world or Mainstream American problems do not get what it is to walk outside the door in public without being attacked for being other, specifically, Black. So why do I want to read or see others and Blacks getting attacked until the end?
Please don’t tell me that I’ll be inspired. I am not. I get angry. I have suffering and struggle in my ancestry.
It has me cringing when faced with people who look like me still living in tin-roofed shacks with outhouses in North Carolina. Where the hate in a general store leaves the tongue petrified to the floor of one’s mouth when a storekeeper barks at you. If I gave into the urge to verbally dismantle the bigot, I’d possibly end up at the end of a shotgun.
It’s self-preservation that ruled the day there. I understood I didn’t matter to the bigot and there would be no success in attempting to change his mind.
Everything in genre fiction follows the idea that after a character has been through sufficient Hell, they may, or may not, have a happy ending. A dwarf or several may die, and a sandworm will drown. Whole families try to exterminate each other.
It’s the tension and the suspense that will keep one turning pages.
Other times, I just throw the book across the room, and if I’m truly peeved I will have to write my own interpretation of whatever the concept driving the reviled novel or story.
Mine is the mind that thinks a white ex-con who accidentally killed a Black woman’s child ends up as her male submissive instead of that best-seller about the college girl who dallies with getting spanked by a tycoon.
But enough about me.
There are times I just long to be transported as I was with Octavia Butler’s Wildseed, Craig Laurance Gidney’s Skin Deep Magic, Milton Davis’s From Here to Timbuktu, Charles Saunder’s Imaro, Valjeanne Jeffers’ Colony Ascension: An Erotic Space Opera, and Samuel Delany’s Tales of Nevèrÿon.
But those stories have struggle and suffering in them and even plots, you say.
That wasn’t why I kept reading them. I read them because of each author’s brand wish-fulfillment spoke to me. I wish there was a Black Adventurer with a sword instead of that Cimmerian barbarian guy to read. I wish there was a Black woman who could change shape and stand up to a difficult antagonist who falls in love with her. I wish that a gay slave could choose to re-purpose a slave collar into a love token with another gay slave.
I took in these author’s wishes for their characters loud and clear and felt compelled to know how they worked out. So in my own works, I will not be focused on themes, or plots, but what can I wish for these characters that I want to read?
Oh, dear, am I being a Contrarian again?