I have a long list of writers I love. I have a separate, largely overlapping list of authors whom I feel are an influence on my writing. But the ones I go back to the most, not just to read but to answer for myself “How did they do that again?” have one important aspect in common.
They take me out of my comfort zone.
Robert A. Heinlein is one of Science Fiction’s greatest authors. He explored social themes as well as technological ones. Frequently his works are mentioned by me or my friends when I post a SciFi Question of the Day.
Heinlein’s characters were my introduction to the idea of polyamory. My initial reaction was not so much shock (hey, this is SciFi, we can have all kinds of weird stuff) but I definitely thought it was a very bad idea. I still read the books in spite of being out of my comfort zone. The idea made me think “Why not?” and “What if?” and look at the ideas he posed in a new light. I frequently reference his stories while I’m writing.
One of my first interviewees was Tiffany Reisz. She writes BDSM erotica, which is something I’d never really thought of before outside of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. Before her interview, I read her novella Seven Day Loan (Which is now re-released as The Gift.) The blurb begins “A trained submissive, Eleanor will do whatever her master commands…even spend a week with a stranger.” All right. I handle that. It’s kinky that she’s in a dominant/submissive relationship, and even kinkier that she’s going to spend a week, presumably engaging in sex, with a stranger.
As I read the story, I found that the sexual episodes definitely went far beyond what I was accustomed to reading in a steamy romance or erotic novel. For some, my wide eyes peeked at the screen from behind my protective fingers. I wished I could read it the same way I watch television with my husband; he says “Don’t look!” whenever it’s something I can’t handle, then he tells me when it’s safe again.
Yet, entwined into this highly erotic story was a play of emotions and relationships that was absolutely masterful in its execution. I instantly became a fan, even though there were parts of the book that made me very uncomfortable. I don’t read every interviewee’s books, but I do read almost everything Tiffany puts out. She continues to make me uncomfortable. And I continue to reference her work while writing my own.
I’m not sure my goal is to make my readers uncomfortable. No, that’s definitely not what I have in mind. But I can not be afraid to make the reader uncomfortable, whether it’s because my characters are in a polyamorous relationship, or whether they are Christians who enjoy sex. Readers may even be shocked to find that the characters in my erotic story are old married folks. Or Republicans. Or pedestrians. I never know just how people will react.
If you’re a reader, where does your comfort zone end?
If you’re a writer, do you know where your readers’ comfort zone ends?
Have a Merry Christmas everyone! My usual blog posts will continue after the New year.