Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Guest Post — Jon Sprunk

Years a ago there was a Saturday morning cartoon called Scooby-Do, Where Are You? You might have heard of it. I was a huge fan when it originally aired, I am guessing sometime in the late 60’s early seventies. It lasted longer than most of the new cartoons, but I could tell when the writers were running out of ideas when they started doing crossovers. The “jumping the shark” moment came when Sabrina the Teenage Witch—(a cartoon spin off of the Archies cartoon, an episode that included the famous song Sugar, Sugar)—who was getting her own show appeared on Scooby-do as a promotional gimmick. In the years that followed there were more crossovers, from less reputable cartoons as writers struggled and things spiraled downward.

I’m not sure what that says about my blog as today I am, for the first time ever, hosting a guest blogger. I would like to think it means my reputation, and fame has grown to the point where celebrities are interested in stopping by, rather than a cheap gimmick to keep viewers interested in a flagging series. I suppose that’s for you to decide.

Jon Sprunk is the author of Shadow’s Son  and the more recently released, Shadow’s Lure published through Pyr Books. His books are about an assassin with unusual mystical talents and sort of an imaginary friend whose latest job is a setup. There are some obvious similarities between his books and mine, which is no doubt why the universe contrived to bring us together at the recent Balticon convention.The two of us are visiting each other's blogs and meeting for drinks at Dragoncon in Atlanta, at least I hope we are, I hate drinking alone.

So now, without further adieu, I give you Jon Sprunk…

Hello. I’m Jon Sprunk, author of the Shadow saga from Pyr Books, and I’d like to thank Michael for having me over to his place to chat about books and writing.

I get asked a lot why I write fantasy and I was never quite sure how to answer it. Then I heard famed author Robert Sawyer talk at Confluence this year. Robert has a ton of interesting things to say about writing and speculative fiction, but one statement really struck home with me. He said (and I’m paraphrasing, so any inaccuracy is my own fault) that science fiction is the fiction of ideas, of philosophy. In fact, he offered that the field should be renamed “Philosophy Fiction,” or Phi-Fi.

I thought about that a lot over the course of the day as I attended panel discussions and talked with other writers. If sci-fi is indeed the genre of ideas and philosophy, then perhaps fantasy is the genre of emotional states. I have always felt in my gut that there is a link between fantasy and heavy metal music, but thinking about them both in light of Robert Sawyer’s declaration, both fantasy lit and the harder rock subcategories work from a primal (and oftentimes violent) emotional core. Rage, love, passion. These are the driving forces of many fantasy stories.

For instance, the protagonist of my books (I hesitate to call him the ‘hero’), strives to attain the emotionless state required by a professional assassin, but at every turn he struggles against the wellspring of deep emotions bubbling under the surface of his hard exterior. Why did I create him like this? Because I wanted him to have realistic experiences and realistic reactions, and real people feel. We’re constantly ruled by our emotions, for better or worse. I think some genres of literature downplay emotion, or treat it as an afterthought, but my favorite stories have always been those that featured emotionally-charged characters.

But (he said with a portentous pause) it’s not enough to simply report a character’s emotions. “John was sad that his puppy died” or “Sally loved John precisely for that reason” are not significant until the characters actually act on their emotional state. John has to go after the evil neighbor who poisoned his pooch. Sally has to make a desperate attempt to keep John from harm because she can’t bear to see him go to prison for murder. Emotions drive action and reaction in our everyday lives, and the same should happen in our fiction.

Take George Martin’s epic A Game of Thrones as an example. It has battles and (some) magic and a feisty dwarf, but I would submit that its popularity comes from the fact that all the characters, great and small, are ruled by their emotional states. Just about every action taken in the book is predicated on emotional stimuli; some internal to the character, and others from outside pressures.

But we can go back to older fantasy and see the same elements (if presently a little differently). Robert E. Howard’s Conan, and Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. were given to drink and battle excessively to combat their constant ennui. Elric was a passionate brooder; indeed, it was his possession of human emotions that set him apart from his race. Frodo and Sam – don’t me started.

Whether about dragons or magic swords or assassins who wield shadow magic, emotions play a pivotal role in the fantasy realm. Our characters ooze angst and snort rage-kindled fires, they love deeply and oftentimes tragically. And that’s why I write fantasy.

Jon Sprunk is the author of Shadow’s Son and Shadow’s Lure from Pyr Books. He lives passionately in central Pennsylvania with his family.


  1. I think you and Sawyer are on to something. I've commented before that fantasy allows authors and readers to consider their relationship to spirituality, morality, or what have you in a more ex-positional manner. Or at least MODERN fantasy is certainly doing this.

    Is our existence significant? Is what we do and how we do it important? I've most often heard escapism as the primary driver of fantasy readers. For me, it's because I ask these questions of myself. For someone who doesn't necessarily believe in God, great fantasy makes me try to rationalize my place in things in a way no other genre does. It frees me to come to grips with my own relationship to the "fantastic".

    Or something like that.

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