To Make it Real, Make it Fantasy


The first writer whose work truly resonated with me was Ray Bradbury. I’ll never forget picking up a copy of his story collection, I Sing the Body Electric before going on a six-hour car trip with my parents when I was twelve or thirteen. I have no recollection of that car trip because Bradbury had completely transported me. Right then, I became smitten with fantastic fiction. This affection followed me into my professional life, where my first real gig in the publishing business was starting Spectra, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of Bantam Books. One of the singular experiences of my life was, at age twenty-five, getting to meet Ray Bradbury not as a fan, but as his publisher.

In spite of my affection for the genre, though, when I started to write my own fiction, it was not fantasy. My novel The Forever Year was an homage to my father and there was no place for fantasy in it. My novel, When You Went Away was largely about parenthood. Flash and Dazzle was about male friendship, and so on. I suppose I could have set Flash and Dazzle in a medieval kingdom with dragons and wizards, but I set it in an ad agency in Manhattan instead. I was very happy writing about places I knew and populating my stories with people whose lives were similar to those in my circle.

For my novel Blue, though, I had a different goal in mind. I wanted to write about things that truly mattered to me (which is not to say that my father and my male friends didn’t matter to me), and I wanted to do it in a way that would sweep readers up in the story. I realized that most of the stories that truly captured my heart – from ET to John Crowley’s Little, Big to Field of Dreams – employed the fantastic in some way. I realized with some irony that if I wanted to make the emotions in my next novel as real as I could, I needed to write a fantasy.

Blue doesn’t have any dragons, wizards, vampires, magic rings, or anything of that sort in it. Instead, it uses a gentler type of fantasy, one that Ray Bradbury taught me about so many years ago. The kind of fantasy that shifts our reality to let the purity of the experience come through. Blue is about what happens when a bedtime-story world comes to life for reasons none of the characters understand until the end of the novel. The three main characters are a man in his early forties, his largely estranged fourteen-year-old daughter, and the young queen from the imaginary world they created when the daughter was much younger.

I chose to use the tools of fantasy for this novel because doing so allowed me to switch things up for the characters just enough to let their true feelings emerge. The world that Becky and Chris create is a manifestation of their closeness when Becky was a child. When divorce enters their lives, they stop telling the fantasy story because Becky doesn’t want to pretend any longer. And when the world they created suddenly gains form, they learn an enormous amount about the nature of their relationship, the quality of their dreams, and the need they have for something to create together.

An ad agency wasn’t going to work for this story. I needed the possibilities of the improbable to make this story real. If even one person has the experience with Blue that I had with Ray Bradbury on that car trip, I will be a very happy man.

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