I get asked that from time by people who have read my Gryphon’s Heir, and the question always makes me smile. I usually answer by turning things around and asking two questions in return.
The first is both simple and complex: what makes them think I have any particular choice? Here’s a little truism, and like most truisms, it tends to be rather counter-cultural: the story is in control, not the writer. (Which leads to another question: apart from its inherent strangeness, why is this particular truism counter-cultural? Ah... because our society --- in fact, really, the entire nature of humanity, when you get down to it --- is obsessed with the idea of being in control. At all times. Which, actually, is laughable, because we’re not --- in control, that is.)
The story is in control? people ask, furrowing their brows in puzzlement. And I understand their perplexity, because it sounds nonsensical to non-writers... but makes absolute sense to writers. Here’s how it works: the story arrives in your mind, either as a kernel of an idea (as it did for me) or fully formed (I’ve never actually met a writer who can convincingly make this claim, but I keep looking). The idea is insistent; it wants developing --- right now --- and won’t take no for an answer. So like an insistent child, it wants to be written, and if you don’t oblige it and put pen to paper --- or fingers to keyboard --- well, it will make your life miserable. Now, you need to understand that, as a veteran parent, I do not endorse the idea of giving in to your flesh and blood child --- at least, not on a regular basis. (Do that at your very real peril... sort of like the old maps mariners drew several hundred years ago, the ones that said “Here be dragons” along the margins.) But your story “child”... well, that’s a different matter. It’s inside your head, but it’s really not happy staying there, for some reason; it wants to be set down on paper --- just like the Ring wanted to be found, Frodo. (Sorry. Obligatory Tolkien reference for the day.) Apologies if this is starting to sound vaguely creepy. Writers are not especially abnormal. Well, most of them. Most of the time. Sort of. I think.
Anyway, where were we? Yes, story. In control. Right. It might have been a good thing if I’d gotten an idea to write a story about a meek little creature who comes into possession of an extraordinary piece of jewellery that not only could make him invisible, but also packed a pretty powerful magical punch into its gold band. Oh, but wait: that idea went to an Oxford professor, not me (and don’t think I’m not sorry about that). Instead, during a particularly unhappy time in my life, I was “given” --- I don’t really know any other way to phrase it --- the image of a doorway appearing where no doorway had any business being, ready and able to take me away from my misery. And I had to find out about this doorway. So I did what I’ve done since... well, since I was able to write: I wrote. Wrote about that doorway and going through it. What would I find? I had no idea. And... as I wrote, “I” became “he,” who was the character I was telling the story through. And then he acquired a name: Rhissan, or Rhiss for short. And, like Professor T has so famously said, “the story grew in the telling.” The first book was put out there just over a year ago (You can read what Kirkus said about it under the Reviews section of this website), and the second is well underway, at about 100,000 words.
So that’s the first reason why I write fantasy. The second, as I said, is another fairly flippant question: why not write fantasy? Sure, I like a whole bunch of different genres beside fantasy, science fiction and historical fiction being probably the two at the top of the list --- and we can talk about historical fiction another time --- and should, because it’s deserving of musings all on its own. One of the things about fantasy is how freeing it is, because you’re not necessarily bound by most of the rules --- physical, societal, moral, spiritual, et al --- imposed on our own mortal world. Although it doesn’t mean you can run amok. Au contraire. The world you create has to be logically consistent within itself and its own universe framework, or you might as well be writing some absurdist piece where nothing is rational or makes sense... and that’s hard for most of us to relate to... outside of crazy things dreamt when we’re asleep. Crafting a world’s detail and logical consistency is hugely rewarding for me, in many ways far more so than just setting a story somewhere/somewhen in our own world (and that’s something we can talk about another time, too: crafting world details). Here in our world, it’s all laid out for us. There, in our own worlds, nearly anything is fair game. I think this is why, at a very early age (I was a precocious 12), Middle Earth held such enormous fascination for me. I wanted to create sweeping vistas from the wellsprings of my imagination, too.
Put another way, you could call writing fantasy “prototype freelancing.” That’s not my term; I’ve borrowed it from another hobby of mine, model railroading, where one author uses it to describe situations where, instead of modeling a real railroad, you come up with your own. You’re modeling real life, but on your own terms. I like idea that a great deal, at least when writing a story.
Ultimately, anyone who writes does so because it’s like author James Branch Cabell once had one of his characters say: “I am pregnant with words! And I must have lexicological parturition, or I die!”
A tad on the melodramatic side, maybe... but essentially true.