Guest Post: “What Lies Beyond Grimdark” by Jon Skovron
Earlier this month I got a hold of a copy of Hope and Red, Jon Skovron’s first novel for adults about a pair of orphans who grow from children to teenagers in a rough world of New Laven. One is a warrior, the lone survivor of a massacre on her entire village. The other is a thief and con artist living in a city ruled by gangs, raised by his mentor who is a pirate captain and one of the most notorious women of the criminal underworld. Immediately drawn to the story and characters, I jumped at the chance to invite the author to the BiblioSanctum to talk about his inspiration and the thought processes involved in writing this book. Hope and Red is available now. I hope to have my review up soon, but in the meantime please enjoy this fascinating post by Jon about the fun of going post-Grimdark!
WHAT LIES BEYOND GRIMDARK
by Jon Skovron
I love a lot of the fantasy stories often referred to as “grimdark” and the movement toward a more gritty, realistic depiction of fantasy as an antidote to the oversimplified “good vs. evil” mentality that that came before it.
But the thing is, after we’ve seen things we’d rather not have seen and lived through some truly awful moments in our lives, some of us might want to see what’s beyond the grit and the pain and the darkness. Perhaps we even need to see it. This isn’t a rejection of grimdark or the many incredibly talented authors who write in that subgenre/movement/aesthetic/whatever. Instead, it’s an attempt to take the many valuable lessons grimdark has taught us and consider what other kinds of stories are out there.
Grimdark has taught us that verisimilitude in fantasy is not only possible, but extremely effective. Big, sprawling canvas worlds are great to get lost in, but it’s even more immersive if you include the little details. The smell of blood, the taste of bile, the grime of what it really feels like to not have bathed in weeks. These are simple, relatable, details that rather than detract, can ground the reader even further into the world.
Grimdark also refuses to accept a simplistic view of a black and white world. It’s not virtuous knights vs. evil sorcerers. Nobody’s perfect in the real world and flawed protagonists are far more relatable. However, grimdark fantasy can also embrace nihilism as either expedient or inevitable or both, and that is something I don’t accept.
Yes, the world can be a very shitty place. And sometimes it’s tempting to just roll over and accept the inevitable. But stories can be so much more than that. They can help us make order out of chaos, and make sense of the senseless.
There is a temptation to see something that is “fun” or “lighthearted” as frivolous, perhaps even insincere, and that “dark” and “grim” things are more authentic. But if you examine our daily lives, I think you’ll find that it isn’t all just one long grind. “Fun” stories can be just as true to life as the grim ones.
Escapism also tends to get a bad rap. But I’ll be honest, that’s how I got into this racket in the first place. Imagine a lanky, brooding emo/goth kid (floppy bangs and everything) before either emo or goth were a thing, before the Internet, with no friends and a complicated home life. You guys, I was such a loser that I would play AD&D by myself, which, let me tell you, gets old real quick (although in retrospect, it was a really great primer for writing fantasy novels). When I read those David Eddings books over and over again, I wasn’t looking for anyone to remind me how shitty life could be. I was looking for even a temporary release from my life, preferably one that didn’t involve self-harm.
There’s this scene in Skinning Legs and All by Tom Robbins where the accidental genius artist/sculptor Boomer is talking about making Art and he says, “You just make what you wanna see, right? It’s a game, right? It’s like being paid for dreaming.” That simple idea has always stuck with me as the least pretentious and probably the best reason to make Art of any kind. If there is something in the world that doesn’t exist, and you think it should exist, then it’s your responsibility to make it exist. And that’s what Hope and Red is for me.
Don’t get me wrong, Hope and Red is still pretty dark at times. Right out of the gate, terrible and gruesome things are happening. But in my world there is also warmth and humor because that is what human beings do. We make jokes. We laugh in the face of death. As one of my old professors is fond of saying, you haven’t lost everything until you’ve lost your sense of humor.
Even more importantly than humor, in the world of Hope and Red, people are striving toward something better. They believe that there is something better, even if they don’t quite know what it is yet.
I wrote this book because that is the world I wanted to see. And perhaps, some of you might want to see it, too.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jon Skovron is the author of several novels, includingMisfit (2011), which Holly Black called “a diabolically delightful paranormal about a teen girl discovering her inner strength and power — and her potential for darkness”. Man Made Boy (2013) was a Junior Library Guild selection and shortlisted for the Inky Reader’s Choice Award in Australia. io9.com said “If Man Made Boyhasn’t been optioned for a film or at least a CW series by the end of the year, we can be assured that Hollywood has actually forgotten how to read.” The audiobook, which Jon recorded for Random House’s Listening Library, was named Best Fiction Read By Author for Publisher Weekly’s Listen-Up awards. The sequel, This Broken Wondrous World, also a Junior Library Guild selection, was published August, 2015. Jon’s short stories have appeared in publications like ChiZine and Baen’s Universe, and more recently in anthologies such as GRIM from Harlequin Teen and Summer Days and Summer Nights from St. Martins Press. Jon’s next project is a fantasy trilogy called Empire of Storms, published by Orbit. The first book, Hope & Red, comes out June 28th, 2016.
He lives with his two sons just outside Washington DC, where he hosts a regular writing discussion series at the Arlington Public Library.