In thinking about my education path and how I came to Gothic literature, I’ve decided that I am an accidental expert. And as I’ve talked to other academic types, it sort of seems that they fell into their area of study in a similar accidental way. This isn’t seen only in academia though. Lots of people I have talked to say they sort of fell into their work.
I didn’t begin my study of the Gothic on purpose. Perhaps the groundwork was set in my childhood because I naturally gravitated towards Fantasy (a sub-genre that comes out of the Gothic). But all-in-all, the first time I heard about this type of literature, I was in an undergraduate class studying the British Romantic period. An annotation in the novel Caleb Williams concerning Godwin’s choice of having a male lead character while writing in a genre in which the lead characters are typically female caught my eye. And, just like that, I was off.
Over the years, I started to amass knowledge and experience in the genre. I read a wide range of authors, important texts and lesser known texts too. Somehow, I became an expert – even the professors in the department who possessed their Ph.D.s referred to me as the resident Gothic expert.
I think we as writers are that way too. In order to be a good writer, you must also be well-read. You have to truly love stories, the storytelling process, the world-building process and more. It helps also if you happen to be well-read in the genre in which you are writing. More than that though, you have to have a passion for learning and a curiosity. You become an expert in life in a way, though I’ve been writing a long time and still haven’t mastered my own story. 🙂
I’ve been thinking about accidents or coincidence a lot lately. Sometimes its in the context of ‘if I didn’t move back to KC when I did, I wouldn’t know my writing buddy J.R. Boles or the women in our writers’ group.’ Or if my mother had taken the offer to go model in France, I wouldn’t exist; and other things of this nature. Crossing paths are such finite and delicate things. The whole universe could change in an instant if you hesitate, speed up or pick another route. It’s like the butterfly effect in a way, this looking back and visualizing all the paths that were there and what might have transpired if you had taken the other road.
Perhaps this sort of imagining is one of the reasons I am a writer. At times I think about the paths we take in the context of the stories I write or plan to write in the future. I just finished the first draft of Withered World which tells the story of a character who has lived in my head in some capacity for the past 15 years. I dreamed her up when I was in high school and she just sort of was stuck at the back of my mind until her story came to light.
The paths my characters walk could change—and often do—and since I orchestrate their fates, I play an interesting role in their fictional universes. I don’t know that I believe in fate in real life. One often wishes to think that they orchestrate their own life instead of some other entity or plan at work on one’s behalf or not. Deus ex machina might work on occasion in the pages I produce, but in my own life, I say no thanks.
I have meandered a bit today in my musings. But I think life is about falling into things, whether it is your accidental career or some other aspect of your life that happened by chance or because you followed a path – or chose to avoid that one route. And I also think it’s important to keep these things in mind as a writer. We have plans for our characters. We plot and outline. But many times, the stories take on a life of their own and you wind up in a totally different place from that which you had anticipated (kind of like this blog post did). As writers, we have the joy of this discovery in our own lives and in the lives of those who we create. It’s a great double life and one in which we are both experts and students all at once.