Recently, my blog has been focusing on the idea of hope in the fantastical. Themes of hope lost and found are found in many fantasy and science fiction books, so I went to the experts to ask about their thoughts about hope in the fantastical: authors themselves.
I’m happy to have had the chance to interview Joyce Reynolds-Ward, author of many book series including The Netwalk Sequence.
WS: Hi, Joyce! Thank you for taking the time to talk with me about hope in the fantastical. You have many books under your belt! Do they all feature themes of hope in some way?
JRW: Most of my books have some sort of hopeful element. Darkness might creep in, the characters go through a lot (and may lose something dear to them), but in the long run, what I am very much into doing is writing some sort of uplifting ending. I have a couple of dark short stories under my belt, but it’s not what I usually write.
WS: Knowing that you have written a couple of darker stories, how did the writing process differ when writing darker plotlines or worlds as opposed to writing those more hopeful in tone?
JRW: I don’t think there’s a difference in process.
Well, perhaps I might be listening to darker music. The last one—which is being circulated right now in hopes of finding a market—was explicitly written while listening to Neil Young’s “Powderfinger,” but it was also somewhat inspired by that song. My newest release, A Different Life: Now. Always. Forever. was clearly shaped by the Supreme Court striking down Roe v. Wade. The darker elements in that story definitely come from that real-life happening.
Generally, though, if I swing dark, it’s because of a prompt or something happening in the real world that swings me in that direction. Some of my darker short stories were written during a time when I was struggling to keep my day job as a teacher because I had been targeted by an administrator.
WS: What draws you to writing hopeful books?
JRW: I just can’t stand to write books that don’t offer some sort of positive hope at some point in the story. I’ve never been able to really enjoy the endings where everyone suffers and/or dies when I’m reading or watching a story, so I don’t enjoy writing those books either. Not that my work is all sweetness and light! Far from it. My characters undergo a lot—divorce, past trauma, loss of what they love best—but they find a means to overcome it. We have enough despair and darkness in real life. I’d like to point the way to hopeful alternatives.
Though I will admit, some of the books that I thought would be all sweetness and light started turning on me. Oh, they still have the positive endings…but some darkness (primarily political) keeps creeping in.
WS: Do you think fantasy and science-fiction are uniquely placed to function as a safe space for discussing real-life struggles or fears? Why or why not?
JRW: Fantasy and science fiction offer the opportunity to discuss real-life issues out of the immediately emotional context of contemporary life. SFF allows us to strip away superficial matters that might obstruct looking at a particular struggle or fear, and postulate a different path than the one we may be currently taking, for example. This is especially important when looking at political struggles and fears. I will be honest. All of my work has some sort of political element—whether I’m making a statement about feminism (all of it), or commenting on other political trends I see happening.
Look. I’m a former political activist with a degree in political science. If I were to really double down and start focusing on current events, I’d probably be a decent pundit, because to date the projections I’ve made for my science fiction work have for the most part played out. Back in the ‘90s, when I was doing the worldbuilding for my Netwalk Sequence series, I honestly saw the ‘20s and ‘30s as being a very rough time on the political front, with the rise of growing repression, reversion, and fascism. I wish I could find those notes because, well, then I could pinpoint just how accurate my forecasting was. At the time, I was writing book reviews for a Portland alternative magazine, and most of the books I got were political analyses.
All the same, now that we’re here—I can also look at the work where I started projecting more positive outcomes by the ‘40s and ‘50s. I still believe that. But I now feel that many of us need to be projecting what that positive future is, and how we get there. Without the endless pronouncements of doom that far too many folx are into writing.
WS: Do you think that hopeful stories are important and if so, why?
JRW: I touched a little bit on that in an earlier question, but yes. I do think that hopeful stories are important. Even in The Lord of the Rings, which has some very dark pieces to it, there’s still a hopeful ending. I think we as humans need to be aware that there is more to life than pain, brutality, and suffering. That things can be better. That things should be better.
Without the awareness of possible positive outcomes, how can we otherwise make the choices for a better world? How can we strive to better outcomes for all if we can’t visualize what that will look like? Being able to see what positive alternatives look like is important.
WS: I agree and my first thought regarding hope in fantasy was, in fact, Samwise. What you said about humans needing to be aware that things should be better but also needing to be aware of possible positive outcomes is very interesting. Do your characters ever struggle with having differing ideas regarding how to reach a more positive outcome?
JRW: Not really because that’s generally not the story I’m trying to write. My characters tend to try to grasp for the best positive outcomes.
Well, wait. There are some differing ideas in the Goddess’s Honor series, but those choices also get narrowed down by events.
In the Netwalk Sequence, Diana Landreth and her daughter Melanie Fielding have some very different ideas about how to best deal with the dangerous alien artifact they call the Gizmo—and that leads to the conflict in the final book of the series, where the Gizmo manipulates Diana until it’s almost too late (I ended up using second person POV for Diana in that book, and it was chilling to see the degree to which second person present can depict someone slowly sliding into delusional thinking).
In the Martiniere books, one of the big twists (that gets explored in several alternative universes) is just when Gabe tells Ruby who he really is. Gabe struggles with that disclosure (except in the A Different Life series, where things are really different from the original series). I’m currently serializing a story where disclosure happens much earlier in their relationship before Gabe is silenced by mind control programming for twenty-one years. At this point, the story is as much for me working on plot possibilities as it is anything else (the book, working title The Cost of Power, is currently serializing on my Martiniere Stories Substack for free. You can find the first episode at https://joycef1d.substack.com/p/no-good-choices-part-one). Call it a writing exercise.
WS: Who are some of your favorite authors?
JRW: Oh, I’m always adding favorites to my lists! Often I’ll go on a reading binge of an author whose stories I like. Right now I’m reading a lot of library e-books. I read widely, not so heavily in some genres as I used to do, but still….Some of my long-term favorites are:
Ursula K. Le Guin
Luis Alberto Urrea
And a lot, lot more….
About the author:
Joyce Reynolds-Ward has been called “the best writer I’ve never heard of” by one reviewer. Her work includes themes of high-stakes family and political conflict, digital sentience, personal agency and control, realistic strong women, and (whenever possible) horses, frequently in Pacific Northwest settings.
She is the author of The Netwalk Sequence series, the Goddess’s Honor series, The Martiniere Legacy series, The People of the Martiniere Legacy series, and The Martiniere Multiverse series as well as standalones Beating the Apocalypse, Klone’s Stronghold and Alien Savvy.
Samples of her Martiniere short stories/novel in progress and her nonfiction can be found on Substack at either Speculations from the Wide Open Spaces (writing), Speculations on Politics and Political History (politics), or Martiniere Stories (fiction).
Joyce is a Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off Semifinalist, a Writers of the Future SemiFinalist, and an Anthology Builder Finalist. She is the Secretary of the Northwest Independent Writers Association, a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, and a member of Soroptimists International.
Find out more about Joyce at her website, http://www.joycereynoldsward.com. Joyce is @JoyceReynoldsW1 on Twitter, jreynoldsward on Tumblr, joycereynoldsward on Counter.Social, and jreynoldsward on Dreamwidth.
The Netwalk Sequence
The Martiniere Legacy
The People of the Martiniere Legacy