One of the troubles I tend to find when explaining my “genre” to people is that my writing doesn’t necessarily fit into a standard genre. One of the main goals with my writing is to write things that might make people think. Having been a philosophy major in college at the University of Wisconsin (I double-majored that with journalism), I tend to enjoy things that make me think – in particular about thoughts of ethics, self and morality. For that reason, I also tend to employ a lot of these themes in my writing. I like to take somewhat familiar genres, and write somewhat within their “rules” but use those stories as catalysts for exploring deeper themes.
The Trouble With Being God, for example, was described as a “philosophical thriller.” The reason it had that name was because it was the best type of description I could come up with for it. Yes, it dealt primarily within the realm of a psychological thriller, but rather than delve into issues of psychology, it much more focused on issues of philosophy – ideas like religion, free will, fatalism and the concepts of self.
A Confession took this to a much larger extreme, and is probably best described as existential fiction. As part of my philosophy studies I found a particular level of interest in the works of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, which then moved me toward additional interest in writings by Kafka, Sartre, Camus and Dostoevsky. The idea for A Confession was to take these concepts of existentialism (life has no meaning, etc) and cross them with a libertarian political perspective, to build out a vision of a flawed man, living by his own set of ethics, in our modern world.
The point of all this is that I try to write books that make people think about things they tend to ignore. It’s not to alter beliefs, so much as to raise the concept that maybe our beliefs aren’t so well-founded. Understanding of self is core to my writing, and my next novel will be a prime example of that.
The challenge in writing philosophical fiction, in my opinion, is to write stories that are mainstream enough that everyday readers can find them enjoyable and connect with them. Of course the lack of resolution, and the generally unlikable characters turn some readers off – but the ultimate goal for me is to write mainstream(ish) works of thoughtful fiction.
Fiction in this realm seems to have died out considerably in the past few decades, possibly because it’s gone out of style. In my opinion though, these are the most interesting stories – stories that are believable enough that we could envision ourselves in the characters’ shoes, even if the thought of being there makes us uncomfortable.
What I want when someone is done reading my works is to have some kind of reaction – and to have it sit with them a while afterwards. I have no idea if I do it, but I do know one thing – when I write, I try to write books and stories that I, myself, would love to read. My hopes are that there are others out there who find them just as fascinating to read as I do to write.