Hope in Hard Times: J.R. Dawson, Chuck Tingle, and Durreen Shahnaz
Tor Presents: Voyage Into Genre S03E01
Tor Books, in partnership with Literary Hub, presents Voyage Into Genre! Every other Wednesday, join host Drew Broussard for conversations with Tor authors discussing their new books, the future, and the future of genre. Oh, and maybe there’ll be some surprises along the way…
Looks like Team Genre is blasting off again! I’m thrilled to be back with a new season, off on new adventures, zipping through the genre-verse to chat with another incredible roster of Tor authors and featuring a jaw-dropping line-up of special guests.
From the moment we started putting together this season, an episode about hope seemed like an obvious inclusion. Then, the more conversations I had for the season, the more I realized it needed to be our lead-off episode. It’s hard times out there: climate change, political instability, runaway economic inequality, any number of things that hit the headlines seemingly every day of the week. But this is exactly the moment when we ought to turn to stories — for escape, and for possible pathways out of the darkness.
This week, we kick things off with J.R. Dawson and their debut novel The First Bright Thing, discussing writing about performance, the root of her Sparks, and having hope even in the face of a move out of a beloved home. Then, Chuck Tingle joins me to talk about his full-length debut Camp Damascus as well as something he calls the Trinity of Maligned Genres, what he means when he says ‘love is real’, and rooting demons in reality. Finally, entrepreneur and author Durreen Shahnaz explains the idea behind the title of her book The Defiant Optimist and how we can take oppressive systems and make them instead work for the good of us all.
See you in two weeks,
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Read the full episode transcript here.
J.R. Dawson on Writing The Stage:
When I started writing the circus, I was like, oh, well the circus is just performance art, it’s so close to theater, it’ll be fine. And then the more that I looked into it, I’m like, oh no, this is a whole other thing. It’s like a second cousin to theater and having rinn be a theater kid and go into it with the lens and perspective of somebody who’s grown up in the theater, I was able to kind of show how they’re related while still respecting the closed community of the circus. I didn’t wanna pry too much in my research or like get up in people’s faces and be like, tell me all of your secrets. So yeah, I think, I think the circus for me, in my head was always like this is a cool version of a spectacle.
And in theater school, they get kind of stuffy about the word spectacle. Um, they’re like, well, theater and art are when there’s a catharsis and a plot and the character and all this. And well spectacle is when it’s just there for showmanship.
And I’m like, well, but as the 21st century moves on, like sometimes there’s catharsis in just having a piece of art and be like, Hey, this is fun and it makes people happy and it doesn’t have to be Eurpidies in order to have worth! Like, I really think that theater is super cool and important and that there’s all of this cool stuff that happens behind the scenes and there’s all of these amazing people making amazing art, and I’ve given tours to kids going through the different theaters that I work at and being like, this is where this happens and this is where this happens. And that’s kind of where my heart ended up being, is doing this introduction to this cool, magical place.
So I mean, it’s my life’s work and so it was kind of easy to write.
Chuck Tingle on the Trinity of Maligned Genre:
I have something I talk about: the Trinity of Maligned Genre, which to me is romance/erotica, comedy, and horror. I think that these three genres are very looked down upon and I believe honestly it is because these genres are of the body. They elicit a reaction of, with romance/erotica, arousal; comedy, laughter; and horror, fear or, or a scream, which is fundamentally kind of outside the traditional structure of what a story is trying to accomplish.
To say, this is of the body, it’s lower class… I think that’s an unfair way of looking at things. I think that it has a lot of value because it is instinctual and therefore it’s, it’s very honest.
There is something primal about it, and I think that if you can combine that honesty with a sort of intellectualism, and in turn use them both together, that’s kind the most powerful combination there is. So going from erotica and romance to horror.
I still see it as playing with this fundamental under appreciation or just lack of, uh, lack of believing in the power of it. And then once you turn it on its head, everyone says, “whoa, where did this come from?!” And you could see that happen over and over again with horror movies that have great social commentary, do very well at the box office and romance novels being one of the most popular genres, these things that on paper should be obvious to everyone. And everyone kind of pretends that these genres are just down in the basement, tucked away. We don’t talk about them because they’re not real. And I think specifically erotica and horror, you, you’re also outside of all the you know, high-minded things and theory I was just talking about in a very fundamental way. Um, you, you are playing with taboo ideas, things that will get you an R rating.
I think that a lot of buckaroos don’t realize, if you just say, oh, we’re gonna eliminate violence or sex or these different things. Those are fundamental parts of, of being human and you can certainly have stories without them, but, I think that you are limiting yourself when you don’t have that ability to just harness that primal thing, which, you know, I, I, I don’t have to deal with the fear of that in erotica, it’s very explicit, and then in horror also, I’m used to pushing past these boundaries as well.
Durreen Shahnaz on the Work of Hope:
I think if you’re going to be defiant optimist — and I do really sincerely, hope that this term somehow makes people think, you know whether they buy the book or not, it doesn’t really matter — the whole point is just really trying to embrace this feeling that you need to have people to be able to interact, right? Any market, any sort of relationship, whatever it is. And I think I do feel the defiant optimists can be the people who can take on creating that bridge, right?
I come from (what was then, is not anymore) one of the poorest countries in the world. What gives me hope is when I go back home and I see the women that I worked with when I gave them the first $10 loan to start their business. And I go back and I see that my God, they have flourished. A few of the villages I visited a few years ago and they were just, when they saw me, they were literally like crying and they’re like, oh my God. See what I have. I have a fridge now. There’s movement, there’s momentum, you know, and yes, there’s momentum on the negative side as well, but, you know, reality is it is moving.
It’s like this glacier, it seems like slow, but fast forward 25 years later. I mean, these women are now literally helping the next generation and the next generation who are opening up their businesses and you see this thriving community. So I do think that, you know, when you see that, like just right there, you’re like, oh my God, this is possible, wow, it was so difficult to do that, but we did it.