What I decided to do was to sit down and, very quickly, make a list of things that I most liked in other people’s fiction — these could be thematic, character driven, very general or very specific. I found that when I started this list, it began to incorporate ideas and items which I was inventing as I went along.
I like this sort of exercise, even though I’m not an author, maybe a writer, but not an author. Anyway, these are the themes and things that fascinate me:
1. Community. Communities. How a subculture develops around a shared interest like bicycling or collecting butterflies or playing Scrabble (Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis) or any other random interest. How those communities work and how they coalesce. What the rules are. How they resolve conflict.
2. Education, particularly homeschooling and education/growing up outside the box. Educational freedom and the limits to that freedom. Unschooling.
3. Insanity, mental illness, and mental differences and disabilities. Everything from schizophrenia to autism to deafness and blindness and how those affect perceptions and ideas. Where do we draw the line between insanity and eccentricity? How does blindness affect the way a person thinks about the world?
4. Religious cults and religions other than Christianity. How do these groups answer the Big Questions of life?
5. Eccentric people, collectors, people who live outside the box. How and why do they do it?
6. Old houses full of old stuff.
7. The Civil War. Not so much the war as the time period and the rationalizations and reasons people gave for their actions. The relationships between masters and slaves. The ambivalence in the North about black people in general and especially enslaved black people.
8. Historical Christianity: Celtic Christianity, Eastern Orthodoxy, Nestorians, Coptic Christians, other groups that developed their own cultures around the message of Jesus Christ.
9. Idealism. Don Quixote tilting at windmills and dreaming the impossible dream.
10. Broken relationships. Scarlet and Rhett. Arthur and Guinevere. Can broken relationships be mended? How? How well? Will the cracks always show? Do we need to be broken to be rebuilt into something stronger and more lasting?
11. Wordplay. For example, Alice in Wonderland or the novels of P.G. Wodehouse. I wish I could write like Lewis Carroll or like Wodehouse or even Norton Juster (The Phantom Tollbooth).
12. Anorexia, cutting, alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, self-destructive tendencies in general. This one may not be a very healthy fascination, but it goes back to #3. How do people go “off track,” and how do they return? Where is the line between healthy and unhealthy, between repression, balance, and dissolution, between normal and abnormal?
13. Secret passageways. Secret rooms. Hidden or isolated cottages. Hermits. Aloneness.
14. Small town communities and cloistered communities. Again back to the community. How does a community form? How does it sustain itself? What happens when there are conflicts and broken relationships within the community?
15. Genius. Intelligence. What is intelligence? What can it do, and what are its limits? The Wise Fool.
16. Con artists and liars. A long, elaborate con. Ethical dilemmas like when is it wrong to tell the truth? Is it OK to lie when the Nazis ask if you have Jews hidden in your house? Isn’t a murder mystery the unravelling of an intricate con game? The Great Imposter.
17. Old photographs.
18. Names and naming. What names mean. The origins of certain names. What naming someone does for that person. Nicknames.
19. Biblical allusions.
20. Shakespeare. Not the man so much because we don’t really know that much about him. Bit I’m fascinated by the plays themselves, what they mean, the characters, the relationships, the words Shakespeare used, the intricate design of the plots.
21. Alternate societies and worlds. (Going back to #1) How a world works, what the rules are, what’s different from our society, how one constructs a Narnia or Lilliput or Middle Earth.
22. Aphorisms. How they contain meaning, how they become cliches, how to restate old cliches and give them new meaning.
23. Sports, particularly baseball but other sports too, used as a metaphor for life.
24. Prodigals and how they return home. What makes them come back? How does a person repent?
25. Medieval and Renaissance British history. This interest could be extended to Europe as a whole, but mostly I’m an Anglophile.
26. King Arthur. Knights. Chivalry.
27. Byzantium. Constantinople. Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
28. Autumn is much more interesting than any other season.
29. Race and racial tension. Not so much white people versus black people, but what causes racial divides in the first place. What makes us decide that some people who look a certain way or have a certain ethnic heritage are so different as to be non-human? How do we reconcile ethnic and racial groups who despise one another? How can we see our own prejudices?
30. Matchmaking. How a couple comes together and how they stay together. Not so much romance, but rather the rules and mechanics of how two people are bound together in marriage. How does this cultural community do wedding? Courtship. Arranged marriage. Polygamy. Monogamy.
31. Behind the scenes at any large organization or business or collective. How did the business get started? How does it work? What are they doing back there where we can’t see? Nonfiction books such as Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder or even The Way Things Work by David Macaulay. Fiction books like Hotel by Arthur Hailey or
Runaway Jury by John Grisham.
32. Communication. How babies and young children learn to talk and communicate. Helen Keller and other children with disabilities that interfere with their ability to communicate. How to overcome those disabilities.
33. Twins and triplets. I used to read a very old series of books from my library when I was a beginning reader about twins from different countries: The Dutch Twins, The French Twins, the Chinese Twins, etc.
34. Utopian communities. Dystopian cultures. How this works. What’s wrong in the dystopian community, and how do the characters in the book know it’s wrong if it’s all they’ve ever known?
35. Inventors and inventions. How do they think of such things as bicycles and butterfly bandages?
36. Obsessions and obsessive people. OCD. Monk.
37. Dreams and sleep. What really happens to us when we sleep? How is sleep different from losing consciousness or passing out? Why do we dream? What do dreams really mean?
38. Homemaking. How homemaking can be artistic and a service to those who live in the home. The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer.
39. Plagues. Holocausts. The end of the world. How will it end? With a bang or a whimper?
40. Teddy Roosevelt. Not Franklin, just Teddy.
41. Genealogy. Family history, especially my family history, but others, too, if they have stories to tell.
42. Winston Churchill.
43. Historical mysteries. What ever happened to Ambrose Bierce? Why did Agatha Christie disappear for a week while half of England searched for her? Who was Jack the Ripper?
44. People who do weird, uninhibited things like dance in the supermarket or paint their house dark purple with yellow flowers. I want to paint my front door red, and I want fire engine red counter tops in my kitchen.
45. C.S. Lewis.
46. Gender roles. How are men and women different? How are they the same?
47. The time period between World War I and World War II.
48. Secrets and hidden meanings. Puzzles. Word games. Codes and ciphers.
49. Adoption. Adoption across racial and ethnic lines. Cross-cultural adoption.
50. Artifacts from the 1930’s. Ball canning jars. Cigar boxes. Dial telephones. Old radios.
51. Word origins. Languages. Dead languages and how they died out.
52. Lists and list making.
I’m probably forgetting something that interests me very much, but these are some of my own obsessions. What are yours?