At Clarion, I was nailed more than once for drawing on America as a setting and source for my writing. Given that I’m British, and my stories were being critiqued by a group of very intelligent and culturally aware Americans from across that vast continent, I really had no defence.
After one critique Neil talked to me about Americaland, the fictitious facsimile of the United States where many British writers set stories, himself included early in the early issues of Sandman. Americaland is real place for British writers, it is built from thousands of fragments of American TV, films, music, comics and other cultural artefacts. It’s a place filled with 1950’s dinners and long desolate highways among other things. And its just as imaginary as a Britain filled with red telephone boxes and bowler hatted business men.
(One draw of Americaland is the British tendency towards naffness…IE…any story that seems fascinating and dark in Americaland becomes utterly naff if you transplant it to the UK. Batman in Gotham = Dark Knight. Batman in Birmingham = mentalist in tights. If you are British and want to write Batman, or any other American archetype, then welcome to Americaland.)
Americaland is as much a fantasy world as Middle Earth or Dune. Some of the most fascinating fantasy worlds are the ones that overlap our reality so closely that the reader can almost accept them as real. Perhaps that’s why Americaland, with all its inaccuracies and cliches, can be such a compelling place to set stories in. Whenever I turn my hand to any story of the horrific or dark fantasy variety, I find Americaland creeping in from the edges. However hard I try to root these stories in the Britain I know, American locations and characters crop up again and again. When I turned to my imagination for material this weekend, it gave me a man and woman meeting in a dinner and going on a road trip. Its a story that can only take place in Americaland. So do I accept where my imagination is taking me, for all its flaws, or rail against it and force myself to write in British settings?
You tell me.