Wednesday is here and it's time for another interview. Today our guest is Renee Cheung whose story "Memoirs of a Forgotten Knight" will be published this May in Hero Lost: Mysteries of Death and Life. In my interviews, the authors will touch on lost heroes, villains, and writing darkness to find the light.
Jen: The Anthology deals with the concept of "Lost Heroes". Do you think that perceived heroes (in real life and in fairy tales) should uphold their position as heroes regardless of personal challenge? In other words, if a hero has an important role to play still, not just “I saved this place or that person once upon a time”, do you believe that person is responsible for continuing their heroics or should they be “allowed” by society to fade quietly into the background?
Renee: Let me first touch on heroes in reality. I have written before that being a hero means selflessly giving to a greater good. And in reality, to do that continuously is basically to ask someone to continually sacrifice some part of their lives and to that point, I don’t think it’s really being fair. So in that sense, I would always advocate for heroes in real life to be allowed to fade quietly into the background.
My philosophy comes from a short story from my favourite author, Charles de Lint, called "Bird Bones and Ashes". It’s a tale that has stayed with me although it has been years since I read in. Be forewarned, my quick summary lacks the gracefulness the story is written in but in order to understand my position, I do need to go into it.
In the story, a news journalist is basically given super-powers by totems and she becomes a night vigilante, shutting down child abusers. But she does this every night shutting down abusers as quickly as she could find them but it leads her to lose her day job, turning into a homeless lady and eventually she is barely eating. And the damage isn’t just the physical. As part of her powers, she has to look into the dreams of the abuser and it’s hollowing her out. Essentially, she has given and given and taken nothing back until she reaches to a point where it hinders her ability to give further. It isn’t until she learned to take something back for herself that she finds the balance to enable her to do what she needs.
So by the same token, I believe that in order to be able to give, to be a hero for someone, you have to take care of yourself first. After all, if we cannot take care of ourselves, how can we be trusted to take care of others?
Unfortunately, as bystanders, we are also too ready to put others on a pedestal then watch almost gleefully when they fall. I suppose it makes us feel more human - that if our heroes can have faults, then perhaps we can stop feeling so damn guilty about our own. So what happens when someone commits an act of heroism? We expect them to become an example of all that is good and fair in the world. Yet, we are all humans, we are all fallible. Is it really fair then to ask another human being to give up their humanity just because they aspire to a greater good in that one moment in time? I personally say not.
Now fairy tales, on the other hand, are a very different story. They are simply that - tales to inspire hope, to be guiding posts on what society deems good. Heroes in stories give us something to aspire to. I have no problems with holding a fictitious character up to a higher standard than someone in real life because in truth, for a fictitious character to sacrifice continually is not hurting anyone in reality (well, unless you subscribe to the theory of endless multiverses, and if that’s the case, we’re all in big trouble.)
(J): I'm a hard and fast believer in the need for villains. Without villains, we are unable to truly understand the dichotomy between “good” and “bad” and the war that has raged in every story since their first telling. How do you feel about the need for darkness in stories to find the light? Are you a fan of fallen heroes who DO become villains? And if your fallen hero was to become a villain, what might that look like?
(R): I suppose I can start by saying that my story has no true villain, or at least, no clear actor that causes villainy on purpose, or consciously. There is plenty of darkness indeed, but it is the set of circumstances that both starts the story and leads to Cormac’s eventual fall. That said, I too believe the need for darkness in order to find light and in Memoirs of a Forgotten Knight, the darkness originates from events happened long ago.
In society and in language, we often define abstracts such as good and bad, light and darkness, by their opposites. This struck me especially as I have been reading young children’s books for my son and so much is “what it is” and “what it isn’t”. We never quite lose that way of defining concepts as we grow older and I believe that this what makes pitting opposites against each other in storytelling so effective.
In general, I am a fan of fallen heroes who become villains, though I’d like to think of them more as a sliding schedule rather than direct opposites. A hero may choose a selfish reason but does that truly make them a villain? I love characters that shift along the grayscale as I think they are more realistic, complex and thus interesting.
In a way, it would be all too easy for Cormac to become a villain. And perhaps, he does for a little while, though I’ll leave that to the judgement of the readers. Any further word, however, will probably spoil the story so I will leave it at that.
(J): For kicks and giggles: What TV show would your fallen hero binge watch on Netflix?
And then my husband had to point out Luke Cage. His words, not mine:
He didn’t grow up on the streets of Harlem, but he feels he could identify with it. And he is fascinated with the idea of a barber shop.
Thank you SO MUCH, Renee, for taking the time to answer these questions. To learn more about Renee and her writing, visit her WEBSITE and BLOG. You can contact Renee via FACEBOOK or TWITTER. And make sure you wander over to Lost Hero Anthology to learn more about Renee's story, "Memoirs of a Forgotten Knight" and pre-order your copy!