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Hopepunk -- by Sandra Seaman

Finding a Genre Box for "Seeds of Change" - Hopepunk Feels Like Home

Writing a book is only half the battle—or half the joy. Let’s keep it positive. We are talking about hopepunk here. 

When I finished writing Seeds of Change, I knew it wasn’t going to easily fit into a genre box—or any box for that matter. It has become very important to shoehorn one’s creative words into a particular genre so that the book can be shelved with other books of its kind in brick and mortar bookstores or promoted with other books of its kind online. This is a marketing problem and a marketing solution. It doesn’t have much to do with creativity or originality.

I knew my book fit loosely into the science fiction genre because the setting takes place on a spaceship and an exoplanet. Beyond that, it doesn’t fulfill some of the expected sci fi tropes.

I stumbled upon an article on the online news and opinion website, Vox about a genre labeled hopepunk. It all started with Alexandra Rowland.

From the Vox article: “The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk,” declared Alexandra Rowland, a Massachusetts writer, in a two-sentence Tumblr post in July 2017. “Pass it on.” This post began a movement of sorts.

It started for me with a similar gut reaction to the grim, dark, dysfunctional stories that I was passing over endlessly in my own search for something to watch, something to read. Having had some grim, dark and dysfunctional moments in my own life, I had not one iota of interest in reading or watching stories that were completely devoid of hope—stories that featured a cast of characters who didn’t even make a feeble attempt at integrity. I didn’t want to fill my psyche with the idea that the entire world, and for that matter, the entire universe was conspiring against me.

The stories that capture me are about the grey areas of life, and about what people do to lift themselves out of dysfunction and despair. I have seen people rise up out of the depths and those are the heroes in my life. They are not perfect people, they are flawed and human, but they continue to fight for every inch of growth.

From the Vox article: “Now, picture that swath of comfy ideas, not as a brightly optimistic state of being, but as an active political choice, made with full self-awareness that things might be bleak or even frankly hopeless, but you’re going to keep hoping, loving, being kind nonetheless.

Through this framing, the idea of choosing hope becomes both an existential act that affirms your humanity, and a form of resistance against cynical worldviews that dismiss hope as a powerful force for change.”

An author friend, Cathleen Townsend, who writes stories in a similar genre labeled Noblebright, commented that “it amuses me that we need a name for what was basically classic fantasy and SF.” She has a point, that perhaps we have fallen so deeply into the trend of pessimism that we now need a name for work that dares to be optimistic. Even though optimism may be a Hopepunk attribute, it is anything but pollyanna. It fully acknowledges the darkness but refuses to stop fighting for the light.

As much as I don't like putting books and people in boxes, I think Seeds of Change fits the hopepunk box well enough, and all its odd angles have found a genre home.

If you would like to read more about hopepunk, here are a couple of articles to get you started.

Hopepunk, the latest storytelling trend, is all about weaponized optimism

Alexandra Rowland on hopepunk, grimdark, story and imagination

Posted by Sandra Seaman 31 Jul 2019 at 01:33
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Responses to this blog

Rellrod 1 Aug 2019 at 02:08  
Brava! I made note of this post when it appeared on your own blog, Sandra. It seems to describe just the kind of story I like best to read — or write. Is there a source where one can find a list of stories that fit the hopepunk category?

Jberkowitz 1 Aug 2019 at 04:26  

The first of the two links above contains an extensive list of books, music, film, and TV that can be considered hopepunk.
Beaves 1 Aug 2019 at 04:32  
Huh. I guess that describes what I'm writing right now: what I've termed banjo-punk in my bid to categorize the story. Part post-apocalyptic, man-is-a-wolf-to-man story, part small-town, decent-country-folk yarn.
Bluewave 1 Aug 2019 at 14:37  
Holycrap...youíve put to words what Iím working on. In my story, aliens are coming to Earth. Itís not an ďinvasionĒ - even though a lot of the Hook crits I got assumed thatís where it was going. Sure...these aliens have an agenda - one they are afraid to immediately reveal. Bit itís not a takeover, or anything remotely aggressive. And they are truly willing to help humanity.

Thereís violence and upheaval, to be sure. Yet thereís also hope.
Jberkowitz 2 Aug 2019 at 23:42  
Huh. I guess that describes what I'm writing right now: what I've termed banjo-punk in my bid to categorize the story. Part post-apocalyptic, man-is-a-wolf-to-man story, part small-town, decent-country-folk yarn.
You didn't seriously just make up your own genre? It's a sure way to get rejected by an agent before they even glance at your work.

John Berkowitz
Am I Doing This Right? Writing the middle grade novel and living to tell about it.
Follow me on Twitter.

Sandree 7 Aug 2019 at 16:12  
I just saw the responses here. So glad it strikes a chord with some people. I do think there is an appetite for this kind of story but you have to find your readers. I get some people loving my story and some people that just donít get it and are looking for more darkness and mayhem. The science fiction and fantasy genres are so wide that it can be hard to figure out how to target your readers. I rewrote my blurb in a effort to not promise mayhem and thus not draw the wrong readers. It might be helping??
Lmdewit 7 Aug 2019 at 17:02  
Lovely, Sandra, I'm with you all the way! I too dislike stories that don't give me some hope. I don't get them; the world's dark enough for me to want to go in there. I do like the mayhem and getting dark, but I have to have my light at the end of the tunnel. One of my favorite urban fantasy authors do that: when I'm about to scream because things are just too grim for my taste, it seems he reads my mind and voilŠ! he gives me what I was crying for: my hope. Laughter. He might plunge the characters again in that dark mayhem but he gave me enough hope for me to keep on. And he delivers.
So that's what I love to read. I don't want to board the Train to Happyland in my stories, that's too much for me. I like conflict, dismay, characters doing stupid things that make them go back some steps, but then, I want my happy ending. I demand it.

So yes, there is an appetite for those stories. And your blurb should hint what they'll find so they won't be disappointed. Good luck!
Sandree 8 Aug 2019 at 11:23  
Iím working on the balance between conflict and resolution in my own stories. I know I instinctively shy away from the dark moments as a writer, probably because Iíve lived some of that. But when I observe my own reading habits, I enjoy a story that has enough conflict before the resolution and ones that are too sweet and one note tend to bore me. Even my childhood favorite, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is a literal battle between the dark and the light. But there is a fine line for me when I am reading or watching. There are stories that go too deep into the darkness for me and even if the promise of hope is there, I canít stomach it.

I am noticing that with television, there is a tendency for a series to start out with a tolerable balance but to become increasingly dark and conflicted as if the writers feel they have to ramp up the conflict or they wonít hold the viewer. I have the opposite reaction and they eventually lose me. This happened to me recently with The Handmaidís Tale which is darker than
I usually watch but the production was so good that I stuck with it. Now that they have gone beyond the original story which seemed to have some hints of hope, they seem to be stuck in that ever grimmer cycle that turns me off and I canít keep watching.

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