Themes in My Work

I started keeping a journal in ninth grade, paused for college, and then restarted it when I was in the Peace Corps. I enjoy going back to the worn, penciled pages to see what captivated me. What concerned me when I was fourteen and twenty-four usually still does now at thirty-four.

I return to the same themes in my work as I did in those journals. There is so much I enjoy about writing, but one of the most rewarding aspects is delving into my mind, turning pieces of stories and experiences over and over.

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking” Joan Didion

I agree with Joan. Writing is a lifelong pursuit because it helps me come to understand myself more each time I sit to the page.

In my fiction and my non-fiction, there are a few themes I return to again and again.

Religion

I grew up in a strict Christian denomination. I was required to wear skirts or dresses, even while skiing. I didn’t cut my hair until after I left the church at 18. Swearwords, movie theaters, and popular music were all on a list of forbidden things.

While I understand religion encompasses much more than the control of large communities of people, I explore religion in my writing to make sense of the rules we tell each other. Why do we control lives in this way? How does it affect us? How can we heal from it?

In It’s Over or It’s Eden, words flowed from my fingertips to describe a community of people who used religion as a means of control. It just so happens, in that story, it’s women who seize the power.

Mowing the grass

Loss

Despite the lack of pants in my life, I lived a happy, privileged childhood. I had both parents, three of four biological grandparents, and two siblings. Besides the odd, dearly departed hamster, I experienced very little of death.

Until I lost my first-born daughter. She was five days old. I was twenty-seven.

I still haven’t fully recovered from that loss. Most of the writing regarding that experience is in a drawer for…a while. But themes of grief, loss, and missed fate seeps through my work. It’s unsurprising to me that in Dangerous to Heal, Yaniqui has lost so much but has no choice to keep moving forward, as we all do.

Rebecca and Lydia

Optimism

IRL, I have worked extensively in communities facing food scarcity, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and environmental disaster. I grew up in a religion that told me I wasn’t enough, simply because I was a woman. And nothing compares to losing your own child. 

I fight to remain an optimist. I struggle every day to visualize a better future.

Sure, there are bleak things in my books—annihilation of the human species, a planet that gets destroyed by a solar flare, a certain dog’s life span—but that doesn’t mean the worlds I create are perpetually dark. I want a better future for my characters, and, hence, my readers too. 

We can accept the hard things. Look them in the face and understand they are only one dimension of the lives we lead.

If these sound like things you also can’t help but think about, I suggest you sign up for my monthly spaceside chat here. You’ll receive a free short story about a paleontologist excavating a newly-colonized planet. And yes, there is grief, existential crisis, and new discovery.

Picture of I'm Rebecca Zornow

I'm Rebecca Zornow

A science fiction author living in Wisconsin, I love traveling, eating good food, and reading long books.

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