Sunday, February 8, 2015

Diversity in Fantasy: Strange Magic

Our first guest blog post in the "Diversity in Fantasy" series is by author James A. Hunter.

Yancy Lazarus is having a bad day: gangland murders, colossal frame job, a demonic nightmare, and some secretive ass-hat with mean ol’ magical chops and a small army of hyena-faced, body-snatching baddies. Now, he’s gonna have to figure out how all the pieces fit together before he ends up with a toe tag. Jeez. Some days just aren't worth getting out of bed for. 

Hi all, my name is James Hunter and Strange Magic is my debut novel, and the first in a planned series of novels featuring Yancy Lazarus, the wandering blues musician turned gunslinger, mage, and Fix-It man. So just a little about me: I’m a former Marine Corps Sergeant, combat veteran, and pirate hunter (seriously). I’m also a member of The Royal Order of the Shellback—‘cause that’s a real thing. And, a space-ship captain, can’t forget that. Okay  … the last one is only in my imagination. Currently, I work as a missionary and international aid worker with my wife and young daughter in Bangkok, Thailand. When I’m not working, writing, or spending time with family, I occasionally eat and sleep. 

I’ve been an avid reader for years and years—fantasy, sci-fi, and horror have always been my staple genres. As a young kid I didn’t much care for reading, but as a teenager I discovered the Harry Potter books and fell in love (so thank you J. K. Rowling). I have worked seriously at writing on and off for six or seven years—turning out two and a half novels, which were irredeemably bad. But writing had grown into something that I really loved doing, so I kept churning away at it. Strange Magic was my third complete book and the first novel I finished that I thought: this is good enough for someone else to read. 

Alright, on to the really good stuff—diversity in literature. One of the great things about being a writer is having an opportunity to step outside of yourself and into the shoes of someone else; to temporarily take on a point of view other than your own. That’s a big part of why I love books so much, and that is at the heart of diversity: getting a chance to see in new ways, and from new perspectives. Though my novel is typical of the broader Urban Fantasy genre in a lot of ways—smart-mouthed, self-deprecating, underdog hero—I also wanted to do something that would contribute a new perspective. Not an easy thing to do in any genre and though I don’t think I’m exactly breaking fresh and untouched soil with Strange Magic, I do like to think that Yancy offers a viewpoint rarely seen in Fantasy or Urban Fantasy: that of an older protagonist.

Typically, when discussing diversity within the written world, the focus tends to be on underrepresented minority groups such as racial minorities, LGTB folks, or women, but one category that rarely gets touched upon are the elderly—to me, it seems there is a remarkable amount of age discrimination within popular genre literature. Most heroes/heroines in Urban Fantasy, (despite race, gender, or sexual orientation) are almost uniformly late twenty something’s or early thirty somethings (assuming the books aren’t YA, which a lot of them are). Occasionally, you will have someone in their early forties, or immortal beings that have existed for ages, but rarely do you see someone who would qualify as a Baby boomer taking center stage. 

When older characters do pop up, it’s invariable in a secondary role: father or mother figure, perhaps a mentor, or a trusted counselor. In some ways, it’s almost understandable—most people don’t want to read about budding romances between sixty-year-olds, and someone with hip dysplasia would have trouble cutting it in an action adventure. With that said, having very few older protagonists sends a message to folks that are outside of this popular (younger) prescribed age range. You’ve been relegated to the bench. Your story is over. You can coach, maybe—give some guidance, sure—but leave the rough stuff and the romance for the young guys and gals. 

So, I purposely made a character who could qualify for retirement, someone who isn’t quite so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as your typical fantasy protagonist. Likewise, Yancy’s partner, Greg, is a retiree monster hunter who holds his own just fine despite being able to nab the early bird special. It would have been far easier to write an early thirty something protagonist—I’m in my late twenties so this would have been my natural perspective—but I specifically chose to create a character with a lot of history, much of it not so good. He is a deadbeat dad and a war Vet with PTSD, who is basically homeless. A guy running away from a lifetime of difficult choices. He is not a bright young kid with a future stretched out before him, and that’s a view that’s worth looking from too. Again, this isn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff, but it is a story that’s worth telling. 

Ultimately, as an author, my main goal is to tell a good story, but I also want to create characters that a wider portion of the population can relate to and identify with. There are a lot of older, deadbeat dads and moms out there—guys and gals who have made bad decisions, and often regret those decisions; people who are looking back on life, sure, but who still have their share of stories to tell and be a part of. As one of my readers commented, “[It’s] nice to read a story with a protagonist who's got contemporary life experience to mine. Semper Fi, Yancey.”  Hopefully, people will enjoy Strange Magic for what it is—an action packed, noir style romp—while simultaneously being reminded that regardless of our age, or the decisions we’ve made, redemption isn’t ever really out of grasp.

Click on the cover image or on the title here to purchase this book:
Strange Magic 

1 comment:

  1. Nice discussion of this often overlooked issue, James.