Retaining Humanity In A Supernatural World
Hello there! Jess Haines here. I’m the author of the H&W Investigations series—urban fantasy novels about Shiarra Waynest, a human private investigator in an alternate, present-day New York. Somehow she keeps getting pulled into supernatural troubles way above her pay grade…
One of the most fascinating aspects of fantasy is, of course, the magic. Magical items, magical creatures, magical spells and locations—they all have their place, but I think sometimes the human side is forgotten or taken a little too much for granted.
Take some of the big players in urban fantasy—Harry Dresden, Anita Blake, Sookie Stackhouse, Mercy Thompson, Rachel Morgan, Atticus O’Sullivan, October Daye, just to name a few well known characters—and you’ll notice not a one of them is human. Most of those characters’ closest friends are also not human. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it was one of the factors that drove me to write a main character who was both human and had something of a phobia of supernaturals.
It’s easy to admire a character who has incredible powers at their fingertips. Whether it’s magic spells, shapeshifting, to command the dead, to control animals, or to be able to tease and trick the senses, those abilities are often larger than life and more fascinating than the humdrum existence of the mundane. It also makes it easier to save the day when you have such a leg up on the rest of humanity. Not to mention face a bad guy whose powers might be comparable, even if they are greater.
In urban fantasy, humans (usually) make up the bulk of the population and shouldn’t be underestimated. Even when a minor character’s purpose is solely to be a victim, they shouldn’t just be fodder or collateral damage. Being food or an unintended casualty doesn’t excuse a writer from making their humans into more than just a parody or stereotype. After all, we readers and writers are—I hope—Homo sapiens. We work and interact with other humans every day. Even when the mythology of a particular series states that the monsters are in the majority, it doesn’t mean the people in the background shouldn’t act as… well… people.
In urban fantasy, when a supernatural is faced with the general public, the humans tend to react badly once they realize that what they’re dealing with isn’t like them. After all, we generally fear the things we don’t understand. Most urban fantasy takes the opportunity to present anything different or “Other” as prompt enough for blatantly xenophobic behavior out of the general populace. Once in a while there might be a few in the minority who exhibit intense fascination instead. In general it seems they lean more towards a barely contained fear displayed as covert or sometimes overt hostility.
Just because something—someone—is different doesn’t mean they’re not worth getting to know. Just as someone who isn’t magical in nature isn’t necessarily boring and not worth getting to know. True, it all depends on their role in the tale, but their untold story could be every bit as gripping and complex as that of the magical beings who feature if only they’re given an opportunity to shine.
It’s a challenge to write a main character who is vulnerable to a werewolf’s claws, could fall under a vampire’s hypnotic gaze, or might end up enchanted by a mage’s spell. It’s all too easy to make a normal person look foolish or their circumstances overwhelmingly depressing when the character is easily outshone by their supernatural counterparts. Even if you’re shooting for humor, making every person who isn’t magical in nature into a caricature of the worst humanity has to offer is not the way to go.
Though, on a related note, one doesn’t have to be a monster to do monstrous things. When faced with the extraordinary, sometimes it’s easy to forget amidst all that exoticism just how dangerous and clever we can be. Having fur, fangs, claws or magic are not prerequisites to being tough, skilled, or capable of dark deeds.
A person also doesn’t have to be capable of superhuman feats to show great compassion. Humanity falls all over the spectrum and while we all might occasionally hold someone up or tear someone down, everyone has the capacity for great good and great evil. Even when it’s not readily apparent, character, intelligence and competence has nothing to do with superpowers or unnatural hungers—and the supernaturals of the world best never forget that.
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Blog Tour Calendar Link: http://jesshaines.com/blog/?p=2210
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Author Bio: Jess Haines writes about furred and fanged things that go bump in the night. Best known for the H&W Investigations urban fantasy series, she's been writing since she was a teenager and was first published in 2010. Her latest release is Forsaken by the Others (Kensington/Zebra; July 2, 2013). Visit her at www.JessHaines.com for the latest news and updates.
Forsaken by the Others Book Description:
The Others–vampires, werewolves, things that go chomp in the night–don’t just live in nightmares anymore. They’ve joined with the mortal world. And for private investigator Shiarra Waynest, that means mayhem…
Have a one night stand with a vampire, and you can end up paying for it for eternity. P.I. Shiarra Waynest, an expert on the Others, knows that better than most. Yet here she is, waking up beside charismatic vamp Alec Royce with an aching head…and neck. Luckily, Shia has the perfect excuse for getting out of town–namely, a couple of irate East Coast werewolf packs who’d like to turn her into a chew toy.
On Royce’s suggestion, Shia temporarily relocates to Los Angeles. But something is rotten–literally–in the state of California, where local vampires are being attacked by zombies. Who could be powerful enough to control them–and reckless enough to target the immortal? Following the trail will lead Shia to a terrifying truth, and to an ancient enemy with a personal grudge…
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Thanks Jess for stopping by, much appreciated. This is where I usually plug some links, but they've already been taken care of above.
In any case, hope you guys enjoy her novels. Jess is a great person to talk to, so don't hesitate to say "hi" to her once in a while.