Idolatry and writing: Laurell K. Hamilton

Being a writer, I read, a lot.  I always have.  So in an attempt to bring everyone full circle to where I am at as a writer now, I will share with you one of my biggest inspirations and why.

Laurell K. Hamilton is a writer that spans multiple genres in one series.  She is currently writing two different series and releases one book a year for each one.  She is apparently working on something completely new and separate from both so her schedule may change.  One series is about Faerie and her take on the Sidhe Fae, called Merry Gentry.  The other series is Anita Blake:  Vampire Hunter.

Anita Blake is the series that has lead me down the path of writing I am on today.  I have always written fantasy fiction, but have never seen a mix of genres woven together so wonderfully as Hamilton does.  Anita Blake is a fascinating mix of urban fantasy, horror, dark fantasy, romance, mystery and reality.  These books embody the reason why I love fantasy so much, there are no limitations.  Reality has limitations, our imaginations do not.  Hamilton takes her imagination and blends it with countless hours of research to make her world mesh with ours perfectly.

Zombies that shamble, vampires that are both beautiful and selfish, savage creatures, wereanimals of every type that reflect a true blending of human and animal instincts, demons that are far more evil than we imagine them to be, and multitudes of other magical creatures that will hunt you down in the dark take the stage in the Anita Blake novels.

What draws me so much to Hamilton’s work, which is also reflected in the Merry Gentry series, is the new level she takes dark fantasy to; more of a true blending of horror and fantasy.  To me it makes so much more sense than “traditional fantasy” or whatever that is.  Because when I imagine a world with magic and monsters made or magic or able to use magic, I imagine a world a whole hell of a lot scarier than the one we live in.  So many people in reality already have evil intentions, imagine if they actually had abilities that made it easier for them to meet their goals.  Mass mind control, command over armies of undead, clairvoyance, or telekinesis?  Magic has no limit, for good or evil.

Hamilton takes that and runs with it.  Over the course of the series, we get to watch Anita grow from a fledgling animator that can raise a few zombies a night from the grave to a necromancer that can control all types of undead, including vampires.  Anita uses her abilities to hunt rogue vampires and lycanthropes in a world where vampires have legal citizenship, but are now tied by human law.  She works with the police to solve magical murders and mysteries that they can’t see all sides to, she executes monsters that are too quick for a mere human to hunt down, and raises zombies at night.  In Anita’s world, people pay large amounts of money to have people raised from the dead for a night, to testify in court because they died before they could, to settle life insurance disputes,  to help rewrite history books more accurately.

The magic system in Hamilton’s universes is complex and well planned out.  Like I said, she blends real world research, like the weapons that Anita uses to hunt monsters, with the powers she has made up for her characters so that the world seems not only plausible, but like it would actually exist, if only we had magic in our world.  So many urban fantasy systems are cut-and-paste, the magical world is hidden from the human one so humans know nothing of magic.  This makes it easy for the author, they don’t have to painstakingly blend the two worlds together.  Hamilton refuses to be so lazy.  She makes her faerie princess a public figure in the human media, basically a celebrity that people scramble for glimpses of.  Anita is a federal marshal that travels across states to help the FBI hunt creatures it doesn’t know enough about.  She gives lectures across the country on zombies and advocates in court against their use for slave labor.

I’m sure you can google Hamilton and find tons of critics who will say bad things and I have plenty of critique for her work as well.  No writer is perfect, especially one that has deadlines to meet in order to keep publishers happy.  This blog post is about the things she writes that inspire me.

I write dark fantasy.  I write dark fantasy because our world is not bright, it is dark.  Awful things happen to good people every day.  Weak people are thrown into situations that might break them or change them, through no fault of their own.  Fantasy is an escape, but by no means does it have to be meaningless.  Throughout Hamilton’s series, Anita struggles time and time again with her faith, her love life, her sexuality, the emotional abuse she suffered as a child, the loss of a parent as a child, the fear of not being accepted, what it truly means to be a “living” being, fear of death, what immortality means for the soul and the list goes on.

The heroes and heroines of our fantasy worlds struggle with the same things that real human beings deal with everyday, the setting is just different and often times more dangerous.  If my readers can see their heroes struggle with their eating disorders, their self harm, their abuse, all while facing dangers greater than what the average human faces, why can’t they defeat their very real inner and outer demons as well?

I began reading the Anita Blake series when I was 14 years old, but Hamilton definitely writes for adults.  There is graphic sexual tones and scenes in her work, and while I have no problem with it, I want to write strictly for Young Adults.  Mostly because I wish that there had been more age appropriate options for me as a teenager.  I have always been drawn to dark fantasy and horror and the only places you can find the good stuff is in the adult section of the library (although I will admit that the YA genre has grown a lot since I was a teen).  I don’t want my readers to have to go to the adult section.  I don’t want their parents picking up a book they borrowed from the library and reading a sex scene and freaking out on their teenage son or daughter.

I want to write something for kids that I wish that I had had at their age.  Something real and not full of fluff, writing that isn’t afraid to reach down into the darkest part of our beings and rip out the parts of ourselves that we are scared to look at.  Books are a safe places for self reflection, mostly because we have our heroes right alongside us.  Many people think that a thirteen year old girl or boy isn’t capable of harboring those beasts and emotions, but I know otherwise.  Armed with the knowledge that it can be done, and that Hamilton is a leading example of it in the adult fantasy world, I want to use fantasy to crack us all wide open.  I acknowledge that it is just as important for young adults and teens to peer into the innermost parts of their being as it is for adults to do so.  It is important that they get the clear message that is okay for them to feel the things that they do and that they are not alone.

On fantasy fiction and healing magic

Fantasy comes in many mediums, books, movies, video games, paintings, poetry and many more.  It provides an escape for artists and consumers alike and unleashes the imagination; challenges our comfort zones.  Even in far off worlds, we can find kinship with characters that make difficult moral, social, and life changing decisions, whilst escaping the often mundane circumstances of our own lives.

Don’t get me wrong, reality is important, but fantasy is not so far off from reality as many make it out to be.  The stereotype of the nerd or the geek is always laughed at.  People look at me like I’m a freak when I mention I play Dungeons and Dragons, even more so for being unashamed and proud of it.  Mainstream society paints fantasy and fiction as a guilty pleasure to be indulged in where no one else can see.

I believe that fantasy is a relevant genre, no matter what medium it is portrayed in.  As a child, books were my escape from a world I often had no wish to be in, away from a life at school and home that I sometimes hated.  As I grew older, books still held my interest, but I discovered video games and found some of the same things that I loved about books were also in games, except I could BE the heroine, instead of just identify with the hero or heroine.  The escape was important, but also the trials characters had to go through was important.  I was not alone.  Even if others did not see the hero’s problem, he still had to struggle through it.

My philosophy on writing has evolved from the books I love to read and the things I have experienced in my own life.  Video games influence my writing heavily as well as Dungeons and Dragons campaigns I have played with friends.  I look for inspiration wherever I go and when I bring it back to my writing, I keep coming back to fantasy.

I was told once in high school by a creative writing teacher that I should write something other than fantasy.  I was told as an undergraduate creative writing student that I would never get accepted into a Master’s program writing “genre fiction”.  I was told that I was a great writer, but that basically because I had chosen a genre that wasn’t considered “literary” I would never make it far.  I am here today to challenge that.

Art is meant to make us feel something.  Whether it is writing, painting, a video game (yes I consider games a medium of art, just look at those things!), or a doodle in a sketchbook, art is emotion.  Books and games helped me through some of the toughest times of my life and continue to help me through difficult days.

That is why I write.  I write for the hurt ones.  The lost ones.  The boys and girls who have gone through unspeakable horrors and cannot find words to come to terms with what has happened to them.  The ones who pick up a book to be swept away into another world to escape the one that they are in.  The ones who desperately need to read about someone who has gone through something that they can relate to, whether the situation is the same or just the emotions are the same.  Writing heals and fantasy is a way to bring together escapism and healing and bring our young people back into reality feeling whole.

This blog is about my journey as a writer.  I want to share with you what I believe writing should be, what I am doing with my writing and to just share some of the things I love.  I have a love for fantasy in all mediums, and if it hasn’t been made clear by this point in the entry, I write fantasy fiction.  I hope to share reviews of books I love and give recommendations for anyone looking for an escape or healing.  I play a lot of video games and would love to talk about them here, especially video games as an art form and how they contribute to the fantasy genre.  Music is also a huge influence to my writing and I plan to talk about how that medium has shaped me.

Here I am starting a journey.  Come with me and let us get lost in a place that will blur the lines between reality and fantasy until we walk as if both worlds are one.