I am excited to welcome author Selah Janel, who released her first novel, In the Red, last year to Literary Escapism today.
What kind of a rock star lives in a small town in the middle of nowhere and plays at weddings and funerals? Then Jack Scratch comes into his life, ready to represent him and launch him to stardom. Jack can give him everything: a new band, a new name, a new life, a new look, and new boots…although they aren’t exactly new. They once belonged to The One, a rocker so legendary and so mysterious that it’s urban legend that he used black magic to gain success. But what does Jeremiah care about urban legend? And it’s probably just coincidence that the shoes make him dance better than anyone, even if it doesn’t always feel like he’s controlling his movements. It’s no big deal that he plunges into a world of excess and decadence as soon as he puts the shoes on his feet, right?
But what happens when they refuse to come off?
One of the most important things about writing a story– to me, anyway–is character development. This is just as true in paranormal fiction as it is in standard literary stories. If anything, sometimes authors of fantasy, horror, and other paranormal genres need to work harder to bring their characters to life. After all, not only do we have to write about the overall personality, but also how that character reacts to whatever “odd“ attributes they may have and how those affect them. If they’re not the vampire, demon, wizard, or otherwise “special” person in question, then you still have to figure out how they react to the strange goings-on that they might run into.
So often people are really worried about the magical powers or “special” elements in question, though, that they kind of forget that there’s a person attached to them. They’re so into putting the plot into action (which is important in its own right, of course), that they neglect all of the subplots they could use by developing the character beyond just being supernaturally. Sure, we all love reading about danger and magic, we all love seeing bold new worlds spring to life before our eyes, but if we can’t identify with the character, it’s kind of a double-edged sword.
A lot of people cite escapism for reading genre titles, and that’s fine, but if you can’t identify with a character, if you don’t have that foot-hold into the world, then it ends up being a lot of style with only a bit of substance. There have definitely been successes with this formula, but if I invest the time to read a book, I want to feel like I know at least one character in the story. I want to at least know them to the point where it makes my heart hurt if they’re put in danger or have their lives turned upside down. I want to feel vindication and pride when they triumph, I want to enjoy their successes and get frustrated by their failures.
As a reader, one of my favorite examples of this is The Lord of the Rings series. Characters like Gandalf and Galardriel are known for their powers, but it’s their character traits that dictate how they use them. It’s Gandalf’s empathy that makes him a very different person than Saruman, and it’s the fact that Galadriel has, in fact, been tempted by the one ring (the very reason she’s in Lothlorien), that counterbalances the traits that make her seem perfect.
As a writer, I realize that it’s really easy to cast judgment when I’m reading, and harder to put my keyboard where my mouth is. So often it’s easy to get caught up in figuring out who a vampire is going to kill next without stopping to think if they have another agenda. It’s really easy to write demons that are evil for the sake of being evil without stopping to figure out if they’ve made a deal for their own benefit, only to have it blow up in their scaly faces in the end. I still find myself going back and rewriting even though a chapter or section looks cool, but doesn’t “feel” quite right. I’m slowly learning to have one foot in the paranormal or supernatural elements and another foot firmly planted in what makes my characters tick. I’m still learning, and sometimes one side still overshadows the other a little bit, but it’s a fun and challenging process that teaches me more and more every time I go through it.
Meet Selah Janel!
Selah Janel is fueled by a love of ideas, stories, and the potential of magic hiding in the mundane. She mostly writes fantasy and horror, but is known to stray into other genres if the idea is there. She is the author of several short e-books with No Boundaries Press and one with Mocha Memoirs Press. Her first novel, the urban fantasy story In the Red, blends dark fantasy with fairy tale themes and rock n’ roll. Her work has also been included in The MacGuffin, The Realm Beyond, Stories for Children Magazine, and several upcoming anthologies. She is currently working on the first book in her cross-genre fantasy series The Kingdom City Chronicles with Seventh Star Press, titled Olde School. A Midwest girl at heart, she’s also worked as a performer, puppeteer, and in costume design and construction. Feel free to keep up with her in the following places: