I dare you to read this essay by Jaye Wells and not fall under her spell. This Texas-raised, USA Today bestselling author grew up reading everything she could get her hands on, and it shows in her passionate argument for blending the conventions of crime fiction with tropes from other genres. Wells’s forthcoming novel is called Deadly Spells, and Orbit Books will publish it on February 10th. You’d do well to pre-order a copy.
“You can’t do that.”
This sentence had been the driving force behind most of my success as a novelist. See, I write books that are a blend of genres. I like to mix things up, but I’m also pretty stubborn. So if someone tells me that I can’t, say, mix fantasy with crime fiction, it’s pretty much a dare that I will take every time.
The pitch for my Prospero’s War speculative crime fiction series is The Wire with wizards. I got the idea while binge-watching that show. I thought the show was awesome but couldn’t stop thinking it would be cool if Omar and Stringer Bell were wizards.
But, people told me, that’ll never work. For one thing, they claimed crime fiction fans don’t like any hocus pocus messing up their mysteries. Oh yeah?
What if magic is a metaphor for drugs? What if the covens of wizards who sell addictive magic potions are more dangerous and resourceful than drug gangs? But what if the cops who are trying to break up the covens are as hamstrung by politics, budget cuts, and regulations as real cops?
Some people might not see the point. I mean, we already know there’s a war on drugs. People already know cops are hamstrung and that there are lots of problems with the justice system. This is where combining fantasy with the crime becomes important.
See, the beauty of fantasy stories is that they filter the world through metaphor. By using symbols, archetypes, and, yes, magic, these stories allow us to test drive our world in an imaginative way. This metaphorical language of imagination helps us see the problems of humanity and our world in a new light.
So while it may seem simple to use clean and dirty magic as a metaphor for pharmaceuticals and street-level narcotics, it also allows us to explore the issues in non-threatening and expanded terms. Suddenly, we’re not talking about crack and meth anymore. We’re also talking about human nature’s tendency toward addiction in general. We’re able to discuss the false dichotomy of good versus evil, and think about the roles of policing and the struggles facing our cities in new ways.
Or not. Because that’s the other beauty of fantasy: it allows us to not explore those issues at all if we don’t want to. We can read the story and simply enjoy the action and suspense without being forced to face the gritty reality of our own world. In short, we can decide how shallow or deep our reading experience will be.
So when people tell me that it’s a waste of time to expect crime fiction readers to want to read books about magic junkies, I just smile and say, “Wanna bet?”
Jaye Wells is a USA Today-bestselling author of urban fantasy and speculative crime fiction. Raised by booksellers, she loved reading books from a very young age. That gateway drug eventually led to a full-blown writing addiction. When she’s not chasing the word dragon, she loves to travel, drink good bourbon and do things that scare her so she can put them in her books. Deadly Spells, the third book in her Prospero’s War series, releases on February 10.