At the Keyboard: Mya Lairis talks IR Speculative Fiction
I recently read an article about why many African American book clubs shun paranormal, science fiction, fantasy and speculative works. The author revealed that it was often religious as well as cultural barriers that kept the readers away from material outside of their comfort zones. This is understandable especially if a person grew up believing in the evils of temptation and sees the fantastical as an embodiment of such.
I will admit that growing up as a kaiju and fantasy nut in a semi-religious, okay, religious family was awkward. Yes, I went to Sunday school, and I had my first holy communion but I was also allowed to watch Creature Features. I cut my teeth on Godzilla films, nearly everything that Ray Harryhausen worked on, and Star Wars, so making the leap to hardcore spec fan was easy for me. My dreams were filled with gods, marvelous creatures, robots, mechs and giant monsters for as long as I could remember. I had more action figures than dolls by a mile. “Row Minnoton!”
As soon as I could write and fill a page, I began creating my own fantasy worlds filled with giants, witches, fairies and beasties. It wasn’t until middle school that my stories developed romantic—okay naughty scenes. Characters of all shades, from Earth tones, to demonic reds and alien green-skinned folk walked in my worlds. Being an avid writer before I became a ravenous reader, I don’t think that it ever really occurred to me to look for speculative fiction that included people who looked like me. What little access I had to African American literature was often of a historical slant regarding themes that are far more horrifying and speculative than anything I could have ever read or made up.
Oh, I did use what I could initially. While I was able to create fantasies of great warrior tribes that I may have but probably did not descend from, create connections with magnificent rituals and beasts native to Africa, I discovered early that not many in my family and social circles considered it positively or perhaps even sanely. Though I always joke about my mother questioning whether I’m writing ‘those devil books,’ but it isn’t a joke now and it wasn’t then.
I found shelter with the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) and gaming crowd in high school, all of who were white. With them I could be as imaginative as I dared. I could be the demoness welding power, the elf with the bow or the healer with the potions…I was often a warrior (later Berserker) with two giant battle axes but I could be anything and brown too!
Also around that time, say around the late 80s, I saw a film that would forever hold a special place in my heart. It’s a crappy movie according to IMDB but The Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf is one of the most inspirational pieces I have come across. Why? Because it had the most gorgeous, black female werewolf in it. Talk about mind blown. I was obsessed with her back story, and ended up creating one for her that detailed her pack, her mating with the alpha wolf, what their cubs would look like, the works.
Some years later this obsession would grow into the Guardian series. Later I would add in a touch of Grace Jones in Vamp and Conan the Destroyer, Wilt Chamberlin in the same film and Wesley Snipes in Blade. As you can see, most of my colorful inspirations came from movies. Where were the books? I often wondered. BTW. The Internet was not as prolific back in the day and I certainly had no access to the kind of search engines we so readily use today.
Why do I mention all of this? There were probably a few paranormal titles with African American characters in them, but I was unaware of anything other than Storm, yes, the Marvel Superhero. So, I decided to write the kind of book I wanted, the African American werewolf bounty hunter. Finding a publisher who might be receptive to a swearing, domineering, foul-tempered huntress was a bit of a worry. Sure I had published a book prior to Guardian, a MM piece with Loose Id. They had a pretty solid reputation and collection of LGBT works, but at the time I wasn’t sure how they would handle my IR Paranormal. Okay I didn’t really know there was a market for it. But I submitted the novel to them.
And they accepted!
Over the seven years that I’ve been writing professionally, I have seen more and vibrant imaginings of persons of color: in space, in fantasy realms, with vampire fangs and were-fur and on covert missions with heavy artillery and I have seen Loose Id’s catalogue grow. I am able to hold and read tales that expand and express themes of colors in ways that even I couldn’t dream of. While the quantities are still small, they are growing.
Why does it mean so much to me? Because I am a champion (okay prisoner) of dreams. And while cultural foundations and beliefs are to be respected, I have never been okay with ignoring the fantastical and refusing to dream bigger and different. I firmly believe that one cannot be content within one’s box, and only by seeking more expansive realms to inhabit can we as the human race excel.
If there is one thing that makes me proud to belong to the Loose Id family, it is their ever-growing selection of speculative works that contain characters of color. The books are beautifully produced, painstakingly edited and ever so imaginative. Loose Id writers such as those listed below are sure to inspire the present and the future and I for one am proud to be listed among them.
- •Eve Vaughn http://www.loose-id.com/authors/a-f/eve-vaughn.html
- •Lelia Brown http://www.loose-id.com/authors/l-p/leila-brown.html
- •Selena Illyria http://www.loose-id.com/authors/q-t/selena-illyria.html
- •Barbara Karmazin http://www.loose-id.com/authors/a-f/barbara-karmazin.html
- •Rosalyn Hardy Holcomb http://www.loose-id.com/authors/q-t/roslyn-hardy-holcomb.html
- •Dahlia DeWinters http://www.loose-id.com/authors/a-f/dahlia-dewinters.html
- •Stephanie Burke http://www.loose-id.com/authors/q-t/stephanie-burke.html
- •Nia K. Foxx http://www.loose-id.com/authors/l-p/nia-k-foxx.html
- •Shyla Colt http://www.loose-id.com/authors/q-t/shyla-colt.html
- •Moi http://www.loose-id.com/authors/l-p/mya-lairis.html
Oh and yeah…I draw my fantasies as well, but that is a different story.