As regular readers of this blog know, I am currently working on the third book in the Wolf Dasher series, Roses Are White. The Wolf Dasher novels are set largely in the elf nation of Alfar. There is a distinctive Middle Eastern feel to the setting. Geographically, it sits in my fictional fantasy world where Africa would in the real world, and the political situation that grips Alfar is very reminiscent of Iraq and Afghanistan.
My protagonist, Wolf Dasher, is a human in a land of elves. He’s a stranger in a strange land, and he manages to infuriate as many people as he helps, despite his best intentions.
The first two books, State of Grace and Red Dragon Five, deal with complicated themes of religious extremism, nationalism, patriotism, loyalty, cultural identity, and faith. They may be action-adventure novels about a spy with super-powers in a fantasy world, but the Wolf Dasher series takes on serious themes.
Roses Are White is no exception, and it tackles head-on a theme that had been brewing subtly in the first two books before coming to a head in this one: racism.
I blogged this past summer about the fallacy that the U.S. is a post-racism nation, and I wrote then that I would be tackling this subject in a forthcoming novel.
As an author, writing this book made me uncomfortable. It’s not that I’m afraid of the topic. I think we need to be talking about it as openly as possible, admitting where we are so we can chart a path to a better place.
But writing fiction is an intimate experience. You get to know your characters. You get inside their heads. You understand what they are feeling — you perceive it closely.
And writing from a racist’s point of view is uncomfortable. I don’t like thinking like someone who hates someone solely for being different, for being Other.
Roses Are White introduces a new racial slur. The word, snavrek, is coined by one of the novel’s villains, Celindra Gladheart. It translates from Elfin literally as “pale demon,” and it’s used to refer to humans. Elves in Wolf’s world are dark-skinned, while humans are lightly complected. Thus, it’s easy to tell the two apart, even without the elves’ pointy ears.
I haven’t done a word count to see how many times snavrek and its plural snavrekin are used in the manuscript. But it’s a lot. Wolf is referred to as or directly called a snavrek regularly. He’s hated not just because he’s human but also because he is dating an elf. Many, including his girlfriend’s brother, are disgusted by the very idea of her being with a human. In fact, his hatred of May’s relationship with Wolf contributes to her brother Gavric’s becoming radicalized and doing something very destructive later in the book.
There is one scene in the novel that really captures the ugliness of racism well. Wolf is out walking when he comes across three teenaged elves, harassing a female elf who is obviously from the opposite religious sect as they. They bully her and imply they will violate her, because of who she is and what she believes. The scene takes place at a market, and, despite virtually everyone watching the altercation, no one steps in to help.
Until Wolf comes along. Disgusted with their bigotry, he orders them to stop. When they see they are being accosted by a human — by a snavrek — they become enraged. A fight ensues, and Wolf manages to defeat them. When he tries to help their victim, though, she calls him a snavrek and runs off. He may have saved her, but she doesn’t want some filthy human touching her.
Roses Are White is easily the most uncomfortable I’ve even been writing a novel. To make it feel “right,” I imagined what it would sound like if, instead of snavrek, some other racial epithet were being used. I imagined if, instead of humans, it were African-Americans or Hispanics or Muslims who were the object of the hatred. And that infused the scenes with the proper vitriol, passion, and bigotry.
But it made me extremely discomfited. I didn’t like putting myself in the heads of people who think that way. It’s not who I am, who I ever was, or who I want to be.
I am hopeful that , when the book is published, we will see ourselves in it and decide this isn’t who we want to be. We will choose to become better that we are.
For we are a great people, and we have come a long way. But we have a longer way to go.
The first two books in the Wolf Dasher series are available now. Blending James Bond-style action with a traditional fantasy world and thoughtful thematic content, the Wolf Dasher novels feature stories both familiar and fresh.
State of Grace is just $2.99 for your Kindle at Amazon.com. Click on the links below to purchase State of Grace and Red Dragon Five.