Super heroes have their appeal to authors — after all, what’s not to like about characters who have special powers and strengths? But there’s something to be said for the workaday hero, too: The schmoe who finds himself in a strange spot without superpowers and still has to get the job done. Author Anton Strout has himself one of those heroes in his series of urban fantasy novels, of which Dead Waters is the latest, and now he’ll explain why it’s good to have one of these heroes in your corner.
Let’s pretend we’re playing the Family Feud here for a moment, shall we? Hundred people surveyed, top five answers on the board!
Name for me the questions an author gets asked most often.
In my case, they’d be:
5. Aren’t you Alton Brown?
4. Are you sure you aren’t Alton Brown?
3. Do you know Alton Brown?
2. Can I have a free book?
1. Why do you write what you write?
All questions but # 1 earn the asker a boot to the head. For that one, however, I usually have three responses. First, I really miss Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Second, I really love Ghostbusters. Third, and most important to me, was that I found no one was writing the exact type of stories I wanted to be reading, Not wanting to let that void go unfilled, I thought it was time that I took it upon myself to write those kinds of stories, hoping that my words would fill the need for other readers out there. So I started writing what would become the four books of the Simon Canderous series, and, not too strangely, my books have turned out as a combination of ghostbusting with a Buffy sensibility—urban fantasy where combating the things that go bump in the night is done with a little bit of tongue in cheek.
Urban fantasy was already filled with its fair share of kick-ass heroes and heroines, but those weren’t the type of people I was interested in writing about. First of all, the idea of fighting bad guys while wearing tight leather pants… I mean, come on now. People can barely reach down to tie their shoes in them, let alone roundhouse kick a zombie in the head.
Yes, it’s fantasy, but some of those details are so contrary to common sense that I wanted to write something that felt more… grounded in reality, something that kept a sense of humor through it all. I mean, what else are you supposed to do when chasing chupacabras or vampires across Central Park, other than nervously laugh your way through it? If there really was a secret government organization around to fight that type of evil in New York City, how would that work exactly?
My answer came from examining my own experiences in coming to the city. When I first moved to Manhattan in the 90’s, I temped for a lot of city organizations and corporations. I saw how hard it was just trying to requisition three ring binders or .001 Micron pens… how difficult then would it be trying to requisition paranormal equipment like vials of officially sanctioned Holy Water… or a Ghostbusters Proton Pack, for that matter? Thus was born Manhattan’s Department of Extraordinary Affairs, whose motto is: “Fighting Evil, Under Budget.”
To me all-powerful heroes with unlimited resources weren’t interesting. Wanting to be heroic is one thing, but making rent and getting by in the fight to do Good in New York City is another. I think it’s what makes Simon Canderous the type of hero people like reading about, because they can identify with his struggles in the DEA. A lot of readers know what drudgery and red tape are like in their own jobs, and I thought maybe through my adventures they could live vicariously and let off a little steam through Simon as he takes his handy retractable bat to the zombies and ghouls. And to get by, Simon had to have a sense of humor through it all.
That was key to me. He needed a positive attitude to deal with the fight against evil, which has been something I’ve loved since I was young. I mean, what else could a modern day person do in the face of mind-numbing eldritch horrors but laugh to keep from going mad? I’ve felt that way since I showed up for Show & Tell in third grade dressed as Spider-man, the king of the quip in dangerous situations. My own need for light hearted relief continued on through my gaming days in college, when I found myself fighting the mind shattering horrors of Call of Cthulhu with my cousin and I playing Henry Jones (Jr. and Sr.) to keep from wetting our pants in fear.
Writing a hero like Simon Canderous, is what I find interesting, because he’s not all-powerful. He can read the psychometric past of items, but he’s not superfueled any other way. The retractable steel bat is helpful, but he’s not Superman. He’s vulnerable. Like severe head trauma vulnerable… so the fight to keep him alive is what makes penning his adventures fun. Thankfully, the Department of Extraordinary Affairs has excellent medical coverage, including mental health benefits… although it’s just as likely the paperwork will drive him mad before the creepy horrors shambling down St. Mark’s Place do.