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The Big Idea: Dan Hanks

Cover to "Swashbucklers"

In Swashbucklers, author Dan Hanks takes his characters on an adventure… which includes the quest for child care. I know that got the attention of every parent out there. Here Hanks is to delve deeper.

DAN HANKS:

Saving the world is hard. However, some would argue that being a parent is harder.

So, what if you combined the two?

That was the Big Idea at the heart of Swashbucklers. I wanted to tell a contemporary Ghostbusters-style adventure, with weary and slightly unkempt heroes, who were having to fight supernatural monsters while also battling finding babysitters at short notice. It was a simple concept, but one I knew could be a lot of fun to write. Not only because I’m a parent of two wonderful children who have given me a lifetime’s worth of research into the ridiculous aspects of trying to raise other humans. But also because I haven’t read too many stories in SFF with parents—let alone actual parenting.

Obviously, there are stories out there with protagonists who have children. Yet the focus is very rarely, if ever, on the mundane absurdity of being a parent. The times that make us laugh or break our hearts or lead us to the edge of breaking our minds. Do we ever see our heroes struggling to get the little bastards out of the house in a hurry because the quest is afoot? Do we ever see the long, drawn-out mealtimes where they simply won’t eat their peas, even as the world goes to shit? Do we ever get to see the villains kidnap the protagonist’s child in an act of revenge, only to regret the decision while facing a non-stop barrage of questions and inane chatter about video games?

I fully admit it’s partly because I’m lazy that I chose to make parenting the core of the story. I had so many funny, frustrating, and downright silly moments to draw on, it made writing that aspect of my characters really easy, because I have lived them already. However, delving into my backpack of parenting mishaps for laughs and empathy soon turned into something of a cathartic experience. I was able to spill all my parenting angst, worries, and fear onto the page, alleviating the weight I carry that I would imagine is familiar to many other parents out there.

Perhaps it was a solid diet of Famous Five and Goonies as a child, but I’ve always loved those 80’s films where the kids had an adventure and saved the day, and the parents were pretty clueless. And a part of me—the same part that wanted to be one of those kids, but then I grew up and became responsible for kids of my own—always wondered ‘what happened after that?’

In Swashbucklers we talk fondly of the original adventure our heroes had, but we never actually see it (not yet, at least). The focus is fully on those hero-kids-all-grown-up. They had their adventure long ago. Now they have adult responsibilities and problems, and their own children to look after. So, when the bad guy returns after so many years away, how on earth do these weary, middle-aged parents reunite to stop him again—and fight his supernatural magic—when they’ve got to navigate school runs, jobs, and rational adult minds?

It’s been heartening to see a push for more visible parents in SFF stories. But I’m all in for seeing more visible parenting in these fantasy, action-adventure stories too. We’re so used to giving our characters the very biggest problems to deal with on their quests, yet where are the authentic parents just struggling to keep their shit together before they’ve even set out to defeat the big bad baddie? As far as challenges go, I don’t think there are many bigger than having to save the day while being constantly nagged for snacks, having to find babysitters, and making sure you have wipes on you for when things get messy…


Swashbucklers: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

By John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

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