Friday, May 30, 2014

Writing Jewish in Urban Fantasy

I'm Jewish. For those of you who know me, or who have been following me for a bit, this isn't a big revelation. For those of you who just tuned in, it's kind of important. I will say here before I start in, this is my experience only. I have no intention of speaking for other Jewish authors in or out of the genre, male or female. What I want to do is relate my personal experience writing a story that does not assume the default social norm, which in this case is Christianity.

It started when in one urban fantasy novel it was pointed out that a person couldn't use a Jewish Star against vampires because it's a racial symbol not a religious one. The author had people using tiny versions of the Hebrew Bible. Now any Jew who knows anything about our faith will tell you that's a no no. You don't thump the Torah, it's disrespectful. And that's not really as funny as it sounds. To Jews, the Torah is the Word of God. The idea that anyone of Jewish faith would use it in such a manner is just wrong. And to make it worse, the author didn't even state if the characters who were using the books as a ward were Jewish.

Now, by the time I'd read this book, I'd gotten a good idea of what it is to be a minority religion. It was something I hadn't experienced until college since I grew up in an area that had a Jewish majority. It meant we got the Days of Awe off, and nobody looked at the more devout of us funny when their kids took the first day of Passover off either. Then I got to college and it all changed. I got weird looks for asking for that time off from work or school (from people who should have known better), and had certain organizations that claimed they were open to all faiths not bother to check the calender while scheduling mandatory events. This last bothered me even more because the events were open to non-members as well, but would exclude Jewish individuals who were thinking of joining from attendance. This seemed to be part of Jewish in America, and since I wasn't of any inclination to convert, I accepted I'd have to open my mouth every so often and say, 'Hey, I'm here too!'

There were other things that annoyed me, sometime more, sometimes less. Willow Rosenberg having to use a cross comes to mind. And yes, I realize that the show was playing with the standard horror tropes, but it still was annoying. I mean, how did people ward vampires off before the Crucifixion? Think about that if you will. Honestly though, if I listed them all we'd be here all year.

But it did get to a point where I had to say enough. Up until this time, I'd been toying with some urban fantasy ideas (I go into that elsewhere in this blog) but in a way, all of this underscored something I needed to do. I need to be Jewish when I write, and in Magister, I do just that.

One of my two main characters is Jewish. In fact, not only is she Jewish, she's a Holocaust survivor. Oh, and she's a vampire as well. Being undead hasn't diminished her faith, and it plays an important part in how she sees the world. And because of her faith, she able to do some rather unique things for a vampire. But this is just the beginning. Christianity is not the default state of the supernatural world in Magister. The story doesn't assume that society's ingrain perceptions about religion are right. In fact, Magister takes some of those perceptions and turns them on their head. It may make people uncomfortable, but uncomfortable is good sometimes. Uncomfortable can make a person think and be more aware. And, in part, that's what I hope to do.

I'm out here, I have stories to tell, but never assume they're going to be the default setting.

Copyright Penny Horwitz 2014