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[GUEST POST] Special Needs in Strange Worlds Jaye Wells on Addiction in Fantasy

NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Jaye Wells! – Sarah Chorn

Jaye Wells is a USA Today-bestselling author of urban fantasy and speculative crime fiction. Raised by booksellers, she loved reading books from a very young age. That gateway drug eventually led to a full-blown writing addiction. When she’s not chasing the word dragon, she loves to travel, drink good bourbon and do things that scare her so she can put them in her books. Jaye lives in Texas. You can learn more about Jaye and her books by visiting her on her website. The first book in the Prospero’s War series, Dirty Magic, was released on January 21, 2014. Cursed Magic is to be released on August 12, 2014.

Addiction in Fantasy

by Jaye Wells

“Everyone has a hole in their center. A gaping shadow that demands to be filled. Some people fill it with faith and God. Others with money or fame. Then there are those who fill it with food, alcohol, nicotine or, yeah, potions.” – Dirty Magic

In my new Prospero’s War series, the central conceit is that magic is addictive. The main character, Kate Prospero, is a beat cop who gets promoted to a special task force charged with breaking up the dirty magic covens that sell illegal dirty magic on the streets of fictional Babylon, Ohio.

A lot of people who have read the first book in the series, Dirty Magic, have commented on the use of magic as a metaphor for drugs. But when I decided to write this series, I didn’t want to just talk about magic as a metaphor for drugs. I wanted to talk about our society’s addictive nature. I wanted to talk about how we look externally for solutions to internal problems. I wanted to talk about our addiction to convenience and quick fixes. I also wanted to talk about how difficult it is to overcome our addictions in a world obsessed with fame, beauty, money, and power.

Take Kate Prospero. She was the scion of a dirty magic coven run by her uncle. But after a potion she cooked killed someone she loved, she walked away from the coven and magic entirely. As penance for her sins, she became a cop and vowed to bring down the covens. When the first book, DIRTY MAGIC, opens, she refuses to touch any sort of magic and even attends Arcane Anonymous meetings to remind herself of the damaging effects of magic. But part of her longs for the heady rush of power that accompanied cooking magic. She’s funneled some of this yearning into her police work, which allows her to experience a different sort of power. However, once she joins the task force, she’s put into a position where her knowledge of the covens and cooking are assets to the team, but they come at a cost because she’s suddenly forced back into the world of dirty magic she abandoned ten years earlier, as well as facing the people who enabled her addiction to cooking. It’s tricky, too, because she was born an Adept. Magic is literally part of her DNA. She’ll find that denying that part of herself has become its own form of addiction, and until she finds a way to have a balanced relationship with her magic she will remain stunted.

We often think of disabilities as something someone is born with. But the act of living disables us, too. The quote I opened with is from an AA meeting. The leader of the meeting, Rufus, is a recovering addict who lost a promising career as a basketball player because of his addictions. In that same scene he says:

“Maybe you weren’t born into poverty and maybe your daddy didn’t sneak into your bedroom at night to touch your no-no place,” Rufus continued, “but somewhere along the way some other human fucked you over but good. Probably lots more than one. And getting fucked by your fellow man drills a hole in your center. So you either find a coping mechanism or you check out early.”

As I mentioned earlier, addictions develop when we rely too heavily on external solutions for internal problems. They’re experiences or substances we consume hoping to solve or escape problems, but in the end they consume us. They disable us emotionally and, often, physically.

Every character in the Prospero’s War series is affected by addiction. It’s not that different from real life. We all know people who are consumed by their coping mechanisms. Whether it’s a relative addicted to drugs or a friend who obsessively shops to the point of crippling debt or a boss addicted to power. Every one of those people is trying to fill a hole with their addiction. They become incapable of making decisions that aren’t somehow influenced by that need. In short, their addictions become disabilities because they are unable to function without the fix.

There are no easy answers where addiction is concerned. The destructive aspects of the condition often make addicts unsympathetic. Ask mother who was robbed by her son for drug money or a spouse whose gambling addicted partner left a family in deep debt, and you’ll see anger, sadness, and hopelessness. In Prospero’s War, people who have been addicted to potions for a long time literally transform into monstrous beings with little resemblance to the person they once were. For people in the real world who love addicts it can often feel that way.

I didn’t decide to tackle the problem with addiction because I have answers. I’ve watched people I love grapple with addiction and know there aren’t easy solutions. But it’s an important conversation to have because it’s endemic in our society. My hope was that exploring addiction through the metaphor of magic might make the conversation easier. That, in my opinion, is one of the great strengths of fantasy. It allows us to explore real issues through the filter of metaphor and symbol in a way that feels less threatening. It allows us to approach issues creatively by making new symbolic associations between them and maybe look for new solutions to age-old problems.

Reading about addiction isn’t easy. Kate Prospero’s world is gritty and, often, downright grim, but there are also rays of hope. I guess, in the end, it’s a story about a world that disables people and how those people keep fighting despite their limitations.

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