Today’s guest is A. M. Dellamonica! A. M. Dellamonica has written a variety of short stories and two novels, Indigo Springs and its sequel Blue Magic. She’s talking about a common theme in her stories today – women and the law.
As I’ve mentioned before this month, I did invite a few authors to participate whose books I want to read but have not yet read. Sometimes it seems like I talk about the same authors all the time, so I wanted some variety this month! A. M. Dellamonica is one author whose books I have not read yet but really want to. They sound like my type of books since I saw they are supposed to be dark on the author’s blog, and according to the back cover of Blue Magic, Library Journal said Indigo Springs is “a powerful story of good intentions gone terribly wrong.” This intrigues me quite a lot!
Woman and the Fantasy of Justice
I had a question at my Blue Magic launch in Vancouver recently, from a lawyer, which boiled down to this: why do many of my fantasies also have, sandwiched in with everything else in the story, a bit of courtroom drama? “The Cage,” for example, centers around the criminal trial of a man who’s executed a female werewolf. In Blue Magic, a cult leader and self-styled goddess calling herself The Earth is on trial in U.S. Federal Court for treason. It’s a big televised show trial, meant to show that the government is in control of a spiraling outbreak of magic. (Or, looked at another way, they’re making a public example of a politically troublesome woman.)
Urban fantasy tends to deal more in rough justice than the machinations of the legal system. We’ve all read books where the villains arise and–whether they’re vampires, demons, or evil mages–their murderous sprees end when the hero or heroine kills them. It’s usually justifiable homicide–the necessary execution of someone who’s about to do major harm to others. Sometimes the hero even feels really bad about it.
But this sense that monsters fall outside the law is presented as a tidy solution to a completely human problem, because our allegedly mundane world is full of evil people making evil choices. That’s something we have here and now, without any magic at all. Though the death of a villain often makes for satisfying stories, it’s not how I imagine things playing out in our world if magic spilled into our reality.
In the real world, many of our problems seep into our courts and legal system, and I have always been interested in the ways the system can tend to discriminate against women. Consider the recent case of Raquel Nelson, for example, a Georgia mother who was convicted of vehicular homicide when a drunk driver struck her family with his car. Her crime? Jaywalking. The peculiar cruelty of this case cannot but seem like institutionalized misogyny, at least to me. It’s hard to imagine it playing out in the same way, had Raquel been male.
My interest in the courts also stems back to a period in my life when I was working at a local rape crisis center. It was an eye-opening experience. Volunteers supported women who called our crisis line and, when callers opted to call the authorities at all–because often they don’t–we worked to be with them through every stage of the process. Reporting a rape is something of an obstacle course: there’s the trip to the hospital, the initial statement made to the police, follow-up and still more follow-up, and finally–in a precious few cases where everything went ‘well’ enough that an attacker got caught and a prosecutor thought the case might be a winner–attending criminal trials.
I got to see the machinery of the law grind along in some slow ways, some ineffective ways. Sometimes it worked very well indeed. Other times it was unjust on a scale that was almost darkly comic. Obviously, it all made an impression.
And these days, one of my close friends is a Crown Attorney, so I get to hear about the system from the other side.
So in my book, the woman who spearheaded a magical assault on an aircraft carrier doesn’t just conveniently die by the hand or gun of some heroic type. She gets arrested and put on trial and the trial is put on television. The process of trying her gets all bound up in media coverage and politics and the needs of a government trying desperately to show that it has control over the magical outbreak.
This idea isn’t unique to me, obviously. D D Barant’s THE BLOODHOUND FILES novels has tons of legal material–their main character is an FBI profiler on a world where humans are, believe it or not, a federally protected endangered species.
The idea of magic being outside the law, a wild and unenforceable element that can only be brought to heel through vigilantism, strikes me as something an author ought to have to sell. Because, human nature being what it is, if magic exists then legislators are going to at least try to impose some sort of structure on it. Cops and armies are going to have magic or try to get it. Any given population of people contains enough control freaks that someone’s going to make big rules about enchanters are allowed and not allowed to do.
And this is handy, from my point of view. The law is another thing a writer can use to put limits on their magic system. (It’s generally understood that magic in fantasy has to have some limitations, because if the characters can do anything, there’s really no conflict to be had. It’s basically, “And then she became a deity, the end.”) In some of my worlds, it’s less that magic is limited than that society draws lines on how it can be used.
The simplest answer to that reader’s question, of course, is that a little courtroom drama turns my crank: I like it. It makes for interesting story. And so my next trilogy will have a big legal component too. (This is the series that ties in to my Tor.com story, “Among the Silvering Herd.”) It has a complex and almost Victorian legal system, all adjudicated through a seagoing Age of Sail-type Fleet, where the lawsuits are numerous and the only out-of-court settlement option is to challenge your plaintiff or defendant to a duel and instead of a Lord High Executioner they have a Duelist-Adjudicator’s office full of fighting judges. It’s going to be incredibly fun.
About A. M. Dellamonica:
A.M. Dellamonica’s first novel, urban fantasy INDIGO SPRINGS, won the 2010 Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic; a sequel, BLUE MAGIC, was released by Tor in 2012. She has published short fiction in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Strange Horizons, TOR.COM and over thirty other magazines and anthologies. (Her most recent short is “Among the Silvering Herd.”) A resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, Dellamonica teaches writing through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.