Urban fantasy has been somewhat overrun lately with vampires, werewolves and the various men and women who love them. It’s hard to find a new angle on what seems to be a now-familiar subject and even harder to make that angle fresh and interesting.
Larime Taylor succeeds at both with his new serialized book, Hellwatch. From the author’s description:
A young disabled woman in a wheelchair protects an unaware world from demons and monsters. Ester Vasquez, born with arthrogryposis, hunts the monsters and demons that hide from the unsuspecting masses along with her 6’8″, 360lbs Samoan care provider, Sammy.
I found out about the book when the author, a regular on Gail Simone’s Jinxworld forums, posted about his new project, an urban fantasy in serialized chapters. Curious, I downloaded the free PDF.
And I was quickly hooked after this beginning:
Ester Vasquez was not a big fan of the Man Upstairs. As she saw things, He was a quitter, just like the father that she never knew. She eventually came to the conclusion that the deist belief in a clockmaker God that created the universe and simply walked away was pretty much on the money. He had long ago lost interest in His creation, or maybe He had never been interested at all. Praying to an invisible man in the sky seemed, as the late George Carlin once said, just as effective as praying to Joe Pesci. She wasn’t an atheist, however — she knew He existed, at least at some point in time. He just didn’t care anymore. How did she know this?
Ester hunted demons and monsters.
The book would be worth a post on its own but there’s also Taylor’s own remarkable story. Like Ester, Taylor is disabled. He’s not only a writer but also an artist who draws commissions with his mouth. I asked Taylor how this story came about.
GeekDad: What was your initial inspiration for the book?
Larime Taylor: I’ve never written about a truly disabled lead character before in any of my work, whether plays, comics or fiction. I always avoided the idea because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed or stereotyped as ‘the disabled guy that writes about disabled people.’
I think part of it also had to do with the fact that, being disabled, I could live more vicariously through my characters and kind of saw it as an escape. The main character of my graphic novel, which I’ll get to later, appears disabled on the surface but really isn’t once you find out what exactly is wrong with him. I would still occasionally use him to make observations on or give glimpses into disabled life, but this is the first time that I’ve actually written a real disabled person as the main character.
Comic book writer Gail Simone was recently given the job of bringing Barbara Gordon out of the wheelchair as Oracle and back into the Batgirl suit, which caused a lot of controversy, especially among the disabled community. I have mixed feelings on the matter, and it’s probably a whole different discussion, but the end result was that I finally decided that there weren’t enough disabled characters in popular culture and I really had no excuse not to get off my gimpy butt and do something about it myself.
Once I decided that I was going to write a disabled lead character, I wanted to go all the way with it.
That meant the character would have my disability, though her condition isn’t quite as bad as mine, and I wanted the character to be involved in the action so to speak just like any other character. One of the reasons I made her condition a little less severe was to help facilitate that, to give her a bit more independence and mobility than I have, but not very much.
In thinking about the kinds of things that this character could be involved in, I went back to my roots in pagan and ceremonial magic and my love of monsters and demons and decided that she could be a demon/monster hunter in the vein of John Constantine from Hellblazer. I knew that this meant that she would need some kind of an assistant or sidekick to do the more physical things, but I had the beginnings of a story and a character that I really liked. So basically that’s how Ester Vasquez was born.
GD: What gave you the idea to serialize it?
LT: I’ve been wanting to do serial fiction for a long time. I initially got out of playwriting because I wanted to work on something ongoing and serial in nature. I initially got into writing for television, but quickly learned that the only way I would ever get anywhere is to live in Los Angeles, and that isn’t going to happen for a number of reasons.
My screen writing teacher, Larry Brody, suggested I look into comics as he used to write for the Silver Surfer cartoon series and got to know some of the people in comics that way. Over time I’ve come to the decision that the amount of time it takes to write and draw a comic book page isn’t worth the amount of story comes out of it on a page by page basis. I love comics and graphic novels, but the amount of time that it takes me to make them isn’t as rewarding from a storyteller standpoint as I would like it to be.
I can tell a lot more story in a lot less time by writing prose, and so I decided to move in that direction. I’ve been working on a number of ideas that I was planning to put out as serial fiction, but this one seems to be the strongest and the best of them. So, going back to my TV training I decided to treat it like a TV series and tell it in seasons, with each novella being an episode in the season.
GD: What’s your process for getting the words down? Given your circumstances, are there any special problems in taking the manuscript from a draft to a form that can be uploaded to Kindle or other electronic formats?
LT: I use speech software to write everything, which actually is a bonus because it’s a lot faster than typing – though I can type roughly 60 words a minute with a pencil in my mouth. It just wears me down really quickly.
Using speech software, I’ve been able to write as much as 10,000 words in a day, and my average is about 3,000. Kindle, Smashwords and the rest all prefer that you upload your manuscript as a Word document, so there really isn’t any problem with turning my draft into the finished product. I just had to pick up the formatting specifics and play around with how to use images and make them look right.
GD: You also offer artwork on a commission. How do you draw a piece and what are you favorite type of things to draw?
LT: I draw with my mouth and I have been since I was four or five years old.
Recently Wacom was kind enough to donate me a Cintiq tablet where I draw directly on the screen; the tablet is a display, and that has really opened up what I can do. I use the digital pen to draw directly on the screen which means that I can now photo reference – something that was impossible before since drawing with my mouth means that my head is always down on the paper so I can’t actually look at what I’m trying to draw. Now I can have it right there next to the picture I’m drawing on the screen. It’s just a simple matter of flicking my gaze back and forth.
I don’t know that I have a favorite subject, though I have to say that people are my best subject. Portraiture and caricature are my specialties.
GD: How did you develop your comics series, Hollow? Will it be out soon?
LT: I wouldn’t say it’s coming out soon. It’s been coming out soon since 2003. The biggest delay has been financial, first, and now my wife’s health as she’s the colorist. We originally had a penciler that use to work on Sandman, but we couldn’t afford him.
I took over the drawing duties, but the real style of the book comes in with my wife’s painting, and she’s been too sick the past few years to work on more than a page or two here and there. It’s on hiatus right now.
It came about as my initial idea for a TV series when I was studying under Larry Brody, and I converted it over to comics when I realized that TV wasn’t going to happen. I’ve thought about writing it as novels, but since I have a publisher and a contract for the graphic novel there are legality issues involved and, honestly, I’d still like to do it with my wife as a graphic novel. It’ll happen, one day.
GD: If there’s one misconception you could correct about the disabled to the public at large, what would it be?
LT: I’d say it’s something that I deal with in the first episode, though only in passing. People tend to assume that if you’re in a wheelchair you must also have some mental disability, and most people tend to talk to the people with you rather than you, even if it’s about you. It’s almost like you aren’t there. There’s a scene where that happens to Ester in the first episode.
The book is available free at the links posted above.
Taylor is also offering a sale on his art commissions for the holiday season.