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Not a Pagan Author

I smile through a conversation at a street fair, trying to convince a woman that she wants my books without being pushy. (I cannot stand the hard sell approach and am much more likely to flee in panic than be convinced to buy.)

She selects a copy of Pagan Standard Times, my book of essays written because I find my religion both fascinating and maligned.

"Are you Pagan?" she asks, possibly ready for a fight if I had the audacity to speak for a group to which I did not belong.

I assure her I am, thus why she has that book in her hands now. I try to write books only I could have written.

The woman suggests that I embroider a pentacle on the banner I pin to my table, which presently lists only my name and that I am an author, in case the table full of books is not a giveaway. I nod as though considering her advice, but I would never do that. The pentacles on Pagan Standard Times and the one dangling from Roselyn's neck on Danse Macabre will have to serve as hint enough of my theological proclivities.

If my anthology of essays on Paganism isn't enough, the Night's Dream series is rife with magical, occult, and spiritual insights, wrapped in layers of story. However, I have no interest in being stuck in the ghetto of Pagan authors.

You know who buys books by Pagan authors? Pagans, of which there are a tiny minority. I can rattle off two major publishers of books by Pagan authors and neither of them are in danger of crowding bookstore shelves. You know who I want buying and reading my books? Literally everyone. I already have to contend with mothers pulling their children away from thumbing through copies of We Shadows because the version of Shane on its cover has a belly shirt with no bra. I do not need to give terrified parents a remedial course on earth-based religions (to say nothing of the Discordian variant I have adopted) before making a sale to their children.

As unsatisfying as this might have been to the woman giving her heartfelt advice - the subtext was clear that she would have more readily bought my book had she known how long I had pored over witchcraft books - it would be more honest to say that writing is my magic and faith far more than wand waving I may perform on Sabbats. If all is going well in my life, I can go weeks without thinking about spells, days without considering gods, but I cannot go hours without guilt that I am not writing (or writing better) to honor my purpose. I serve the gods by getting my words out and I doubt any I serve would be too keen on cutting down my market share.

I am proud to be Pagan, but I do not exclusively write Pagan stories, except inasmuch as one could criticize that anything born of my history would inherently be flavored by that distinction. To me, it is pandering and disingenuous to call myself a Pagan author to the general public because most of my books are not overt paeans to the gods. I know people who have written carefully researched tomes about the particulars of spellwork or the history of Reconstructionist sects. They are Pagan authors. All I've done is make the Wiccans in my novels perform real magic and pen a hundred pages on my thoughts about the religion.

In college, I had a substitute creative writing professor who boasted that he had recently been published in an anthology for queer, trans authors, though he was as straight and cisgender as they came. His logic was that it was more important to have another publishing credit than allow queer, trans writers to be heard in a venue designed for them. In his gloating, he gave me the only lesson I remember of his tenure: do not shout over the underrepresented for your own glory, even if you could.

I don't need to be heard as a Pagan alone, especially when so many are doing so much more with their voices. JK Rowling doesn't need to be known as a Christian author, though she most certainly is Christian, because she has been heard more widely without that adjective. Contemplating the influence of her faith on her novels is the work of literary critics and people in need of think pieces, not fans accessing her work for the first time.

Years ago, I worked as a technical processor in a library in a predominantly African-American community. One day, I was tasked to remove all books by authors of African descent, cover their spines with author-obscuring stickers reading "Black," and segregate them in a dark corner away so that the patrons wouldn't have to bother with authors whose demographic background didn't match their preferences. I objected, but was told I could either do my job without complaint or they would hire someone who would. Authors I loved - in fiction, poetry, hard and soft sciences - were covered with labels, a symbol I would find heavy-handed if I found it in fiction rather than life. (After a few months of this, I got the privilege of scraping the labels off and returning the books to their rightful place, once a patron raised a stink over the racism of a "Black Only" section.)

If I found out that my name was obscured by a label, that my books were removed from general circulation on the fantasy shelves so that they could sit in the "Pagan Only" section - especially irrespective of their actual content - I would be flummoxed. With the exception of Pagan Standard Times, I did not set out to write Pagan books, but simply the best book I could then manage, and I would want them regarded in that fashion. I wouldn't want to be published by someone who only saw me as a Pagan rather than an author.

I am not averse to Pagan publications taking a special interest in me, though I am certain to be far from the only fantasy author who has chanted around a fire on the full moon. However, I do not care to have that interest to be exclusively theirs. Concurrently, I do not want people only to be interested in me owing to my minority status in this one portion of my life (as a straight, white, cisgender, now middle-class man, I otherwise have won the unrealized privilege lottery). My faith infuses my life, but I want my work examined holistically. I want my faith, if anything, to be a surprise for readers after the fact.

I am not an emissary of Paganism because I choose to speak only of my own experiences rather than scholarly pronouncements. I cannot and will not tell people that they are holding their athame wrong. I probably wouldn't even correct them for saying it wrong. I admire those who choose to be, but I find too many of them are not allowed to be anything but tokens ignored outside their minority status.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.

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