Behind the Book: From the Ashes by Xen Sanders
Providing a voice for the marginalized has always been important to me, but it’s only recently that I’ve had the platform and reach to use my writing and social media as a way to advocate for others. Before that, I honestly didn’t go into my stories with any set goal for representing marginalized people; I just went in like any author and wrote what I wanted to see, and what I wanted to see was people like me. I think we all go through a stage as developing authors where our first few heroes and heroines aren’t too far off from us; I remember when I would write weird little ficlets in the backs of my junior high notebooks, and I’d swear the stories of scrappy, smart, brown-skinned, queer teenage boys weren’t about me…even though they had my name, my interests, and even wore my favorite (usually ratty, worn to death) outfits.
And we all grow beyond that, too. We start writing characters who are nothing like us; characters who embody everything we aspire to, who embody everything we hate, who represent some fascinating trait that attracts us. But it doesn’t change that we write—and read—both out of a longing to experience new things, and a longing to connect with these fictional characters whose life experiences and personalities resonate with something deep inside us that looks for understanding and meaning. Many times the books I read provide perspective that helps me to understand myself, to feel not so alone…and when I set out to rewrite From the Ashes as a full-length novel, I wanted to provide a similar perspective for other readers out there seeking someone to connect to.
I already had a brown queer hero in the original edition, but save for a few mentions Tobias’s cultural background had no impact on the story. This time I gave it weight, depth, part of his longing for humanity lost, part of what had been stripped from him to make him feel whole, part of his character development. It changed his views on his relationship with his love interest, Sean, and how they connected. I wanted to make it personal…but I also wanted to make it political. I was already writing a story about marginalized superpowered mutants driven to villainy by social ostracization and fear, these desperate people turned into monsters by others who didn’t understand them—and as I reread to familiarize myself with a years-old plot, it resonated painfully true with current events.
I was rewriting this at the height of nationwide discussion and furor over the murders of unarmed Black men by the police, and the rise of Black Lives Matter; as a man of color myself, I experienced firsthand the collective grief, shock, fury, and helplessness as people of color were repeatedly targeted and then villainized in their own murders. Much of that shock and grief and fury went into rewriting From the Ashes, and changed the message involved. The original edition was a simple hero origin story, a villain rising from the ashes to be reborn and redeemed…but in this version I let myself free to explore. Explore the ramifications of violence from both sides; explore what happens when people are pushed to a breaking point…and show respect to those who find a way to rise above the violence, the slaughter, the loss to speak for themselves and others with a strength I’ve always admired.
I’m not sure I have that strength yet, but I’m working on it. I’ll need it, as we head into a 2017 in which the future for people from all marginalizations is frighteningly uncertain and shaky. And until I find that strength…I write about it. I write stories for people like me; people who feel frustrated and want to lash back but can’t; people who know that face on the news could’ve been them just by a matter of chance and the color of their skin. I write for people who’ve been hurt.
And for people who still, despite it all…crave to feel just a little love to light the darkness.
About From the Ashes:
Sociopath. Killer. Deviant.
Monster, devoid of morals, incapable of human emotion. The villain known as Spark has been called this and more, and as a super-powered aberrant has masterminded countless crimes to build his father’s inhuman empire. Yet to professor Sean Archer, this fearsome creature is only Tobias Rutherford–antisocial graduate researcher, quiet underachiever, and a fascinating puzzle Sean is determined to solve.
But one kiss leads to an entanglement that challenges everything Tobias knows about himself, aberrants, and his own capacity to love. When his father orders him to assassinate a senator, one misstep unravels a knot of political intrigue that places the fate of humans and aberrants alike in Tobias’s hands. As danger mounts and bodies pile higher, will Tobias succumb to his dark nature and sacrifice Sean–or will he defy his father and rise from the ashes to become a hero in a world of villains?
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About Xen Sanders:
Hi. I’m Xen. Cole. Whatever you want to call me; both are true, and both are lies. My pen names are multitudes, my nicknames legion. Tall, bi/queer, introverted, author, and of a brown-ish persuasion made up of various flavors of Black, Asian, and Native American. I’m cuter than Hello Kitty, more bitter than the blackest coffee, and able to trip over cats in a single half-asleep lurch; I’m what happens when a Broody Antihero and a Manic Pixie Dream Boy fight to the death, and someone builds a person from the scraps left behind. Beardless, I look like the uke in every yaoi manga in existence; bearded or not, I sound like Barry White. About half my time is spent as a corporate writer, and the other half riding a train of WTFery that sometimes results in a finished book. Romance, erotica, sci-fi, horror, paranormal; LGBTQIA and cishet; diverse settings and diverse characters from a diverse author.