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By Terry Dean
The Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter. Chronicles of Narnia.
The Ancient Lands?
Never heard it? Probably because it's the first in a series of fantasy novels recently published by Oak Park resident Jason McCammon. Never heard of him?
That doesn't surprise the 36-year-old Roselle native, who, prior to becoming an author, worked mostly on Hollywood movies and TV shows as a cameraman and electrical technician. The first book in his Ancient Lands series, Warrior's Quest: Search for the Ifa Scepter, is a unique offering in the fantasy genre that uses themes and traditions from Africa.
Most fantasy novels, he said, derive from European, Asian or Greek themes. Many are geared toward adults. But McCammon's Ancient Lands series is geared toward children though the message is universal.
"It's about a prince wanting to become a king, but the premise deals with understanding that there are more important things in life than being king," McCammon said last week. "It's like that idea some women grew up with about meeting your Prince Charming who'll marry you and live happily ever after. But if you spend your time waiting for that, there will be other wonderful [people] you can miss out on."
The fantasy genre appealed to McCammon, who grew up in the Chicago area and moved to Oak Park in January. He noticed very few "mainstream" fantasy books with African-based characters or themes. He was inspired to write the book in 2008, while watching Barack Obama run for president.
"There would be no book if Obama hadn't decided to run," McCammon said. "I really identified with him. I thought, if this guy had the audacity to run for office, at least I can write a book."
Wanting to branch out in his career, he looked at breaking into screenwriting. Instead of taking any formal classes, he just decided to start writing, looking up screenplays online and following that pattern. Ancient Lands actually began as a screenplay. All told, he has spent about a year and a half on the novel and screenplay.
McCammon ended up self-publishing the book, which is currently available online at sites like Amazon and at bookstores, including Oak Park's Book Table and Afri-Ware.
Finding an agent or publisher was tough, he said, mainly because they receive plenty of manuscripts but also because his book is a new take on fantasy.
"I wrote one agent and explained what the book was about, and he sent me a reply saying, 'Good luck.' I've gotten a lot of one-word replies."
McCammon did a lot of research before beginning Ancient Lands, which will likely include four additional books.
Among the many African traditions he explored was the religion of the Yoruba people of Southeast Nigeria. It's based on a supreme God and lesser deities or spirits.
The science fiction genre over the years, he noted, has occasionally borrowed from African traditions. Marvel Comics in the 1990s created a series of characters based on the Yoruba religion — McCammon pointed to the warrior God Shango, a divinity of Thunder, as a possible inspiration for the Marvel character Thor.
In McCammon's Warrior's Quest, Bomani, a teenage warrior with impressive skills, sets out to retrieve the Ifa Scepter, a "precious" artifact that must be located in order to save his father's kingdom.
McCammon, who lived in New York for nearly a decade before moving to Oak Park in January, has been promoting it at book signings and schools. Most recently, he talked with students at schools on Chicago's South Side but hopes to come to Oak Park and the West Side area. He enjoyed talking to kids the most.
"The kids seem to really like it, but I have had black kids who have said they've never seen anything like it before. Some have said they've gone to bookstores to look for similar fantasy books but could never find any," McCammon said.
He's already writing the second book in the series, Tribe of Leopards. Another book planned for release this year is an illustrated children's book, based on characters from Warrior's Quest. In writing the fantasy novel, McCammon said he wanted to give African-American readers in particular something other than "hood and sex books."
He also wants to inspire young people to become writers.
"I describe it as a domino effect. What you do causes others to do a similar thing," he said. "The goal is to have other kids write a book, maybe even a better book."
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