J.R.R. Tolkien grew up reading mythology and folk tales, which had a profound effect on the books he wrote as an adult. Fantasy author Neil Gaiman has cited Michael Moorcock’s pulpy swords-and-sorcery Elric series as a major influence on his writing. And Octavia Butler’s Kindred inspired N.K. Jemisin to write novels like her Broken Earth trilogy, which was a multiple Hugo Award-winning series.
For Provincetown resident Aaron Pacheco, however, the route to writing fantasy fiction wasn’t so direct.
A native of Raynham, Pacheco first visited Provincetown with his parents on a family vacation. As an adult, he was drawn to the town’s natural beauty, vibrant arts scene, and LGBTQ-friendly atmosphere. When the pandemic turned life upside down in 2020, he and his partner moved to Provincetown.
As it turns out, that may have been just the thing Pacheco needed to spark his first fantasy novel: “Raynham is a great community, but there’s something truly magical about Provincetown,” he says.
Although Pacheco, 38, says that he always felt like a storyteller, he never envisioned himself as an author. “I couldn’t imagine that I would be able to put my words into a long narrative story in the way that’s required for a book,” he says. “I always thought that the way I would tell my stories would be through a TV show or maybe a movie or video game.” He says he was most inspired by Saturday-morning cartoons and comic books, citing X-Men in particular. The stories he was drawn to had common themes that Pacheco would later explore in his own work. “They’re stories of people who feel like outcasts,” he says. “They know they have this gift, this uniqueness to them, but other people don’t understand it.”
Pacheco eventually launched a website where he began posting Star Trek fan fiction — original stories involving characters from the various iterations of the series. They were received enthusiastically by his fellow fans, and Pacheco began to consider writing a novel-length work. But the prospect of getting it through the publishing process and onto bookshelves was daunting.
Today’s publishing industry is vastly different from what it used to be. The number of followers an author has on Instagram and TikTok can matter as much as her ability to tell a compelling story or use a semicolon correctly. And signing with a publisher remains a long and complicated process that involves finding an agent, writing proposals, submitting a completed book, countless rewrites — and often, in the end, giving up control of the work.
Pacheco discussed the project with his friend M.D. Cooper, a prolific sci-fi author who had successfully self-published several books. She told him that process offered her freedom. Although self-published work is often overlooked, if not denigrated, by traditional publishing culture, Pacheco learned that the upside is that authors retain all rights to their work and have complete freedom from editing — which can be important for queer writers and audiences.
It didn’t take much to persuade Pacheco to start planning his novel. He began by drawing a map of the world where the story would be set, which allowed him to think about the geography of the planet and how it created opportunities for its inhabitants to evolve and interact with one another.
The books that resulted are set in a vividly detailed fantasy realm in which every child is born with a gift tied to each of the world’s nine “spectral elements,” like “nightsmoke,” “goldenfire,” and “crimsonwind.” Unlike tales involving heroes who are destined to be “the One” (think Harry Potter and The Matrix), in the Ildarwood stories all of the children and young adults have the ability to unlock their hidden talents. The stories are as much about the strength of communities as they are about the uniqueness of the individuals who compose them.
After seven years of work, Pacheco’s research and writing culminated in the publication of his first novel, The Trials of Ildarwood: Spectres of the Fall, under the pen name S.C. Selvyn in 2021. A prequel, Fall of the Forsaken, was published last month. Both are available in print and e-book versions. The novels are beautifully designed with original artwork and are accompanied by a richly detailed website, TheIldarwood.com.
As Pacheco’s fantasy world has evolved, one thing has remained constant: his intention to give his readers — many of whom are in their teens — a range of queer characters they can identify with. The third book in his series, due later this year, will be dedicated to the trans community, with proceeds going to True Colors United, a nonprofit dedicated to serving LGBTQ homeless youth.
Ultimately, Pacheco wants his work to be a safe space for readers young and old, a home that is as comfortable and exhilarating to them as Provincetown is to him.
“The main message I want readers to walk away with is that we all have a past that is beyond our changing,” he says. “But we can’t let that drag down our future and our chance at happiness. The happiness of my characters is dependent on their ability to recognize their unique gifts and find strength in that, wherever they may be.”