– “Why YA? Why Not?”
*Grabs a cup of coffee*
Hi everyone, my name’s Brandon, and I write Young Adult Fantasy.
Hoo, okay, that felt good to get off my chest.
I guess you could say it started innocently enough, with my sister urging me to write something en vogue, something with a young female protagonist set in a dystopian society. Naturally, my inclination was to figure out how to do this in a fantasy setting.
Also, to make sure that I wasn’t writing a YA novel.
Denial was a huge part of a number of the creative decisions I made with The Summerlark Elf. I made Enna twenty years old solely so she wouldn’t be a teenager. I left out any trace of a romance subplot, never mind even broaching the idea of a love triangle. I kept the female protagonist and the dystopian setting though (sort of).
After the book was released, I was steadfast in my belief that it was decidedly not a YA book. I made sure to tell everyone who asked that it was meant for an adult audience, though I made sure to add the caveat that it could be read and enjoyed by someone as young as twelve.
Definitely not YA, though. Not at all, thank you kindly.
“But why not?” my girlfriend and cover artist asked on more than one occasion. “What’s wrong with YA?”
“I want to be taken seriously as a fantasy author.” I would reply, with a surprising lack of irony. “I want my books to appeal to a wide range of people!”
And they have, I’m proud to say. I’ve spoken to teens for their library book club, received fan mail from people well into their senior years (of life, not school), been read by the most hardcore genre fans and people who have never read a fantasy book in their life. But then, the same can be said of a lot of people who write books billed as YA, especially genre YA.
Hell, look at people like Terry Brooks, David Eddings, or Raymond Feist. You cannot tell me that, had their respective series’ been released today, they would not be pushed as YA titles. Let’s take it further and admit that most post-Tolkien fantasy up until the mid-90s or so fits the most basic tenant of Young Adult fiction, in that the protagonist is a young adult.
Which, if the media is correct (I know), is anyone between 18 and 25. Not unlike Enna Summerlark.
So, that being said, what was my issue, and what changed my mind?
I think we can chalk a lot of it up to me, frankly, being an elitist jerk, and assuming that most fantasy readers are the same.
You see, a funny thing happened when I released The Summerlark Elf. For the first time since I started reading fantasy way back in the before times, I was interacting with other fantasy readers, readers who put my credentials to shame. Readers who, by and large, were perfectly happy to read a YA book, provided it was good. Not just that, but the more people read the book, the more they would tell me it felt like a YA book, and not derisively.
Moreover, something else happened this past year. For a tenure of about eight months, my books were being published by the ultimately ill-fated Realmwalker Publishing Group, and damned if they weren’t selling better that I had hoped. A large part of that, upon careful examination, was the fact that RPG had opted to start billing Summerlark, and its follow-up The Missing Thane’s War as Young Adult Fantasy! Apparently, the best way to broaden my readership was ultimately to narrow my work’s genre classification – who knew?!
It took me longer than I care to admit, but it doesn’t matter who I think my writing is supposed to appeal to, but rather who it does appeal to. Calling my books Young Adult doesn’t change the story in any real way; I’m still writing the books I want to write. And really, YA is a ridiculously large market with a really ridiculously large fan base. If my books sell as Young Adult books, then who am I to say no?
Still not crazy about love triangles, though.
I’m looking at you, Wil Ohmsford…
Brandon Draga was born in 1986, just outside Toronto, Ontario. His love of all things fantasy began at an early age with games like The Legend of Zelda, Heroquest, and Dungeons and Dragons. This affinity for the arcane and archaic led to his studying history at York University from 2005 to 2011. In late 2012, he began writing a D&D campaign setting that would lay the groundwork for the world of Olhean, the setting for his “Four Kingdoms Saga” novel series, compared by critics to the works of Terry Brooks, Michael J. Sullivan, and R.A. Salvatore. Brandon has also proven that SF/F can be made accessible at any age, writing the lauded picture book “Dragon in the Doghouse”. Brandon still lives just outside Toronto, and when he is not writing enjoys skateboarding, playing guitar, and playing tabletop games.
You can learn more about Brandon’s work on his web site: http://www.brandondraga.com/
Morally Questionable Characters
Thieves, assassins, bounty hunters, smugglers. We love books that feature characters who lead darklives, living on the edge of acceptable society. What makes stories about characters with morally questionable professions so intriguing?
The vicarious experience
Let’s be honest—most of us don’t actually want to steal things or kill people (or do we?). But in a book,we can experience things we’d never do in reality. The thrill of the chase, the fear of getting caught, theconfidence of being a badass. Morally questionable characters provide us with the opportunity toindulge in situations and actions we’d usually avoid.
Reading is an out-of-body experience, no matter the subject or genre. We can safely enjoy the illicit andforbidden, from the comfort of our couch—without the dire consequences.
The character’s growth
At the heart of a compelling story is usually a character who changes. As they navigate their waythrough the plot, the events leave their mark, forcing them to face their flaws and inner demons. Oftenthe protagonist grows, and becomes better. Sometimes, he or she doesn’t. Either way, the characteryou meet on page one is not the same character you say goodbye to when you turn the final page.
Characters leading dark lives pull you through the story, enticing you with the possibility for change. Will they do the right thing in the end? They keep us on edge, wondering what they’ll do, because we know their standards. They’re as likely to betray as to save, to embrace the dark rather than the light. The potential for a satisfying character arc is strong when the character begins as a thief, rogue, or killer.
The character’s competence
Often the thieves and killers in a story are remarkable at what they do. They can scale a wall, pick a lock, hide in the shadows, or talk their way out of anything. Whether the story includes the character learning these skills, or they already possess them from the beginning, reading about a badass is fun. There’s a deep satisfaction in seeing characters pull off the impossible, and a delicious sense of anticipation as we watch the story unfold. We know that this time, their skills might not be enough to get them through in one piece.
Writing an assassin
As an author, writing about morally questionable characters proved to be as much fun as reading them. I always enjoy exploring a character who views the world very differently from me. Writing a book from the perspective of a cold-hearted assassin was fascinating. What would she do when facing a challenge?
How does she interact with the people who cross her path? How would she react when her own life is threatened?
Pairing an assassin with an innocent child took the story in an intriguing direction. The main character is faced with saving the life of the person she was hired to kill—which sends her on the run, pursued by her fellow assassins, and a notorious bounty hunter. A moral hero would handle this adventure in one way—an assassin takes quite a different path. Throughout the story, she’s able to use her skills to help her along, often facing odds that are stacked against her. And the events that unfold challenge not only her worldview, but her view of herself. All in all, it made for a very satisfying story to write, and I hope readers enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Assassin’s Charge: An Echoes of Imara Novel
What if you were hired to kill the only person who could save you?
Rhisia Sen is one of the Empire’s highest paid assassins. Living a life of luxury, she chooses her contracts carefully, working to amass enough wealth so she can leave her bloody trade. She is offered a new contract on the outskirts of civilization, and almost refuses—until she sees the purse. It could be the last job she ever has to take.
But when she reaches the destination, she discovers her mark is a child.
The contract, and her reputation, demand she kill the boy—if she can banish his innocent face from her mind. But another assassin has been sent to kill her, and a notorious bounty hunter is on her trail. She doesn’t know why the boy is a target, or why her former employer wants her dead. Saving the child could be her only chance at survival.
Claire Frank is the author of the epic fantasy series Echoes of Imara, and the brand new novel, Assassin’s Charge, a stand-alone story set in the same world. By day, Claire is a busy mom of three. By night, she writes, giving voices to the characters who clutter her mind during the daylight hours. Her husband David is her co-creator and collaborator, adding his ideas and feedback to her work. Together they banter ideas, craft worlds, create characters and develop stories, usually over too much coffee. Learn more at www.clairefrankbooks.com
Continuing my personal crusade to introduce everyone to great books, I am honored to have Michael R. Fletcher, author of Beyond Redemption, visit the blog for Part Three of his THE RULES OF A RESPONSIVE REALITY blogging tour. Here Michael will explain the madness and mayhem behind the world of Manifest Delusion; a place where insanity is the means to shape reality to your will!
RULES OF A RESPONSIVE REALITY – PART THREE
Types of Geisteskranken
In Part One I defined some basic terms such as Geisteskranken (crazy people capable of warping reality with their delusions) and the Sane folks who are only capable of shaping reality as a group. In Part Two I looked at the factors defining and limiting the powers of a…
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Awesome guest post over at http://beauty-in-ruins.blogspot.com/ !
Go check it out.
Part Two will be posted tomorrow (Wed. 11/11/15) right here on mightythorjrs.
Part Three will post Thursday. 11/12/15 over at bookwraiths.com
This will go down as the greatest trilogy of all time! (or at least this week!)
A great guest post by Kameron Hurley
Make sure you check out Empire Ascendant by
Looking Back or Leaping Forward: The Evolving Fantasy Prose Style by Kameron Hurley
Ursula K. Le Guin famously wrote a scathing critique of modern fantasy novel language in her essay “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie.” Her argument was one I could get behind: just as you should not be able to pick up your character and put them into a modern setting and have them be the same people, you should not be able to pick up your character dialogue and prose…
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