Why Write: YA Fantasy with Trevor Green

Photo by Becky Green Photography www.beckygreenphotos.com
Photo by Becky Green Photography 

Readers, today we welcome fantasy writer Trevor Green! Trevor’s a Twitter-buddy of mine, but this is his first time on the blog. He has some great things to say about audience age and content, so check it out!

Hello, Trevor, and welcome!
Thanks for having me!
Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
 
Hi, I’m Trevor Green, and I’m one of those idiots you’ve heard about who thinks they’ll actually sell a novel someday. That’s right, I’m a writer. Look up “naive” in the dictionary and you’ll see my photo there, smiling up at you from the page with a grin the size of Milwaukee. I don’t know when or how I developed the idea that I was somehow skilled enough to write a novel, but it can be argued that every writer has an ego as big as a dinosaur-sized peacock, so it’s not entirely outrageous. And yes, despite crushing self-doubt and bouts of depression that have my lips dragging on the ground as I shuffle around my apartment, I still feel like I have something worthwhile to say to the world. If that combination is confusing to you, you might not be a writer.
 
Luckily, I happen to live in Utah where a surprisingly amazing writing community exists, so I may have a shot after all.
 
As for my work, I’m currently querying two books simultaneously (get at me, agents), one a MG urban fantasy titled ONLY GINGERS CAN BE WITCHES, the other a YA fantasy called THE WITCKE IN THE RUINS. I love them both equally (even the ginger one), and hope you’ll all get a chance to read them one day. I’ve written/begun many other fantasies that have been shelved for the time being. As for what I’m currently working on, I’ve decided to take a whack at an Adult sci-fi tentatively titled THIRD MIND.
What made you decide to write YA fantasy?
 
For me, there wasn’t much of a decision involved. Because I started writing novels at the relatively young age of 23, the books I’d been reading in the previous several years informed everything I sat down to write. I grew up reading YA and MG, almost exclusively fantasy (throw in a ton of the Star Wars EU novels and you have a real geek on your hands), and right out of the gate, YA fantasy was my go-to genre.
As to why I continue to write YA fantasy, that bears a little examination. In my opinion, there are three stages of reading (obviously with exceptions, and out of order):
  1. Early Childhood – This is where a child first learns to read, begins to understand the concept of written stories, and string the meaning of one sentence to another–creating a complete thought. Most books are simple, exciting or funny, and don’t leave a lasting impression beyond nostalgia later in life.
  2. Adulthood – Reading for adults seems to exist mostly as a way to entertain and keep one’s mind sharp. Lots of books are complicated either in subject matter, sentence structure, or theme. I love a great many Adult books.
  3. Middle Grade and Young Adult – I list these two age groups together because they share a similar purpose. From the preteen years to late high school, kids really start to find a sense of “self.” Their developing brains are forging new, more advanced pathways, their bodies are changing, and the seeds of who they will eventually become are planted. This is the only stage of reading that I would say is crucial to get right. (And this where an exception pops up: early childhood is super important to laying out the framework for a kid’s reading skills and habits. Let’s just consider that a given.) With such fertile brain-soil in their skulls, reading should be the number one thing teen kids are encouraged to engage in. YA and MG books will introduce them to new ideas, call up questions of right and wrong, and help them understand the importance of working through difficulties and obtaining solutions. That isn’t to say YA and MG books should preach to their audience–seriously, heaven forbid–rather, these books have the opportunity to bring new thoughts to the table, allowing a kid to examine and make choices about their own life. As I said before, the books a kid reads from say, twelve to nineteen years-old can be one of the defining aspects of who they will become in their late twenties until their deathbed. As a writer, being a part of that is a very exciting prospect.
You know what, scratch all that; the real reason I write MG and YA fantasy is because I owe it to the universe. I was a pretty lonely kid in school: overweight, terrible hair parted down the middle, never allowed to watch the popular TV shows or movies. Books like Brian Jacques’s Redwall series, Lloyd Alexander’s The Prydain Chronicles, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings (Yeah, I’d say this counts as the perfect reading for a young adult) provided my only friends for years. I knew those characters better than anyone else in my life, and without them, who knows if I would be here today. So despite the analysis of age groups and brain development, the only reason I write YA and MG is to perhaps give some other lonely kid a reason to keep going, no matter how hard life gets. If I could ever do that, I would die happy.
What types of stories does the YA/fantasy combo make possible?
 
I think there are two kinds of fantasy (aside from the many genre classifications): fantasy that focuses on the setting and plot, and fantasy that focuses on character. Everything else fits under those two categories. YA and MG fiction definitely have the character aspect down pat. They own it. After all, that’s why they exists in the first place: to bring a person who never really existed to life, dump them in a bum situation, then follow them through it. The fantasy aspects of a YA or MG story are just the icing to the cake. Delicious icing, to be sure, but still only a garnish to enhance enjoyment. The test of a good YA or MG fantasy is how well it would hold up if stripped of its magic and worldbuilding. Will it still tell a great character piece? Can the characters’ motivations and decisions still win the day? Does the book still contain a message for its readers?
Honestly, these are all things that also make YA so extremely hard to do well. Ask any YA writer. And nothing gets my goat as quickly as a person (usually unfamiliar with the genre in question) insults YA/MG or its readers. Okay, there might not be as much sex or violence (though you’d be surprised) as Adult genres, but you can still find the whole of the human developmental experience in the pages of a good YA or MG. There’s meaning inside that many times doesn’t exist in Adult genres. YA and MG have the luxury of exploring specific aspects of the human experience, focusing on things that speak directly to select members of its readership. Troubled friendships, tragedy, young romance, parental strife, death: all these can be found in YA/MG. Important stuff.
Kate Forsyth has been quoted as saying:
 
“Fantasy fiction does not deny or diminish the existence of sorrow and pain, as so many people seem to think. The possibility of failure is absolutely necessary for the ‘piercing sense of joy’ one feels when victory is finally and with difficulty won. Like a candle-flame, fantasy casts a shadow at the same time that it illuminates. Yet it is the illumination that is important. Fairy-tales all offer the hope that a happy ending is possible and we need to believe this. Fantasy denies ultimate despair. It holds out the hope for a better world, and signposts the way”.
 
Apply that to the YA and MG age groups, and I definitely think we have our answer as to why it’s so important to have our kids read these sorts of stories.
Aside from the obvious, what audience do you think YA attracts? Lots of adults love to read YA — what do you think the reasoning is there? How does the audience alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?
 
I’m gonna quote Stephen Donaldson here in response to the question regarding why adults read YA fantasy:
 
“One of the oldest and most enduring forms of literature in all languages is fantasy. We need metaphors of magic and monsters to understand the human condition. It’s only in modern times that we have suddenly decided this narrative language isn’t serious, that it’s for children; grown-ups don’t believe these things… We’ve reached the point in our sophistication of our self-perceptions when it no longer seems possible to make epic statements about the meaning of life. You get laughed at for doing it, and epics ceased to be written. But in order for us to have this type of heroism, beauty, glory, magic and power we have to get away from real life.” 
 
Spot on. I absolutely love this quote and I throw it around at every opportunity. The question is not so much a matter of age or genre, rather the sorts of stories we feel ourselves needing. Who cares how old the protagonist is when we really need to heal a little with some sweet romance? Or if we’re dealing with a difficult home life, why not read about a kid who obtains personal triumph despite parents who treat him/her badly? There’s a book for every problem, and we can all benefit. When it comes down to it, YA and MG books simply provide a better choice of learning experiences for anyone, of any age.
 
As for my own writing, I don’t pay attention to audience beyond initial parameters before I start (gotta be smart to sell books). I write from my heart, I write what I feel is important. If a teen picks it up–or a ninety year-old man–it doesn’t matter. It should be relevant no matter what, and it can be.
How does the YA age affect the stakes for your characters and your audience? How about fantasy?
 
The teen/young adult years have some defining moments within them that you won’t find elsewhere: the first true friends, struggles to gain independence, the first kiss, the first breakup, etc. What other age group can you examine the effects and problems surrounding such pivotal moments in a person’s life? Most people would say that their young adult years defined who they are in the present. Why can’t YA books continue to define what they read long into adulthood?
As to how fantasy affects the stakes of a given book, I personally believe its simply a matter of upping the contrast. When a photographer takes a photo, they’ve hopefully framed it correctly and paid attention to the lighting. But when the photo turns out gray and washed out regardless, a trip to Photoshop or Lightroom can fix that by adjusting the contrast, levels, and midtones, bringing out the highlights and making the image pop. The same goes for books. Fantasy elements can highlight and contrast the best and worst parts of a story, drawing the mind to the right conclusions, or hiding what shouldn’t be revealed. To repeat Donaldson above: “…in order for us to have this type of heroism, beauty, glory, magic and power we have to get away from real life.”
How do you think fantasy affects its audience?
 
It makes them better people. Period.
For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?
 
You may have guessed by now: I love fantasy. The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, and the Redwall Series by the late Brain Jacques. I can’t even begin to list the many other writers and books within fantasy that have influenced me–I owe so much to them. I also enjoy sci-fi (I should, I’m writing one now!) and some darker stuff, the kind Chuck Wendig writes.
For a more in depth examination of why I love fantasy, you can find an essay I wrote in college here. http://tinyurl.com/ce3m2vr
How can readers reach you?
My blog can be found at beyonddragonsandwizards.blogspot.com, where I post a lot of drivel and the occasional short story. Be sure to check out some author interviews I’ve done myself!
I’m quite active on Twitter: @TrevorJGreen
You can also like my writing page on Facebook: www.facebook.com/trevorgreenwriter
Thanks for stopping by! 
It’s been fun, thanks for having me!
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5 thoughts on “Why Write: YA Fantasy with Trevor Green

  1. “How do you think fantasy affects its audience?
    “It makes them better people. Period.”

    DUDE. This. I agree. And I was that guy reading comics and Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander and David Eddings in junior high as well. I had a good peer group as well, though, but I get what you say about literature being that voice in the darkness. Makes me think of a quote from the Shadowlands movie: “We read to know we are not alone.”
    Great interview, and best of luck with your multiple novels!

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