Why Write: YA Fantasy with Trevor Green

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!

Why Write: New Adult with Kelley York

Readers, today we welcome Kelley York, a versatile writer who has written dark novels in both contemporary and paranormal settings. She’s here today to talk about New Adult fiction, which has caused quite a stir in publishing lately. So let’s all say hello and learn a little bit about what the NA classification means to one author.

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
I’m from Sacramento, California and I write mostly LGBT young adult and new adult fiction. Generally of a darker variety. 😉 I have three published novels to date, and my fourth one—MADE OF STARS—will be available from Entangled Publishing in October.

First of all, could you tell us what “New Adult” means to you? It’s such a hot topic lately — what do you think of it as a new classification?
HUSHED falls into the NA category, but it came out in a time when NA wasn’t widely accepted as being a “thing.” Now, NA is really taking off, filling (what I think is) a gap in the market. As a primarily NA writer, it’s a very exciting time for me.

What made you decide to write new adult fiction?
There wasn’t a conscious effort to write NA, it’s just what many of my stories have called for. With HUSHED, it was important for Archer to live alone, given the type of life he leads. He couldn’t have his mother lording over him. In SUICIDE WATCH, Vincent’s entire journey begins when he’s thrust out into the ‘real world’ with absolutely no knowledge of how it works.

What types of stories does new adult make possible?
We get protagonists who’ve likely already been through the teenage romance, been in love a few times, done all the high school drama, etc. Our “YA” years in high school do so much to shape us. New adult reflects the result of all that, while simultaneously thrusting the characters into the new situations that adult life presents.

What audience do you think new adult attracts? Is it like YA, attracting readers outside its age group? How does the audience alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?
NA is going to attract an older audience than YA, which means as authors we can get away with more in terms of content. Language, sex, darker situations. While young adult can and does deal with these things, they do have to be handled with some tact because at least a portion of our audience are going to be young teenagers. NA lifts a good deal of those restrictions.

How does new adult affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?
In terms of contemporary/real world stories, I think the stakes are definitely upped. Our characters are being placed in charge of their own lives. They’re essentially children being thrust into an adult world and, sadly, many of them aren’t prepared for it. School doesn’t teach kids how to find a career, balance a checkbook, pay our bills, find a home, or how vastly different interactions are outside of school.

Why do you think people love to read new adult? How do you think the age-setting affects its audience?
They always say kids read up. Middle-graders read about young teens. Younger teens tend to read about upper teens. So…then, where does that leave older teens in the 17/18 range? If they read up, they’re going to be tossed right into adult books. There’s a whole section of life that gets skipped over. Growing up, I stopped reading in my teen years because the YA books available at the time began to feel too young for me, and I wasn’t interested in jumping into “adult” books yet. There was a distinct lack of books that seemed to be just for me.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?
I’m a sucker for anything emotional and dark. I was big into paranormal for awhile, but these days I primarily read contemporary. Anything John Green, Hannah Moskowitz, or Sean Olin makes me happy. I love dark stories, or emotional stories that really make me feel as well as think. I’m big on character development. I’m also a complete sucker for books like Mira Grant’s FEED series, or Carrie Ryan’s THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH.

Where can readers track you down?
Website/Blog
Twitter
Facebook
GoodReads

Kelley, thanks for stopping by!
Thank you for having me!

Why Write: Contemporary Fantasy with Marcy L. Peska

marcypeskaHey, gang! Today we have Marcy L. Peska to talk about why she writes contemporary fantasy. She has some really fantastic things to say about contemporary fantasy versus urban fantasy, fantasy in general, and genre-writing in a larger way. Enjoy, and take notes! She has some great stuff to say.

Hello, Marcy, and welcome!
Thank you for having me. I’m tickled to participate in this project and eager to read all the interviews!

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
I was born in Grand Rapids, MI but came to Alaska when I was 7 months old, so I’ve always considered myself an Alaskan. I’m very attached to the region of Alaska where I reside and it’s had an enormous impact on who I’ve become, as an individual, and also as a writer. For nine years of my childhood, I lived in a tiny and isolated “bush” community in southern Southeast Alaska called Edna Bay. My experiences living a sort of pioneer/subsistence lifestyle gave me a different perspective on life than many modern Americans and I think that colors my life choices, my writing voice and the general themes in my writing. Early this month (April 2013), I published my short memoir, Head Buckets & Hashtags: An Alaskan Childhood In Tweets on Amazon Kindle and that talks about my childhood in a lot more detail.

My fantasy novel, Magic All Around (5/12/13 release date at Amazon Kindle) is set right here in Juneau, the capital city of Alaska and this setting is central to who my characters are. This is a good place for me to explain why I consider Magic All Around to be a work of contemporary fantasy instead of one of urban fantasy. These two sub-genres overlap and there aren’t any universal definitions but urban fantasies are generally set in a city that is real and recognizable. My novel meets those two criteria but few people would describe Juneau, Alaska as urban. The U.S. Census Bureau considers any community with a population of 50,000 or more to be urban but Juneau has only about 30,000 people. Although it’s located on the mainland, the only transportation in or out of Juneau is by air or water and it’s a community defined more by its breathtaking landscape of ice fields, mountains and ocean, than its structures or streets. Juneau just doesn’t have that gritty, urban feel to it and neither do my characters. If there were such a category as rural fantasy, Magic All Around would fall tidily into that, but there isn’t and so contemporary fantasy is the best fit.

What made you decide to write in contemporary fantasy?
I read many genres but fantasy has been my favorite since I was about ten or eleven. I don’t think I’ve ever made a deliberate choice to write fantasy, I’ve just always known that fantasy is what I would write. The sub-genre of contemporary fantasy provides the framework, (the real-world setting and current cultural milieu) at the foundation of my novel. Nonetheless, my process was story first, sort out and define genre after. I think genre intentionality is terrific; it just hasn’t been part of my writing process yet.

What types of stories does contemporary fantasy make possible?
One of my favorite things about fantasy is how a deft author can use it to hold a mirror up to reality and help us examine various aspects of life. High fantasy and some of the other sub-genres lend themselves especially well to the examination of culture, mores and taboos. I like to think of those sub-genres as taking an anthropological or sociological approach to fantasy. Contemporary fantasy seems to lend itself particularly well to a more narrow focus: to exploring how an individual character makes decisions and interacts with his or her world and I think of this as more of a psychological approach to fantasy.

The other thing that I think is useful in contemporary fantasy is that it can be a gateway genre. Folks new to fantasy or those who usually read other types of fiction sometimes feel confused or off-put by the foreignness of high fantasy and other sub-genres that utilize extensive world building or require a greater suspension of disbelief. It’s not quite as big a leap, for these readers
to sample contemporary fantasy, where we all start with a common reality quite similar to the one we live in on a day-to-day basis. Then, once a reader has begun to enjoy a dally in the shallow end of the pool, so to speak, that reader is more likely to venture into deeper water.

What audience do you think contemporary fantasy attracts? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?
I think contemporary fantasy attracts and accommodates folks from across the age spectrum and readers with a lot of different genre preferences because it frequently crosses genre boundaries with contemporary fiction, science fiction, historical fiction, romance, mystery, chick-lit, you name it. As I touched on earlier, my approach to fiction writing is to share the story I have inside of me rather than to create a story that meets a particular set of criteria for a specific genre or audience. Then, once the story is complete, I can define genre and audience and learn to market to the right folks.

How does contemporary fantasy affect the stakes for your characters and your
audience?
First, I want to say that you ask great questions and you’re making me think more deeply about genre than I have since I was in college back in the early 90’s. I hope you won’t be grading my answers!

Definitely no grades here! I actually worried more about writers grading my questions than grading their answers in any way!

I don’t think any genre, or sub-genre, has an exclusive license on low, medium or high-stakes situations. The more research and/or world building an author does, however, the further up the stakes continuum they tend write; there’s a level of investment on the part of the author and the reader that must be paid off. The opposite, however, certainly isn’t true. In other words, plenty of authors write high-stakes stories in genres that require little to no research or world building.

I consider contemporary fantasy to be low on the research and world building scale but I’ve read novels in this sub-genre from across the stakes continuum. As a reader and a writer, I often prefer low to medium stakes stories. Again, there are exceptions to this, but as a rule, I have little tolerance for anxiety, suspense, tension and large-scale carnage. In my life, and in my writing, I’m more concerned with personal, family and community level challenges than I am with impending doom or grand battles of good versus evil.

Why do you think people love to read contemporary fantasy? How do you think the genre affects its audience?
I believe that reframing the way we view our environment and our experiences has the potential to change our thoughts, feelings and reactions to those things. All genres…no, all art, has the potential to catalyze this kind of transformation, but the proximity of contemporary fantasy to consensus reality (not too close and not too far) makes it a brilliant vehicle for stories that may inspire readers to generalize what they learn from characters and transfer that knowledge to real-world scenarios to reframe their own views.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?
Fantasy has always spoken to me most deeply and most comfortingly, with science fiction in a close second place. I suppose this has a lot to do with growing up among people who valued questioning reality, questioning mainstream culture, questioning authority…questioning everything really! I internalized those values and, for me at least, this is what a good fantasy does, it takes the characters and the reader (maybe even the author) on a journey where they’re forced to reevaluate the nature of reality and how they respond to it. That being said, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that fantasy and science-fiction make up the bulk of my reading diet. (It totally makes up a large portion of my reading diet, so no judgment here!) I read widely and enjoy a variety of fiction and non-fiction
genres, especially things related to psychology/mental health, dogs and Alaska.

Wow, Marcy, you gave some great answers and got me thinking about still more genre-related blog topics. Thanks for stopping by and chatting with us!
This was fun; thank you for interviewing me and getting me thinking more about genre.

Readers, if you want to track Marcy down, you can find her at…

Amazon Author Page

Webpage

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

E-mail: marcylpeskaATgmailDOTcom

 

Why Write: A New Blog Project

Why write?

Wow, that’s a big question, and one I’m not going to answer today. Instead, I want to announce a new series of posts I’d like to kick off in April.

I want to explore why genre writers write the stories they do. Why, for example, write fantasy? Why write for teens? Why write romance, or why write erotica? Why write horror? What is it about these stories that compels writers to tell them, and what is it that readers love to find in them?

Genre fiction is literary, too! …though maybe not Twilight.

So, to help me answer some of these questions, I’m looking for a series of writers at all stages of publishing—agented, querying, self-published, traditionally-published—to come here to Kristin’s Fantasies and chat with me about why they chose their particular genre and what about it gives them joy.

Specifically, I’m looking for writers in these genres:

  • romance
  • paranormal
  • erotica
  • children’s/MG
  • epic fantasy
  • sci-fi
  • graphic novels
  • urban fantasy
  • Young Adult
  • New Adult
  • horror
  • suspense
  • chick lit
  • any genre in between or unlisted

Really, if your book can be put on a shelf (even an imaginary shelf, like “Literary Fiction”), I want you to talk to me about that particular shelf and what you find there.

How it’ll work:

  1. You send me a message, Tweet, or comment saying you want in, what genre you write, and an email address.
  2. I send you an email and we figure out when your post will run.
  3. I send you some questions, you reply, I send some follow-up questions, and we have an e-mail conversation like friends.
  4. Alternatively, you can write a little essay. We’ll talk!
  5. I run the post here on the date we decided.

What you get out of it:

Promotion! Connections with other writers! A chance to talk about your work and books in general! An e-hug! A blog post you can reblog someday when you don’t feel like writing a new post!

So… who wants to play??

Jazz Punk

Those of you who don’t watch Fox’s latest sci-fi venture, Fringe, missed a miraculous moment last night: the birth of a new genre.

The much-discussed episode, titled “Brown Betty” after a very special breed of pot, is a drug-induced, musical fairy tale told by a mad scientist to the main character’s young niece. It’s a noir tale of a broken-hearted private detective, a young man with a glass heart, and an evil scientist who steals children’s dreams as inspiration for his inventions, which include teddy bears, hugs, and singing corpses.

But I’m not too interested in the plot, as fun and quirky as it was; nope, I’m interested in the setting. The fairy tale combines a prohibition-era, jazz age setting with the sci-fi technology of the Fringe universe… Jazz Punk!

Steampunk is, for the most part, running out of steam (haha), but it’s been a major sci-fi fetish for a good twenty years now. Could this be its replacement? You still have the dark, smokey atmosphere of Victorian London, but this time it’s noir New York, gangster Chicago. Imagine the potential: think of flapper dresses, the fedoras, the high-tech computers! Picture the roaring twenties, but with lasers and flying cars! Swing dance, but with AI?

Yeah, okay, that last one was cheesy, but I think the Fringe writers, in keeping with Fox’s theme week,  inadvertently created an entirely new sci-fi genre — and possibly a new fetish. If you haven’t watched the episode, check it out. Let your imagination run wild with the possibilities… Smoke some Brown Betty if you have to.

“Brown Betty” discussion:
Entertainment Weekly
UGO
Zap2It

FringeBloggers