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Today World Weaver Press hosted a live Twitter chat about young adult fantasy.  I joined the two fabulous YA authors Michelle Lowery Combs, author of Heir to the Lamp and Solomon’s Bell, and A. E. Decker, author of The Meddlers of Moonshine and The Falling of the Moon, to talk about the challenges and rewards of writing YA fantasy.

For those who weren’t able to make it, I’ve posted below my answers to the questions World Weaver Press editor Sarena Ulibarri asked (and a few that didn’t make it in to the Twitter chat).  And here are my questions for you:  If you pick up a book that intrigues you, and then you spot a YA label on it, does that impact your decision to read it? And… what do you what to see more of in YA?

I would love to hear from you!  Feel free to post your comments, or even Tweet about them.  To find the Twitter chat from today, simply enter SFFLunch into the search box on Twitter.  Happy reading!

In a few sentences, please briefly describe your books for our #SFFlunch guests.  OPAL and CHAR are my first two books in the trilogy Fae of Fire and Stone and I am currently finishing up the 3rd book, BLOODSTONE.  My books each chronicle a young woman’s coming of age in a world where humans live alongside the shape-shifting, powerful Fae. The protagonists of OPAL and CHAR are Fae women who struggle with the impact of their powers and their human and Fae relationships.  The protagonist of BLOODSTONE is a human woman, a farmer’s daughter, but with some surprising gifts of her own to offer.

What’s the most rewarding thing for you about writing for a younger audience?  Knowing how emotionally charged most YA readers are.  They are almost never ambivalent—they will either love or hate my book, and I welcome that!  Also knowing that I could potentially be the first writer to introduce them to a novel way of looking at things.  I can imagine an African American young woman picking up CHAR because she finally found a YA fantasy with a dark protagonist.  Not one about African American issues (because she’s already read all those) but just a fantasy with a kick ass black heroine!  I love creating the unexpected. I hope my stories are loved, but if not, that’s ok. What I’m not ok with is not making an impact. YA readers expect emotional impact, and that’s a thrill to deliver.

What specific challenges did you encounter in writing your YA books?  Accepting that my books were YA in the first place.  A dad once asked me if OPAL was appropriate for his teen daughter. I told him the bits that might be offensive, but he waved them off.  She can handle that, he said.  That says a lot about YA—readers can and should be challenged by difficult, terrible circumstances and/ or decisions in a book. The best YA does this well.

What’s your favorite part of the book to write? What’s the hardest?  My favorite part are the early scenes that start to come together.  I don’t write chronologically so when two flashes of inspiration knit themselves together, I really feel the birth of a story.  The hardest is almost always the ending.  It’s like boxing up a friendship and packing it away—it’s hard to let go.

If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?  I would choose Vidar, the unwilling Prince of Fae. He’s a contemplative scribe, cruising through ancient libraries for rare magic and old tales.  Vidar inherits a dark past and has his own wrongs to right.  He’s an unstable guy, but has some awesome powers over water he’s newly discovered.  I’d be a mouse in his pocket in a medieval library, then shape-shift with him in the oceans of the third book to speak with a whale.  And I’d witness his transformation from arrogant, angry youth to sober manhood. I guess I’m doing that already, in the writing of BLOODSTONE.

There seems to be a pretty big range in YA fiction regarding what’s appropriate for romance and sexual content. How do you approach these themes in your own YA?  I do what feels right for the story.  But I’m not a romance writer. I don’t delve into erotica. That’s just not what I write.  Many love scenes in my books came about unexpectedly, sometimes between characters I never wanted to fall in love.  Relationships deserve a climax of sorts. We need to treat sex as a part of human nature, not something sinful or disquieting.  We also need to keep in mind the book’s style, not just the age of the audience. If it’s not a romance, an erotic scene may be inappropriate.

YA definitely doesn’t shy away from tough topics: violence, tyranny, societal or environmental collapse, etc. What tough topics have you dealt with in your YA, or what do you want to tackle in upcoming projects?  Throughout my series there is a theme of intolerance and persecution. The Fae are feared. Their lives and heritage are threatened.  Especially in CHAR, we see the threat of genocide, and the emotional scarring of a people undergoing persecution and mutilation.  The persecution of Fae in my books is also symbolic of human fear and destructive control over wild, untamed nature.  OPAL touches on a relationship with an abusive father, deals with grief and coming of age without a mother and an estranged father.  Opal deals with loneliness in growing up, whether your parents are estranged, deceased, or even a loving presence in your life.  In CHAR, Luna learns that power and rage are deadly weapons; she learns temperament in a most excruciating way.  Luna’s story climaxes with the devastation caused by her decisions. Her punishment is harsh.  Also in CHAR, Vidar is a youth with a family history littered with betrayal and murder; he’s embittered by his mother’s abandonment.  I will go on to face all the ugly issues that rear up naturally in my stories. They need to be addressed; our readers expect it.

Surveys report that many readers of YA books are in fact over the age of 30. What do you think is the appeal of YA books for adults?  Adults have grown out of the loss of inhibition. They know the disappointments that come with responsibility and routine.  Yet adults well remember a time when the magic of life was still roaring through their veins, and they miss that.  Who doesn’t wonder what other stories their lives could have become?  Who doesn’t occasionally get disgusted with their ever-after?  It’s easier, and maybe smarter, to relive the perils of youth through reading, rather than to actually rewrite your own life.  Some go through a mid-life crisis, others read YA.

Michelle, your series is solidly YA, but Ann and Kristina, your books could be considered “crossover.” How much is “YA” a label you identify with, and how much is a label that has been placed on your work?  I have written purposeful YA, and I have written fantasy that I thought was for adults.  My short story If It Rains in Sucker Literary was meant for a YA audience. It’s got a much edgier voice.  OPAL and CHAR were books without an intended YA genre, and I was even surprised by the label at first.  But it definitely fits.  It is such an important and impacting genre that I am thrilled when any of my stories fits into the realm of YA.

Where is your favorite place to write?  Under my sunlamp, in a quiet house, with absolutely no agenda. The setting doesn’t matter as much as the silence. Being a mom of two busy boys, I’ll take all the uninterrupted quiet I can get.

opal-cover-newChar Front Cover 3.16.16