My family and friends think it’s really strange that I am writing dystopian or dystpian-esque stories these days, and I guess it is. I don’t read dystopian novels really ever, and dystopian films aren’t in my top-tier of choices, although I do watch them. I am an optimist and a very practical person. Those qualities aren’t usually considered dystopian idea diamond mines.
But last March, when I was deciding what to write for the last-ever Script Frenzy, I couldn’t get away from this idea of a dystopian standoff between good and evil, freedom and bondage, real life and statist utopia. I ended up writing Laid Waste, a story that takes place after a virulent bacteria sweeps the planet and kills off more than 99% of the world’s population. I love the story and may turn it into a novel next year. (It’s currently being read by a producer, so we’ll see!)
My new YA trilogy is dystopian with a sci-fi/alien twist, with some low fantasy thrown in. (Think magic along the lines of The Chronicles of Narnia rather than Harry Potter.) I’ll write another post on the genesis of the actual story, but again I was struck by the age-old battles of good versus evil and freedom versus bondage. Many have noted over the centuries that there are only a few stories in the world — it’s what we do with them that makes them unique. These themes really resonate with me, which is why The Lord of the Rings is my all-time favorite novel (and movie).
I believe that there is evil in the world. If there are other races on other planets, I have no doubt there is evil among them, too. Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Plato said, “The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” Whatever your politics or religion, this is a universal truth that we can see played out throughout history. The strong conquer the weak; the evil oppress the good; the zealot overpowers the quiet believer.
There is a lot of drama in those situations in real life, so there is obviously a lot of drama to be had in a novel or film. This theme is a wonderful backdrop to countless stories. Certainly more than I’ll ever be able to write in my lifetime! Hence the dystopian ideas – sometimes you’ve got to take your theme big, right?
As far as YA, I have always “chosen” my genre by writing the story that I want and figuring out where it fits in the modern world of genres. My two treasure hunts are really cozy adventures — they’re clean, they’re fun, no one dies, nothing gets blown up. If you write a novel set in the Civil War, it’s automatically historical, and if it has a love story, then it’s romance. But mine’s also got a mystery and a lot of elements of the war, so even it doesn’t fit cleanly.
The same is true with the IXEOS trilogy. It’s YA because the main characters are teens. Many of the characters are teens, in fact, but not all. Ixeos has been taken over by humanoid aliens and have enslaved the remaining human population. That’s sci-fi and dystopian. The teens get to Ixeos by magic, and they can travel throughout the planet by portals that only the outsiders can use, placed in the two hundred miles of tunnels under Paris. Fantasy. There’s some romance in there, and a lot of action/adventure and thriller elements, too. Is that a genre? YA dystopian sci-fi fantasy romance action/adventure thriller? I didn’t find it on Amazon…
I have kids who are 16 and 20. I’ve homeschooled them for thirteen years. I’ve spent a whole lot of time traveling with them, talking with them, laughing with them, arguing with them… I have a pretty good idea of the teenage psyche. Since my oldest is a girl and my youngest is a boy, I’ve got a pretty good handle on the gender thing, too. I love this age. I love that their life is full of potential. I love that teens are looking for a way to make a difference in the world. I sent the McClellands to Ixeos for that reason — to make a difference in a life or death, good and evil struggle.
While the trilogy is technically Young Adult, it’s suitable for any age, from teen all the way up. My beta readers have been twenty to fifty, and they loved the story. There’s some history, a lot of geography, a lot of uncertainty, a bit of McGyver-ing… There’s something for virtually everyone. Oh, I know a lot of people don’t like this kind of a book. I’m not sure I would have bought it two years ago, to be honest. But when the story leads, it’s amazing how you can read any genre and become engrossed in the world. I’ve read some great YA in the last couple of years thanks to my daughter, and really love the feel of the genre.
After I finish the IXEOS trilogy (I’ll write book 3 in April, which is when book 2 will be published), I’m going back to the world of the Quinns for some more action/adventure treasure hunt novels. I’ve got a slot for one more book this year, and no idea how I’ll fill it… More YA? More dystopian? Something completely different? That’s the great thing about this job when you’re an indie author — you just never know!