This Book Is Not Yet Rated

One question I have gotten a number of times since the Elger and the Moon pre-order went live is some variation of: “What age group is this book written for?” Up until now, I have not thought overly hard about the answer to that question. When I was a kid, there were shelves full of fantasy and science fiction novels (my parents were members of the Science Fiction Book Club for as long as I can remember) and I would simply grab something off one of those shelves and read it. I never worried about whether the book would be appropriate or not: I would either be able to make sense of it or not, and either enjoy it or not.

 

For their part, my parents did not filter the world for us. We grew up on a farm where animals lived, bred and died and the entertainment we consumed was whatever we could handle without being little assholes about it. And if we did act inappropriately based on something we had read, watched or played, my parents wisely blamed us rather than the particular media. Of course, I am a parent now and I would go out on a limb and say my parents were much more discerning and careful about what we engaged in than I would have noticed at the time, but even so there were plenty of boobs, blood and bad words to keep my 12 year old self happy and feeling like I had the keys to the grown up kingdom.

 

All that said, I am not oblivious to the concerns of parents and the contents of the media their kids consume. I am a parent and I care, even if my tolerances are different than some other folks. With that in mind, I want to talk about the degree to which Elger may or may not be appropriate for any given child — not so much by age group (I was reading stuff at 10 that some high schoolers wouldn’t want to slog through) but by content. If you are a parent and you wonder whether Elger and the Moon is appropriate for your kid, I hope this helps you decide.

 

First of all, there is little if any profanity in the novel. I won’t say “none” because I honestly do not remember whether I might have had a few “damns”, “hells” or other words you hear on prime time television now. Note that this does not have anything to do with a personal aversion to profanity: I can be the fuckingest fucker who ever fucking fucked sometimes. But at the time I started writing Elger in earnest, Game of Thrones/The Song of Ice and Fire was the standard by which most fantasy was being measured. in other words, things were grim and dark and grimdark. Elger is partially in response to that, and as such I decided that I would avoid profanity. This includes fake fantasy profanity, but mostly because that trope annoys me to no end (I am looking at you, The Emperor’s Blades).

 

The same goes for sex — especially sexual violence. There is no rape, mention of rape or suggestion of rape in Elger and the Moon. It is unnecessary, even when you want to show how a bad guy is really, really bad. This is a problem in modern grimdark fantasy that I wouldn’t just like to avoid, but abolish altogether. Otherwise, there is what you might call sexuality or sexual tension in the book, but no actual sex — again, not because I have a problem with sex, but because it does not fit this story or its protagonist.

 

One thing you will find is a blatant, intentional acceptance of non-binary gender, homosexuality and non-sexual nudity. This is the one place where I decided to take a political stand in the book. There are gay characters and asexual characters and hermaphrodite characters and transgender characters. And they are just characters that happen to be in the book, not tokens or mouthpieces. the world I chose to create accepts these people as easily as what some might mistakenly call “normal” characters. If that sort of thing offense you, or you are worried it will confuse your kid, I can’t say anything other than that’s too bad for you.

 

Aside from bad words and sex, the biggest driver of concern for parents is usually violence. Elger and the Moon is an adventure story and sometimes that adventure includes physical peril at the hands of other characters and creatures of the ReAwakened World. There is a little bit of violence in the book. But Elger is no bloody swordsman; he uses his mind. Where there is violence, I think it is appropriate and appropriately appalling without wallowing in it. Any violence that happens in the story is integral to the story and as with profanity and sex, I tried to veer away from the gimdark state of modern fantasy. By comparison, The Hunger Games is much, much more violent.

 

When I ask my beta readers and others that have read it the question, “What age is Elger appropriate for?” the answer I get most commonly is, “Precocious 13 years old and up.” I did not set out to write a Young Adult novel. I was aiming for an “all ages” novel in the sense that anyone can pick it up, and if they are capable of making sense of the prose they should be able to deal with the content. I was writing it for my 12 year old self that picked up by turns The Lord of the Rings, The DragonLance Chronicles and The Guardians of the Flame. I hope this description helps.

 

If you still have questions, feel free to hit up my Facebook page or Twitter (both @IanAsItWere) and ask away!

 

 

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The Distraction of Imitation

Recently, I picked up from the library The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. I have a mind to give writing for the tween/young adult audience, just to see if it suits me. Having read most of the Harry Potter series, as well as a number of older suggested books like the Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia, I chose to read Percy Jackson & The Olympians  because of its popularity. After all, how better to understand the genre than to examine its principal examples.

 

The problem is, as I read The Lightning thief, I am distracted by its similarity to, even apparent imitation of, the Harry Potter series. Lest there be any confusion, however, I am not suggesting that Riordan’s writing is bad or a simple pastiche of Harry Potter. The prose is clear and fast paced, the characters distinctive if not especially deep (so far), and the reliance upon Greek mythology an interesting counterpoint to Rowling’s fairy tale inspired magical world. Rather, the tropes — which existed well before Harry potter, but were so perfectly distilled in that series — are constantly pulling me out of the narrative.

 

Harry was an orphan whose parents were killed when the villain came to kill Harry. Percy’s mother was killed when the monsters came to get Percy. Harry’s Aunt and Uncle; Percy’s step father. Hogwarts; Camp Half Blood. Slitheren; Ares’ cabin. Hermione; Annabeth. Ron; Grover. Lightning scar; lightning.

 

Of course, things don’t line up perfectly, but the point is that the presence of these tropes makes the genre glaringly obvious. YOU ARE READING A 5TH GRADE BOYS FANTASY ADVENTURE BOOK, proclaims the sub-text, so loudly and rudely that the actual-text gets drowned out. It is especially problematic in literature, because unlike film or comic books, say, where there may be striking visuals or other effects to distract you, all there are here are the words. Like a dream or a hazy memory, you build in your mind the world of the book from the lumber of your experiences, including previous entertainment you have consumed. This means that no matter how different the flavor (Greek mythology versus fairy tales) the tropes summon up the structure of the other. (Note that all of this is easily reversible if you are of a generation where you encounter Percy Jackson before Harry Potter; as an old tabletop gamer, I have many a times shuddered upon hearing how D&D stole X or Y from World of Warcraft.)

 

All that said, while these similarities are a distraction for me, I do not know they are actually a problem. They may, in fact, be a feature. Those tropes exist and become tropes for a reason. They must speak to the intended audience in a way that they do not speak to me as a jaded old adult. In fact, a quick survey of YA fantasy series summaries suggests many of these tropes are nigh prerequisites. I am forced to wonder, then, where do books that buck these trends fit in — in libraries, on kids’ bookshelves and on the Goodreads and bestseller lists.

 

For my part, I will finish The Lightning Thief and perhaps move on to the following books if I find Percy a compelling, if familiar, hero. I will read some of the other books touted regularly as great examples of young readers/adults lit, and I will write that story that is burning at the back of my brain — whether or not it fits the tropes so apparently prevalent in the genre. I can only know if the genre is a good fit for me by experimenting with it, after all.