Despite not being too crazy about Poltergeeks last year and giving it a somewhat lukewarm review, I am still very interested in both Student Bodies and Sean Cummings: I think the series and writer both have tremendous, real and down-to-earth promise and I think he’s definitely one to watch.
Kindly, Sean has posted today, contributing to my Identity in Fantasy series, saying what the topic means to him and talking about what being a writer means to him.
Identity is such a great big hairy concept because it means different things to different people. Certainly you want your readers to identify with your characters – that’s a no-brainer. And maybe for me, the topic for this guest post shouldn’t be “identity in SFF” but rather, “identity in YA.”
I don’t consider myself to be an author of young adult books even though the second in my POLTERGEEKS series, STUDENT BODIES hits bookstores in September. I just happen to be an author who wrote two young adult novels. I’ve written three other novels that found their way to bookstores and the common denominator for all five of my books is that I just want them to be fun reads – that’s it, that’s all.
You know, over the past year I’ve done a lot of thinking of who I’m writing books for and what I want them to take away from my books. This is probably something all authors contemplate when they sit down to plug away at the word processor in hope of creating something even remotely readable. Young Adult books are a bit of a quandary to me because I’m writing for teens with the full knowledge that 55% or more of the people reading POLTERGEEKS or STUDENT BODIES won’t be teens at all – this is according to industry estimates and a report from Bowker last September. And yes, I’ve read my own reviews on Goodreads – the vast majority of the reviews for POLTERGEEKS are from grown-ups. It got me thinking: if the majority of YA readers aren’t teens then is it even YA at all? I’m not so sure whether it is or not, but the reality of who is reading YA certainly had an impact on how I wrote STUDENT BODIES.
In POLTERGEEKS, Julie Richardson is a teen witch just starting to come into her own. A number of reviews thought the voice read a bit young for YA and they might have been right. Then again, a lot of reviews by teens thought the book sounded authentic and spoke to their values, so as far as I’m concerned it was mission accomplished. The first book is a light, fluffy book filled with snark and humor and a thrilling, wild chase as Julie and her intrepid best friend Marcus work to save her mother’s soul and ultimately, her life. In STUDENT BODIES, there is still a fair amount of snark, but the stakes have been raised considerably. It is a dark. Freaking. Book.
I wanted to throw everything and the kitchen sink at my protagonist in both books to see how she would hold up when the odds were stacked against her. I wanted to test her relationships with friends. I wanted her to find true love for the first time – everything when you’re a teenager is a series of firsts – from first kisses, to first flutters of excitement about what might be, to first heartbreaks and first massive disappointments. And right from the get-go, I wanted to write a female protagonist who kicks serious ass. Period. This might be me railing against a lot of similar-styled protagonists and storylines that dominate a lot of what you’ll find on the YA shelf at your local bookstore. I also wanted this book to be a Canadian book. Yeah, that’s right – urban fantasy that takes place in Canada. You know, that country above the USA where everyone is terribly polite and from whom you can borrow a lawnmower, no questions asked.
Actually, four of the five books I’ve written take place in Canada. I have two new projects that my agent is about to start sending out to publishers and both take place in Canada. One of those books features a hard-drinking, hard living SOB bounty hunter/detective named TIM REAPER and the other book is YA zombie apocalypse novel with a title my agent has warned me with death and dismemberment against making public. Why Canada? Well, why not Canada? A zombie apocalypse can happen here. A serial killer whose victims happen to be angels can happen here. A bunch of necromancers bent on bringing about the end of days can happen here. Canada is the setting, but the characters make the book. Oh … and a good plot helps, too.
I’ve been asked if I think there is any blowback to writing four books with female protagonists because I’m a guy. Sort of a polite way of asking me “what qualifies you to write a book about a female”. I’ve always answered that question the same way: I don’t write books about females. I write books about zombies, evil, dark, terrifying plots, things that go bump in the night and drain your life force and someone has to stop them. It just so happens the someone is female.
I didn’t do it to suck up to female readers because I have this sneaking suspicion that readers want to cheer on a strong protagonist who slams evil’s ass all over hell’s half acre whether that protagonist is a man or a woman, a teenage boy or girl.
I’m also not that complicated when I sit down at my word processor. I come up with a premise and I just write. I try to write well. I try to write convincingly and with passion. I try to write characters that readers will identify with and who they might want to read a little bit more about in future books.
So for me, identity is an issue of the quality of one’s writing. The quality of those characters. The qualities in their protagonist. The quality of the thrill a reader gets that makes them want to keep flipping the pages. I write all kinds of stuff – I’m just finishing a middle grade project about a detective duo featuring a hippie grandmother and her 10 year old granddaughter as well as a mystery where every cat in town has suddenly disappeared. There might be aliens. There might be a corporate plot or there might just be a crazy cat lady. And just like my five books in bookstores, all I can do is write the best way that I can with the hope that readers will love the story enough to buy another book written by a bald, pudgy, middle-aged author living on the Canadian prairie.
Thanks to everyone who has read my books and who identifies with my characters. And if you don’t, that’s cool. Let me recommend some authors to you.
Thank you, Sean, for an awesome post. ∩( ・ω・)∩
Student Bodies releases 3rd–5th of September (US/UK) and should be available anywhere where the stock buyers have sense. You can connect with Sean on his blog and over Twitter. Again, thank you to Sean and…!! A massive and huge congratulations for Strange Chemistry on their very first birthday. I’ve been a reviewer since I received The Assassin’s Curse via a quick Twitter handout and I’ve never looked back.
Happy birthday! (★^O^★)