Whenever interested folks ask about Boot Hill--which is literally almost every single time I mention that I’m writing a novel–I tend to play up the western/American Old West elements of the story because that is outwardly what the story looks like: a bunch of cowboys and gunslingers in a desert setting, stirring up trouble and escaping a whole mess of predicaments by the skin of their teeth. How exciting!
But what I often fail to inform people is that, at its very core, Boot Hill is a fantasy novel.
How I often feel when trying to defend the fantasy genre.
For a while I was admittedly ashamed to tell people that I am writing a fantasy novel. Especially when said people were professors or otherwise associated with academia. After all, genre fiction is, by far and large, either looked down upon as a lesser form of writing or flat-out ignored in the academic world.
Fantasy seems to get the shortest end of the genre stick in my opinion, and I think a lot of it stems from this strange idea that writing fantasy is amateur hour because the author doesn’t have to abide by the rules of our universe. While some fantasy indeed might not have to abide by our rules, there still needs to be rules. As a fantasy author, you have to create those rules and then convince your reader that the rules are believable. If you are writing within the confines of our world, you have to find a way to suspend disbelief in such a way that readers can accept the changes you have made. If the world you are writing about is not of this universe, you are tasked with building the world and making sure it rings true with readers. Believe me when I tell you that world-building is one of the most difficult–but also one of the most fun–aspects of writing a fantasy novel.
I feel like another reason why fantasy isn’t taken seriously is because of the influx of young adult fantasy in recent years, most of which are centered around teenage angst, love triangles, and sexy supernaturals. This reason is precisely why I have expressed embarrassment in being associated with the fantasy genre: I don’t want people to assume that this is what I am writing. While there is nothing wrong with the story elements I’ve described, I fear that the vast majority of young adult fantasy relies too heavily on such tropes to succeed rather than focusing on a good story. As a result, the stories themselves suffer, the characters aren’t well-drawn, and you’re looking at underwhelming novel after underwhelming novel. This is not what I want to achieve with my writing.
But I know not all hope is lost for the genre. Not even close. After all, when I stumble upon a well-written fantasy novel, I am not only immersed–I am transported in a way other genres simply can’t measure up to. Essentially, that is my goal in writing Boot Hill. I know I have a long way to go before I get there, but if I aim high, I don’t see why I can’t get there in time.
I write fantasy and I demand to be taken seriously.
Here is a snippet of the first time the reader meets Bastian, perhaps the most fantastical/supernatural character in the novel. Let me know what your first impressions of him are! I apologize if there are any errors; this is my first draft of this particular scene. Enjoy!
As I round the corner, a tall, masculine form in the doorway brings me to an abrupt halt. My heart nearly leaps into my throat before I realize that it is none other than The Bastian himself who is standing in the open door, his Holy Coronet cradled under an arm.
He smiles when he sees me, brushing a strand of white hair away from his face and hooking it behind his ear with his spindly fingers.
“Fortun,” he says warmly, a trace of smoke trickling out from his open mouth. The smoke wafts upward into the light filtered through the clock face’s stained glass, taking the rough shape of a soaring bird. When I blink, the smoke vanishes. I rub my eyes and take a step back from the Bastian.
“My Liege,” I say with a shallow bow, placing a hand over my heart and leaning against the door frame, out of breath. “Are you all right?”
The Bastian tilts his head and his smile disappears. He presses a forefinger to the side of his lips and draws his pale eyebrows together in thought. “Yes,” he says, the modulation in his voice almost as if he is posing a question. He squints his red eyes at me and cranes his neck so that he can get a better look at me. I turn my head away before he can see the telltale sign of the vignoire apparent in my eyes. “Are you all right?” He points at my face. He must know by now.
“The doors are wide open,” I say, stepping aside and gesturing to the door I just walked through. “All thirteen of them. My Liege, you can’t leave the doors open like this. What if someone slipped past the guards and came for you?”
His eyebrows raise. “Then I suppose they could find me here,” he says. “But I suppose anyone who wants to see me could find a way, locked doors or no. Isn’t that right?”
“I will post a member of the noble guard at each door,” I say, “just to be safe.”
The Bastian nods slowly and looks away from me. “If that’s what you think is best, Fortun.”
“But right now, we need to prepare you for the festivities,” I say, pacing across the room to the armoire containing the Bastian’s formal regalia. I throw the wooden doors open and remove the white robes from a hanger, careful not to let the hem drag on the floor. The fabric is unbelievably heavy and ostentatious, embroidered with beads, lined with mink fur and gods know what else; It’s no wonder he tries to avoid wearing the garments when he can. He has always gotten a thrill out of that damned headpiece, however, perching it atop his head or running his fingers over the immaculate beading. I’ve never seen him hold it under his arm quite like this, though–like how mothers hold their children.
I offer the undergarments to him. “You’re not even close to ready, My Liege. And I thought we threw out those rags you’re wearing.”
The Bastian looks down and pinches the fabric of the threadbare tunic. “But I like these,” he says. “They were yours and now they’re mine. I will keep them, I think.”
Amid the sounds of the clock tower churning, I pinpoint a gentle twittering sound nearby. “What is that?” The sound stops. I hear it once more, a bit louder. The Bastian is trying to stifle a laugh but his eyes betray him, glowing a spirited bright red.
“I have a surprise for you,” he says. He looks inside the headpiece thoughtfully before holding it out to me. Inside, an adolescent bluebird flits its wings, its beak open and its chest heaving. It chirrups and preens itself.
“I found it on the floor this morning,” he says. More smoke pours from his nose. I’ve never seen him so pleased in all the years I’ve cared for him. “Do you like it?”
“It looks like it’s fledging,” I say, noticing its newly formed, long feathers. The bird blinks, its entirely black eyes gazing up at me, probably terrified. “It will probably fly away soon.”
“Yes,” says Bastian, tilting his hat back toward him so he can look down at the creature once more. “I would like that very much.”