I write fantasy and I demand to be taken seriously

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.”


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16 thoughts on “I write fantasy and I demand to be taken seriously

  1. Permit me to suggest this, where Dave Wolverton dissects the ways that mainstream literature is just as much “genre” as fantasy is, and if anything a more formulaic genre.

    Personally, I think mainstream fiction has no right to look down on anything, since it’s by and large simply bad, more concerned with verbal gymnastics than believable construction, and just as likely to involve adolescent angst and contrived love-triangles as the average “paranormal romance”—only with much more overwrought prose (yes, even than Twilight, John Updike makes Meyer sound like Tony Hillerman).

    I’m also surprised they react any better to “It’s a Western” than to “It’s fantasy”, both genres are usually equally (ignorantly) despised.

    • Thanks for the link! Just reading the first couple paragraphs, it sounds like something that would be right up my alley. I’ll have to give it a read through when before I go to bed.

      I agree with you about the state of mainstream fiction nowadays. While I enjoy writing mainstream short fiction on occasion, the vast majority of mainstream or–wait for it–the ever-pretentious contemporary fiction, is just a huge literary circle jerk that doesn’t entertain, enrich, or do much or anything, really. The characters tend to be vapid and self-absorbed, the plots contrived and difficult to get into. I’ll take an exciting fantasy over most of the mainstream fiction out there any day.

      I think my “it’s a western” defense only works because the idea is novel (pardon the pun); after all, the genre is pretty dead as far as literature goes and people my age just don’t write westerns. The notion that I’m trying to revive a largely silent genre might interest people more than the standard, “I’m a fantasy writer!” response, which is now an extremely common genre for writers in my age group to explore. But you’re right: essentially they’re regarded with the same amount of disdain, and it sucks either way.

      Time to prove them wrong!

  2. Eeeee, I am loving all the Boot Hill tidbits. I particularly enjoyed that little interaction between Fortun and the Bastian, both of whom seem like rather fascinating characters. The bird bit was too cute!

    Regarding the point in your blog post, I can totally understand. I think it’s partly because post Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings (the films I mean, when they were brought into the public domain in a big way), everyone and their dog tried to write an epic fantasy story, and oversaturated the genre. Personally, I adore fantasy and would much rather read a story with a beautifully crafted world (probably because I love doing that in my own head), than any of your current contemporary best sellers (they just leave me bored).

    Which, of course, means I cannot wait to read Boot Hill 8D

    • I’m so happy you’re enjoying what I’m posting, Laura. ;u; It gives me all the wonderful butterflies and giddiness of a schoolgirl. But seriously, thanks for reading. I get a terrible feeling every now and again that no one at all cares, haha.

      I think the Lord of the Rings films and the rise of Harry Potter certainly opened up the genre for this generation. It is totally over-saturated right now, but I guess all that really means is that it’s a good time to be writing high-quality fantasy because the genre is in demand and it will stand out from the others. :)

      Have you been writing lately? I still remember all of your characters and I want them to continue on their adventures. <3

      • Ugh, the only thing I’ve been writing lately is my thesis, it saps my will to do anything else. My characters are still alive! I’ve actually been re-imagining them into their original story, which, as it happens, was a kind of fantasy thing in the first place… I thought people might think that was lame (talk about a relevant blog post)! I know I posted that little snippet for the 20 sentences challenge, the blonde haired chap was none other than Damek 8D Whoo! If I get time, I’d love to write a little more about it and maybe get you to read it with your much more fine tuned eyes. I have to be careful not to chop and change between science writing and fiction writing… I got a comment on the last report I handed in that I wasn’t “scientific” enough in my writing style, I was apparently “too artistic”. LOL, whoops!

      • Ugh, I’m sure thesis-writing is tough. Sending you good vibes, my dear! I struggle so much with scientific lingo. :( I’d be arsty-fartsying it up like crazy with something like that. This, among countless other reasons, is why I am not a scientist.

        I’m so glad your characters are alive! I think I remember you telling me that the character in the 20 sentence exercise was Damek, and that makes me so happy. I’d be so stoked if you sent me ANYTHING of yours to read! It’d be like old times when we were sixteen and giggling about our characters and using Open Canvas to paintchat. Only not really like that at all. MAYBE EVEN BETTER? Yeah, I think so. Send stuff to me!

      • Oh I did tell you that! I can’t keep track of these things. Anyway, maybe I should try writing some stuff when I have a spare moment, and we can RELIVE OUR TEENAGE YEARS only better because we’re not teenagers. Oh, Open Canvas, how I miss thee! Okay. I’ll send you stuff when I have something. Even though it will be so crappy that you’ll laugh. *rolls away*

      • YES LET’S DO THIS.

        And I would never laugh unless the text was actually funny. Then I’d probably laugh pretty heartily because you’re a good writer and I’ve always enjoyed your work. <3

  3. Also, the less said about Twilight, the better….

  4. Kylie Byrd on said:

    I am also saddened by the genre-shaming in the industry, and the general division between “high” and “low,” or “literary” and “popular” fiction seems terribly arbitrary, and subject only to time. For instance, Dracula is now canonized—has never been out of print, and is an academic favorite—whereas it kind of bombed in its day.

    To discredit genre writing is backasswards. It sustains the book industry. I think Romance writers are even bigger magnets for judgment than fantasy, and yet it’s far and away one of the top bestselling genres in the market today (along with Christian fiction, surprisingly to me). I say, give the readers what they want!

    And I totally looked up the word “bijou” because I love the sound of Holy Bijou. It means “finely wrought trinket” right? Is it some sort of vessel, ring? I think you describe it as a headpiece. Sorry if I’m asking for spoilers. Feel free to hush me. :)

    • Though I said that the fantasy genre gets the most flack, I would actually agree with you that romance writers deal with the most judgment. However, I feel like people are more vocal about the fantasy genre, whereas the romance genre has always been kind of silently shunned. Imagine the judgment a fantasy romance novel might (and does) get!

      Ah! You read an early version of the snippet. I actually ended up changing the name “Holy Bijou” because it’s a difficult term to explain (you had to look it up yourself) and the actual meaning isn’t entirely accurate. In addition, when a friend of mine looked up the word in the image search of Google, she got a bunch of porn. So I changed it to “Holy Coronet” with hope that it’s easier understood as a headpiece. Fun fact: what he’s wearing is actually a mitre (the character in the banner of my blog is Bastian, and he’s wearing it there) but the term just seems too entwined with the Catholic faith, so I didn’t want to go there, haha. Thanks for reading my silly snippets and blog posts, Kylie. I know you’re super busy, so it means a lot. When are you going to start posting again? :)

      • Kylie Byrd on said:

        I will post again soon! I have no excuse. I’m not super busy anymore, now that I’m done with school. Just super lazy. ;) BUT! Expect your stories returned to you soon. If you have more recent versions you’d like me to work with, send ’em on over. And I love to read your posts!

        I agree with your decision with the word “mitre.” You don’t want readers to construct some kind of religious allegory that you probably don’t intend, especially with the relatively recent media frenzy over the Pope’s resignation.

        And I agree with your observations on the fantasy/romance readership. Fantasy lovers do seem more proud and out of the closet, as it were, than romance readers, and thus there’s more of a conversation on its merits and drawbacks. I do think that fantasy boasts more canonized texts than romance (here we are with the arbitrary hierarchy again), which might play into this. I cannot think of a single text that is taken seriously on its own merits that is also classifiable as romance. I can think of countless that HAVE romance in them, but none that are first and foremost romance. *braces self for backlash*

      • Oh shit. I need to send you revised versions of everything… I can’t even remember which stories I sent you. There is one that I wrote last semester that I would really like for you to read, and I don’t believe I e-mailed it to you. Well, I’ll send you a shitload of short stories and you will have to suffer through them! How’s that for friendship? (Also, if you have anything to send my way, I WANT IT bad. Just so you know.)

        Yeah, I’m definitely steering clear of blatant religious references for personal reasons and because this novel doesn’t take place on Earth, so making those associations don’t even make sense in the world of the story.

        Every canonized text I can think of that HAS romance is actually a lot more than that–social commentary, political commentary, etc. Maybe that is why the romance genre gets a bad name: there’s nothing but the romance element, and that is what is looked down upon, especially with classic texts that handle romance so well but also make the story about something more important than a man and a woman having sex or getting married. The latter is just so banal to me.

        To throw another wrench into the spokes, I find it fascinating that “magical realism” is a literary sub-genre that is studied in school and canonized (I’ve read at least 3 magical realism texts in college so far) but full-on fantasy novels are rarely discussed in classrooms. So what I’m seeing is that if the story is grounded in this world but has fantastical elements, its themes are worthy of being discussed because they’re relevant to the human condition on Earth. However, a story that takes place outside of our world is not only unrelatable, but too fantastical and unchained to reality to merit academic discussion. Interesting.

  5. puerandpaper on said:

    Something else that struck me about being a fantasy writer is that everyone assumes fantasy must be a vaguely LOTR-esque epic set in a pseudo-medieval setting. Writing anything with a different time period, place, or even tone can be hard to describe to people, but can also show that your story is unique.

    On another not, most people who read and buy books don’t have the same opinions as academia. I’ve described my fantasy stories to non-writers and non-academics (so, hopefully, an unbiased group), and I’ve only ever had positive feedback, especially the more genre-bendy the story. I bet that if you tell people you’re writing a fantasy/western, most of them would actually love the idea :)

    • Yeah, I think the medieval-esque, epic fantasy or the urban fantasy (as popularized by Harry Potter) are the only real settings a lot of people are familiar with when it comes to the fantasy genre. I personally don’t connect a whole lot to either, though there are obvious exceptions. But anyway, it’s nice to deviate from the “norm,” even if some people don’t understand it because it’s different than what is expected. :P Yay originality!

      Over the years, I’ve definitely figured out that typical readers often don’t have the same opinions as academics. For the good and for the bad. I feel like people who love to read tend to be a bit more accepting to genre fiction and genre-bending, but sometimes that can mean that sub-par writing becomes popular and gets high praise when it doesn’t deserve it, and good writing can often get swept under the rug simply because the marketing wasn’t the best, or some weird fluke like that. I don’t know how I feel about it, really! But I do like when readers are accepting and willing to believe even the craziest of things, because that means that I still have a shot. :D

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