The Curse of Category

Today I have Eric  Zawadzki and Matt Schick in the man cave, talking about their collaborative effort and book to date, a title that I’d like to belt out from the top of a mountain–Kingmaker! These two genre savvy writers are very serious about what they do, and they aim to deliver the goods to their readers. From speaking with Eric, I know he is devoted and passionate about his and Matt’s work, and I know that their readers will enjoy the stories they have to tell. I’ve known Eric for a while now, and from our conversations on Fantasy and writing, I expect epic things from these new indie authors.  Here’s Eric now talking about publishing niches, and how it molded Kingmaker.



I first want to thank Keith for giving us a spot on his blog today. He has been incredibly generous with his tweets and advice since before we even had a book on offer, and Matt and I both appreciate it.

Publishers and bookstores love their neat little genre categories in a way I fear I never will. Our aim as authors is to tell a story and to tell it in a way that says something about the people who live in the imaginary place the story is about. Civilization with a tradition of larger-than-life heroes and a long history of violent cultural shifts? Well, our hero had better be larger than life, possibly completely mad, and absolutely hell-bent on changing the world to match his vision. Uneasy union of diverse nations who seem only able to agree that they love romantic adventure stories? It obviously produces tales of romance, adventure, and maybe a bit of an idealized view of how well citizens of the member countries get along.

In Kingmaker, we created a culture (the Turu) whose children were such magical creatures that they possessed literal invulnerability to nearly any possible harm. As Turu entered adulthood, though, they lost that magic and found themselves in a dangerous world where desert clans fought constantly over scarce resources. We considered how that would affect the stories the Turu would tell and quickly realized that they would likely idealize the young and obsess over that transition from childhood to adulthood.

Certainly, we always knew this book’s protagonist would be young – on the cusp of adulthood in that time when nothing anyone around you says or does makes a lick of sense – but we honestly didn’t set out to write a young adult fantasy novel. The story we wanted to tell and the way its native culture would tell it dictated the category to us. We were writing young adult high fantasy whether we liked it or not.

This didn’t really have a dramatic impact on the story itself. Fantasy aimed at adults can do anything it wants as long as it tells an interesting story. When it comes to swearing, sex, and violence, the genre runs the gamut from “none of the above” to “nonstop blood, guts, and fucking.” We have always trended toward the less, um, colorful end of that spectrum. I think we cut a made-up swear word whose meaning could be sussed out pretty easily, a slightly stronger hint of sex between two characters, and one cigarette, which was a bit out of place to begin with.

It was always going to qualify as a coming-of-age story. Its central conceit remained that the hero, instead of having to master magic to complete his quest, would have to learn how to succeed in spite of rapidly losing all the powers he had taken for granted his whole life. The object of its impossible quest continued to be a sword that served as a kind of Fountain of Youth or Holy Grail that restored childlike magic to an adult.

The knowledge early in the second draft that we were writing YA and not our usual flavor of adult fantasy proved insidious. We couldn’t help but remember the lessons we learned as teenagers and the things we wouldn’t realize about the world until many years later. Things like “advice may be well-intentioned and completely wrong” and “most choices do not have right or wrong answers, simply better or worse ones, and we won’t always know which is which.”

Even so, the most powerful current that carried us was the view the Turu have of Pisor – the sword that restores an adult’s magic. Once that artifact entered the story, we had to explore atrocities previous owners committed with its power and the horrible things people who lusted for its magic would do to acquire it. Among the Turu, Pisor is the purest symbol of tyranny. No good ever comes of letting someone wield it. It is accursed, and every story involving it ends in epic tragedy.

The YA label certainly forced us to make a few changes here and there to avoid kicking a wasp’s nest. But that category shaped Kingmaker far less than the curse of stories about Pisor.




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