January 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

SLJTeen Live! 2016: Genre-Bending Sci-fi and Fantasy


Today’s YA resists the traditional stringent definitions of science fiction vs. fantasy. Cases in point: these five “genre-bending” authors, whose works meld dystopian societies, magic, imagined royal empires, and alternate versions of Earth.

They took to the virtual stage to discuss their work in a conversation hosted by Sunnie Scarpa of the Wallingford (CT) Public Library. Calling in from as far as the South Pacific and Europe, the authors—Sarah Rees Brennan (Tell the Wind and Fire), Traci Chee (The Reader), Kate Elliot (Poisoned Blade), Rachel Lou (The Bridge), and Amanda Sun (Heir to the Sky)—all agreed that genre bending offers a particular freedom. Likening her writing choices to ice-cream shop decisions, Brennan asked, “Why choose one flavor, when so many [varieties and toppings] are available?”

Of the five authors, three are established in YA lit; The Reader is Chee’s YA fantasy debut, and Lou, who has been writing online since the age of 13, just published her first print book, The Bridge, with Harmony Ink in June. The five offer visions of alternate worlds that incorporate futuristic societies, magic, royal empires, floating kingdoms, and paranormal planes. Asked about writing in these places and spaces, Chee commented that she wanted to challenge herself, that fantasy was a way to get at “human truths,” while Elliot remarked, “Fantasy offers the perfect analogy to physical and moral questions.” Brennen quoted G.K. Chesterton, “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” Sun confessed that no matter what genre she writes in, “Fantasy is where I live.”

Scarpa queried the group on their backgrounds (literature and archaeology) and interests (martial arts and gaming) and asked if and how they incorporated them into their art form. Their responses included books and topics from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and ninja warriors to Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities and cultural reflections on the afterlife. Citing the diverse influences writers bring to their work, Elliot dubbed fantasy “the original genre” and commented, “Stories are already embedded into fantasy’s DNA,” which is why it can so easily “absorb other forms of narrative.”

Questions from attendees ranged from how the authors felt about labeling genres in the library to how best to work romance into the plot. Is genre-bending here to stay? After tuning in to this talented group of writers, session attendees are likely to agree with Elliot that it is. After all, as she put it, “A static genre is a dead genre.”

This panel and other SLJTeen Live! content can be accessed in our archive.



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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.

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Join Library Journal and School Library Journal for our inaugural LibraryCon Live! We’re excited to offer this day-long virtual festival for book nerds, librarians, and fans of graphic novels, sci-fi, and fantasy. Network online with other fans and explore our virtual exhibit hall where you’ll hear directly from publishers about their newest books and engage in live chats with featured authors. You’ll also learn from librarians and industry insiders on how to plan and host your own Comic Con-style event.