Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are

There is a FaceBook group where I post little snippets of my WIPs.  Recently I received a comment on one of my sections that took me by surprise.

Someone said that my work sounded like it was meant for a Young Adult audience.

The bit in question was an introduction of two new characters who are the result of Samuel’s vital art–humans who have been surgically modified into living weapons.

“We’ve got more coming in, straight ahead. Brother, can you thin the herd for us?” Agony’s voice came over my phone and Catskinner drew both knives from their sheaths on my thighs.

“my pleasure,” he said and marched my body down the street, past the burning buildings.

“Samuel,” Agony added, “Would you send the twins along with him?”

Samuel nodded to Nimdok and Gorrister and they fell into step behind me, their bodies gliding with the same dangerous grace. I felt Catskinner bristle at their inclusion, but he didn’t say anything. There were a lot of villagers, after all. Plenty of murder for everyone.

The pair of them ditched their coats on the way up the street. The one to my left—gorrister, Catskinner informed me—unfolded two additional arms and spread them. They were attached at his hips, and each ended in a muscular knot of flesh. He flexed them and they opened up, revealing toothed jaws like the heads of a pair of eyeless mastiffs.

Nimdok, I saw, was a woman, and I suddenly recognized her. I had seen her last hanging from a chainlink fence by her arms, with nothing at all below her waist. Now she had legs, a dozen of them, thin and many jointed and armored like a crab. Each ended in a spearhead of polished bone and she clattered as she scrambled up the street.

Samuel’s work, no doubt. They made Luann look positively normal, but they also looked efficient and deadly.

 There’s nothing in there that strikes me as being particularly YA.  On the other hand, I know the context of the scene and the comment was from someone who had only seen that one section.

Still, I asked him what made him think I was writing for Young Adults and I thought his answer was interesting.  It was because I have semi-human characters that felt to him like comic book characters, and he associated comic books with a younger audience.

I personally didn’t read comics until I was well into my twenties, and the titles I tended to read were those that dealt with more mature themes, but I am familiar with the mindset. There is a prevalent idea that media that deals with speculative themes and imagery must be for children.

Those of us who work in the speculative genres have to be aware of this attitude, I feel.  I once found a collection of Kafka’s stories in the children’s section of a library.  Someone, I feel, must have glanced through it and thought, “A guy turns into a bug in this story–that’s got to be for kids.”

I see it a lot–my roommate and I have taken to seeing movies at the local 5 Star Lounge because while it is more expensive, it’s a 21 and over venue.  It’s worth the extra money to be able to see films without small children underfoot.  Parents will bring small children to something like Intersteller thinking that because it’s a “space movie” it’s going to be fun for children.

My books are written for adults and, judging from my reviews, seem to be well received by an older audience.  I deal with mature themes and frequently my characters are in bad situations and make bad choices.   I have some very complex relationships in my stories, some sexual and some not.  I have explicitly adult scenes, and also what I consider explicitly grown-up scenes–scenes involving building maintenance and managing employees and dealing with contractors.

Some of my favorite artists deal with grown-up themes using fantastic elements–Terry Gilliam, Neil Gaimen, Tannith Lee, Robert Heinlein, Phillip Dick, Ursula K Le Guin, Ray Bradbury. As I write this Pandora is playing The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”–a happy bouncy pop tune that is written about a fairly disturbing subject.  (I recall when it came out and I was the only one of my circle of friends who realized who “the old man in that book by Nabokov” referred to.)

So what do we do?  One way is to deliberately include a level of gore and/or erotica that is over the top enough to make the point that this isn’t meant for children.  A lot of underground comics went that route, I think.  Even then it’s no guarantee–I’ve seen Ralph Bakshi’s Fritz The Cat shelved in the children’s section of video stores.

Even Horror, which I think should be the most obviously adult genre, is often considered childish.  Many horror icons have spawn kid-friendly versions, from Count Chocula to the modern Monster High dolls.

I don’t know.  It’s an issue that bothers me as an author–I feel like I have to prove my work is something to be taken seriously by adults in a way that writers of spy thrillers or courtroom dramas don’t.  But then, life’s not fair, is it?



About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, Gingerbread Wolves, On Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are

  1. Maybe it’s just me and the perils of my own imagination – which typically insists that everything get coated with shadows and blood when there’s even a small hint of that fitting – but the two things that came to my mind when reading that snippet were Hellraiser and the Clanbook: Tzimisce supplement for Vampire: The Masquerade… Neither of which is really all that kid friendly.

    I suppose I can see their logic process, if not agree with it, but still… Discussing half a woman who’s been “enhanced” with a bunch of extra legs and is getting around crab-style with them, murder on her mind, does not strike me in any way as kid-friendly, even if it does seem like it’d be an awesome comic-book panel (Frank Miller or Todd McFarlane, anyone?). Hmm.

  2. I don’t really see the YA in that writing. I did get a kind of YA vibe from the beginning of Catskinner’s book. I really liked how James was socially awkward, but the reason wasn’t “I’m a whiny little brat”, it was “Catskinner will kill anyone I interact with too much.”

  3. Dave Higgins says:

    I don’t think you have to justify your work as valid. I think your issue is that the Book of Lost Doors functions a post-modern exegesis of gnosticism, so is in some ways too valid for surface readings.

    The wider issue of speculative fiction being derided by groups both louder and smaller than one might anticipate, is one that comes to us all.

    Given the resonances with William Blake, have you considered turning your practical skills to making an edition with engravings? You probably won’t win the “things that aren’t real are for children” demographic whatever you do; but Lost Doors has the complex imagery and other signs that appear in literary fiction, so you could intersect the trendy critic edge of establishment validation.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Thank you. I do try to keep the majority of the metaphysics in the background–it’s there for readers who want to find it, but hopefully not necessary to read the story as just a story.

  4. metallicwolff says:

    I don’t see the link to YA writing in that snippet either. Having read some of you work, and liking it, I do not feel you write towards a YA audience. That being said, the youth of today are not the same as the youth of our day. I have two children that fit into the YA category, and what they are exposed to everyday, including cartoons, is much more “mature” than when I was growing up. So maybe that person was taking that into account…just a thought.

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