jennygordon: (Peacock Butterfly)
It's that time of year when people look back at the trends of the previous year and forward to what might be the trends of the year to come, so I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon, mainly because I have a question to ask.  But first ...

Some of you may already have seen Scholastic's list of 'Ten Trends in Children's Books from 2010', but if you haven't, they noted:

  1. The expanding Young Adult (YA) audience: More and more adults are reading YA books, as the audience for these stories expands.
  2. The year of dystopian fiction:  With best-selling series like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner, readers can't seem to get enough of fiction that suggests the future may be worse than the present.
  3. Mythology-based fantasy: Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series set the trend – and now series like The Kane Chronicles, Lost Heroes of Olympus and Goddess Girls are capitalizing.
  4. Multimedia series: The 39 Clues, Skeleton Creek and The Search for WondLa are hooking readers with stories that go beyond the printed page and meet kids where they are online or via video.
  5. A focus on popular characters – from all media: Kids love to read books about characters they know and recognize from books, movies and television shows. Titles centered around those popular characters (like Fancy Nancy, David Shannon's "David," or Toy Story characters) are top sellers.
  6. The shift in picture books: Publishers are publishing about 25 to 30 percent fewer picture book titles than they used to as some parents want their kids to read more challenging books at younger ages. The new trend is leading to popular picture book characters such as Pinkalicious, Splat Cat and Brown Bear, Brown Bear showing up in Beginning Reader books.
  7. The return to humor: Given the effects of the recession on families, it is nice to see a rise in the humor category, fueled by the success of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Dav Pilkey's The Adventures of Ook & Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future, and popular media characters like SpongeBob, and Phineas & Ferb.
  8. The rise of the diary and journal format: The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is the most well-know example of this trend, but the success of Wimpy Kid is leading to popular titles such as Dear Dumb Diary, Dork Diaries, The Popularity Papers, and Big Nate.
  9. Special-needs protagonists: There is a growing body of literary fiction with main characters who have special needs, particularly Aspergers Syndrome and Autism. Examples: My Brother Charlie, Marcelo in the Real World, Mockingbird, and Rules.
  10. Paranormal romance beyond vampires: The success of titles like Shiver and Linger, Beautiful Creatures, Immortal, and Prophesy of the Sisters shows this genre is still uber-popular and continues to expand.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Lynn Barnes and Ally Carter have been having fun compiling their own list, as well as predicting what they think will be the trends in YA books for 2011.

Which brings me to my question ... )
jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)
"Historical fantasy offers a unique reward.  There is an inexpressible pleasure in examining the vast canvas of history and reworking it in broad strokes, of weaving together the strands of what might have been and what never was to create the world anew out of whole cloth." Jacqueline Carey.

As a history graduate, much of my writing is influenced and informed by my love of the past.  Merovingian France, Victorian Britain, the Middle East of the Crusades, Ancient Greece, Bronze and Iron Age Europe - history offers such a treasure trove of inspiration, and the further back in time you go, the more fantasical the setting seems.  Little wonder then that writers of fantasy turn, time and again, to history for their ideas. 

A step removed from the familiar medievalesque settings of so many fantasy novels are authors such as Carey and Guy Gavriel Kay, who specifically set out to re-image a historical setting within the fantasy bounds.  "Fantasy," Kay explains, "is not just about magic and supernatural quests.  It can also be a way of dealing with history, with elements of our own past."  By taking history out of its very specific time and place constraints, he goes on to say, it opens up the possibilities for the writer to explore the themes and elements of the story, eroding prejudices or assumptions that exist about the real historical period, and thereby giving it more relevance to the reader's own life.  In writing purely historical fiction, the writer is inevitably bound by the actual events (or the events as accepted versions of history would have them).  In couching the people and events in fantasy, the writer is liberated from these contraints, as well as the moral considerations of writing about real people.  It offers a measure of distance, underscoring that the author is not claiming to know how that person thought or behaved - or indeed how anybody thought or behaved at a period in the past which we cannot pretend to fully understand.  Carey, whose on-going Terre d'Ange series cherry-picks its settings and background from a swathe of world history, clarifies: "I love doing the research needed to ground my work in tangible reality.  And as a fantasy writer, I have an equal love for the process of forgetting, of allowing myself to recreate the world." 

Thinking back to my formative reading, I believe I came to reading fantasy fiction by way of historical fiction.  The books I grew up with were novels of Ancient Egypt by Alexandra Hamilton, of the deliciously debauched Borgias by Jean Plaidy, non-fiction about the Ottoman Turkey and about Crusader Outremer.  It was natural to then encompass Anne McCaffrey's Pern books and Tanith Lee's strange, exotic worlds, so many of which contain a flavour of our own history.  After all, much of history, especially the really old history, is as fantastical a world to our modern eyes as Pern or countless other invented fantasy settings.

It says something of the skill of authors such as Carey and Kay who build on the rootstock of history to shape a fresh world, using broad strokes, conjured with a light touch, to welcome a reader to a realm that might have been.  In The Lions of Al-Rassan, Kay reimagines the Moorish kingdom of Andalusia, while Carey gives us a Britain where Pictish/Celtic culture survived into her Renaissance period, where the Medieval court of romance endures in Terre d'Ange, and Menekhet offers a version of Egypt where the old gods and beliefs survived.  Seasoning their imagined worlds with elements of our own offers strangely familiar settings, and may even nudge the curious to delve into the aspects of our history that inspired them.  For the writer of such fiction, the pleasure is in the research, while the joy is in the forgetting and the reimagining.  And, as Carey concludes, "At the heart of it always lies a story."

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January 2016

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