Heroes needed. Farm boys and orphans need not apply

December 13, 2011 § 7 Comments

The other day I was writing a three-hundred word bio to accompany my short story being published in Andromeda Spaceways (it’s actually happening, I swear, just a month behind schedule [I’m still crossing my fingers for an absence of phallic cover art]), which gave me a great opportunity to reflect on why I write.

First, let me just say that I loath writing bios or anything about myself. I’d rather be locked into a Matilda-style spiked box, “the pokey” (not to be confused with Mario’s strange cactus-like enemy) than write about myself. There’s so much pressure to come across as funny, but also serious about writing, and not to use too many adverbs or exclamation points. In the words of Liz Lemon: blerg. But I digress.

As I said, this provided me an opportunity to reflect on why I want to write.  Clearly it’s not for fame or fortune (because, in the words of Jay Swanson, no author could ever hope to be as famous as Nathan Fillion).  I love stories of all kinds and in all mediums, and that’s the reason I usually give for writing, but there are already more books out there than I could ever hope to read in my lifetime, so writing my own isn’t exactly the most efficient method for enjoying stories. Even counting the short stories I’ve written this year, that’s only about six stories (compared to the thirty some odd books I’ve read in that time). The thing is, the books I buy and check out of the library aren’t all the right ones. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those “everything ever published is crap and my manuscript will change all that” kind of authors, I just find myself looking for books that don’t exist (or there just aren’t enough of). To quote the bio I slaved away on, I want a story about the orcish son of middle class innkeepers who’s appalled by the thought of adventure and would rather spend his time practicing watercolor painting. I’ve heard just about enough of orphan farmboys and enchanted swords, and if the back of a book mentions a prophecy, there’s little chance it’s coming home with me.

With young adult I see just as big a need, but not as much with breaking tired tropes (though my appetite for vampire romances has been quite satiated, thank you very much).  I want more young adult books that I can recommend to boys (or just enjoy reading myself for boyish reasons).  To give you an idea of how few boys are reading, I googled “young adult boy reading stats” and the top hit was a New York Times article from last August, “Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?” (An interesting article by the way if you have a few minutes).  I didn’t even bother looking further because that summed it up so nicely.  The lack of good “boy” books is something of a chicken and egg problem. Publishers don’t want to make “boy” books because there’s a smaller market for them, and young adult male readers aren’t getting into reading (in part) because they don’t have anything (new) to read.  I want to write those books! I want to write books that not only have swashbuckling action and adventure, preferably with large robots, but also talk about issues that are important for young men in our society today. That’s not to say that I don’t want girls to enjoy my stories. I just got my first novel off to beta readers and it was absolutely written for an audience of one, with that “one” being my wife. That said, it doesn’t hit the romance hard and there’s mystery, adventure, magic, airships, and absent-minded inventors, which I hope would appeal to anyone.

That was a very long and roundabout way to say that I really want to write (and read) more books that defy the tropes and delve into interesting new arenas. In fantasy and science fiction you can do anything you want! Why limit yourself to orphan farm boys? So what are some of stories, characters, worlds you’d like to see more of? What has been so over-done it makes you want to give publishers a good shaking when you see those books on store shelves?

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§ 7 Responses to Heroes needed. Farm boys and orphans need not apply

  • It’s funny that publishers don’t want boy books these days; not to many years ago, there was a huge market for them. I hope you continue writing them too. My husband loves to read and constantly complains that there isn’t enough man literature out there. If there were, I bet more boys/teens/men would read.

    • R. H. Culp says:

      Thanks for the encouragement. The good news about writing books for boys is that girls are generally more willing to read “boy” books than boys are to read “girl” books. As an aside, guysread.com is a great resource for guys looking for book recommendations (though it’s targeted at a younger demographic than your husband).

  • Do it! Go for it! Teens don’t need to be reading romance novels and those should definitely be taken off the shelves. Swashbuckling adventures in another world or twisted historical fiction make much better stories. What if Hercules was dropped into a world like….I dunno Dragonlance? Or, what if he existed in the 1970s? (This was the first thing that came to mind..just go with it)

  • Solo says:

    I used to work in a bookshop and I was the resident YA specialist. For boys we almost always recommended the Alex Rider series or Artemis Fowl, no matter the boy, because there was so little variation. So keep up the work Mister Culp!

    I’m with you- prophecies begone. There needs to be more fantasy with unlikely or at least unfated heroes. Chris Wooding is my favourite fantasy author by far.

    (On a side note- pretty sure Trunchbull’s room was caled ‘the Chokey’)

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