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Why ‘Erra’s Throne’ strengthens YA

About family, loyalty, high school and Kit Kats
About family, loyalty, high school and Kit Kats
Emily Carmichael

Can Erra’s Throne find a place among the expanse of romantic titles in the YA genre? In part II of our interview, Mr. James Carmichael shares his thoughts on Erra’s potential and the future of his body of work:

So, I don’t read a whole lot of fiction. Mostly what I read are books on philosophy, religion and sociology. That kind of thing. And then all of the YA that I’ve read have been the popular Twilight, Divergent kind of stuff. I know that there’re things like Ender’s Game, which is a video game, youth story. But is it a popular genre, popular subgenre within YA?Yea, I think it’s a huge genre. This story came to be by accident. But if you were setting out and you were wanting to make a living as a writer, supernatural and fantasy in YA... you’d be hard pressed to do better. It is a big market and it's growing. It’s a market that people care about.

One, because people are apparently reading it a lot and these things become huge successes. So partially, it’s the fact that there are a lot of movie properties. It goes back to the books, but also publishers have an exit strategy. You become a part of that ecosystem.

But with Erra -- honestly, I started writing it a couple of years ago. I’m trying to be business-like about selling this book and finding its market, but in terms of why I wrote it and how it started, I really was not thinking of any of that. First of all, a challenge with Erra is that it’s "YA", but it really falls between YA and adult -- in the tone, the diction and the writing itself.

Not that there aren't YA writers who are very sophisticated. There are YA writers who are incredible. Phil Pullman is one of the five best writers writing in the English language today. He writes deceptively simple YA that's incredibly rich, but that younger kids can completely understand. But Erra’s Throne just didn’t end up that way. It’s YA with accents on the “A” in the prose and approach to narrative reveals. But in tone, in plot and in characters it’s squarely YA.

So yeah. YA fantasy is where it’s at.

Getting the same attention... I’ve come to think of YA as the land of vampires and fallen angels and these supernatural and romantic creatures. Is it as fertile for gaming or can it be?
I don’t know. I hope it’s fertile. I suspect the answer is, if you and me are publishing or movie execs, I suspect the answer is no. If what we actually want is a property that is going to nail a built-in market, then we want a thing that has romance and we want it to have one of a specific set of gothic, supernatural entities. Specifically, we’d probably want a werewolf. We’d probably want a vampire. Something with blood and body and sexy things.

But, my hope is that there is a readership. I do think there is a sense of people who like the things you mentioned, but who are wanting something that isn’t all about boy/girl stuff and maybe isn’t about vampires. So, it’s change.

And generally: If you are talking about people who are interested in sci-fi and who are interested in stories, I would think we’re talking about gamers. So my hope is that gaming is a good hook for the audiences that like YA, but grown-up "YA". There are a lot of people like me who are kind of nerdy, who like video games, like fantasy stuff and like good stories, but who're eager to embrace stories that are told in a more grownup way. Joss Whedon exists.

Joss Whedon is my favorite!
He’s everybody’s favorite.

The impact you’d like Erra’s Throne to have is pushing the YA genre forward and becoming more inclusive of other character types.
That would be incredible. The first hope I have is that it will reach people. They’ll read it and enjoy it. If you reach that marker you’re really delighted in your heart.

But if there is some value in having a protagonist out there like Emmy, that's great. Early on people would say that it might be easier if Emmy were this kind of person, if she wasn’t Emmy but was Jake. People asked if gamers would relate to a female protagonist. I feel like the answer to that is that they obviously can. It wasn't necessarily the mission, but if in the course of reading and enjoying this story a reader is like ‘sure, why not have this character be our hero’, that would be incredible.

You made her diabetic? The references were very slight.
It’s slight at first. People are diabetic. It’s not a big part of their lives until...

Bum, bum, bum...
Bum, bum, bum. There’s definitely a reason Emmy’s diabetic.

That we will discover.
Yes. It winds up being key. But, in terms of her initial character, why would it be key? She’s diabetic. She has a pump. She’s not supposed to be eating too many of those fucking Kit Kats.

Yea. That’s when I started... Because the Kit Kats were like the ticks on the wall in prison, but the opposite.
Like happy ticks.

Yea, happy ticks. But then it becomes something deeper when you realize that she’s diabetic.
I’m actually glad to hear that. I appreciate your saying that came across. I think that’s a function of how kids respond to things. Emmy has an innate sense of self-preservation, a deep understanding of how much she’s allowed to eat these things. But she may also have some desire to rebel against it. And they’re pleasurable for her. It’s all a part of this complicated relationship to authority and time and gaming.

When you think about the legacy you want to leave to art and to the world, how would you define that or how would you want that to look?
This is a really hard question. It’s a question I think about a ton. It’s a question that I feel pretty uneasy about at times.

I think I’m easy about what I’d like it to be. The uneasiness comes from being unsure how to achieve that. What I’d like it to be is pretty simple. I’d like to have created a body of durable creative work that is valuable in some way. It doesn’t have to have either made me a zillionaire or have been seen by everyone in the world. But, it has to have made a mark and been noticed and been cared about.

A body of work to me means stories. It doesn’t just have to mean prose. Prose work and plays and film work. A corpus. Stories that were of value to people.

The other component is kind of a sense that, in my own person and in my life, I’ve been active in the world and contributed in a definite way. I went to business school and I got an M.A. in International Relations. And while I kind of make fun of myself about that stuff now, that wasn't an accident -- I'd like to use those skills. That’s what I’m trying to figure out, what that really, really means and should be.

The question is when I’m 85 and looking back on my life... I’ll be really happy if there are stories that people can still experience and enjoy. If there is a lesser known, but very much known to me and anyone who knows me, direct impact on people through another kind of work that helps my community, or my country or a business function well... I want both of those things. If I can achieve both of those things, I will be very happy.

Is there anything that you want us to know?
If anyone’s reading this, buy Erra’s Throne. It gets better and better. It keeps getting awesomer.

The remaining Columns in Tablet One of Erra’s Throne will be released throughout the fall, 2014. In 2015, Mr. Carmichael will release Frosh, a coming-of-age political thriller about a working class Freshman at Harvard who stumbles into a conspiracy at the heart of one of America's most glamorous political dynasties. He is also working on Ergo Sum, a post-apocalyptic robot adventure novel with existential and religious preoccupations, co-authored with tech-guru Andrew McCollum.

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