“Horror has No Place in YA!!!”

It’s fair to say that every author’s journey to publication is going to be wildly different.

It’s also fair to say that, even by the standards of “wildly different”, my journey was particularly extraordinary.

And among the strangeness of my own story, one thing stands out in particular: my editor and mentor, David Farland, who is a bestselling author himself, told me something I didn’t know how to respond to.

“You’ve created a new genre,” he told me. “No one else has handled superheroes in a prose novel the same way they are handled in comic books. You’re the first person to do it. So you’re going to tell everyone you invented a new genre. And you’re going to call it Superpunk.”

Now, that’s a hard thing for a freshly minted author to process. Do I really have claim to say that I invented a new genre? Other prose books have featured superheroes. Quite a few of them, in fact.

But, as Dave pointed out, none of those have managed to find a wide audience, in the same way that—for example—urban fantasy, paranormal romance, or sword and sorcery have.

Furthermore, when we look at the other prose superhero books currently available, we find that most of them are just reskins of other fantasy genres.

There’s the magical school…with superheroes.

There’s the supernatural romance…with superheroes.

There’s the Discworld-esque comic fantasy…with superheroes.

And, in Dave’s mind and my own, simply taking an existing fantasy genre, crossing out the word “magic” and replacing it with “superpowers” does not make a superhero story. Not like the ones that come from the comic books, in any case.

What Dave accused me of was treating superheroes seriously and maturely. The greatest stories in the comic books have a delicious combination of both grimdark and noblebright. They don’t shy away from the darkness of the human condition, but they demonstrate how a hero triumphs over it.

And Dave (who has read thousands of books and worked in acquisitions among the loftiest publishing houses) told me mine was the first to do this in prose form. And, frankly, I don’t have the credentials to contradict him.

The Objections

Dave, sadly, is no longer with us. So I can’t lean on him to back up this claim. And, unsurprisingly, most people have been skeptical of it.

The responses generally come in two flavors.

The First: “You can’t claim to have invented a new genre. Yours is not the first novel to feature superheroes.”

The Second: “Your book is too different from existing superhero novels. It doesn’t match what’s currently out there.”

Now, I could point out how these two objections contradict each other. I could also point out that Dave never claimed mine was the first novel to feature superheroes (that’s not what Superpunk means).

But the loudest detractors have actually come from the second camp. And if I were to divide their opposition even further into two groups, they would look like this.

“Horror has no place in superhero fiction!”

And, “Horror has no place in YA!”

Which is odd, considering Advent 9 is not a horror novel. Yet it has some extremely intense action sequences. But even if we overlook Advent 9, those statements still make no sense. Let’s take a look at each of them up close.

“Horror has No Place in Superhero Fiction!”

I wonder if the people saying this have ever read a comic book.

I can’t name a single superhero who hasn’t fought zombies, at one point or another, throughout their history.

Wolverine has fought zombies.

Superman has fought zombies.

Even freaking Archie has fought zombies.

The idea that superhero stories never involve horror elements is something that can only be said by a person completely unacquainted with the history of superhero stories.

To give another example, anyone familiar with Superman’s history will note that his most powerful nemesis is Darkseid—an evil god that rules a literal hell planet where abducted people get turned into mindless, misshapen monsters. That army of monsters is then used to turn the rest of the populated universe into similar hell planets.

As far as the comic books are concerned, darker elements have always been present. And if most superhero novels lack these elements, then that says something about the slate of superhero novels that has previously been produced.

But almost as strange is the other gripe people level against Advent 9.

“Horror has No Place in YA”

The Young Adult category used to be home to a wide variety of genres, all involving people of a certain age.

I have written before about how the YA category has been co-opted by a single genre. Sadly, since that writing, little has come in the way of improvement. Publishers are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. They’ll try merging their companies before they stop to consider maybe changing the way they do business.

Still, the idea that YA can never involve horror or dark elements seems remarkably out of place. If we go back to Advent 9 as an example, I can say that it has roughly the same amount of horror elements as another famous YA book—The Hunger Games.

Advent 9 also features less than 10% of the fatalities found in this other book. Yet no one classifies The Hunger Games as a horror novel, though it undeniably contains horror elements.

It doesn’t stop there. Twilight features vampires and werewolves. Harry Potter has dementors, inferi (a kind of zombie), cultish organizations, and a disembodied villain who possesses the body of one of his adherents.

Anyone who has been paying attention knows that horror most definitely has a place in YA.

What Dark Elements Can be Found in Advent 9

For one thing, he fights mutants.

And he fights them underground. That’s it. I don’t know where people are reading horror into that. It’s something that superheroes regularly do.

But if we leave horror behind, and only consider the parts that make Advent 9 a serious and mature look at superheroes, it has to be the fact that the nature of morality is itself called into question. The hero is forced to ask himself whether he has ever done any real good. He wonders if the villain’s long-held position is indeed the correct one, and he is unable to avoid the question of why he ever bothered to save people.

It’s honest. It’s no-holds-barred. You will love it.

It is not like anything you have read before.

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