How dark is too dark?
This is a question that has been plaguing me of late. When I worked on Ascension, I knew full well it was going to be skewed toward adults. There were certain themes in the book I couldn’t very well see a Young Adult audience understanding. As such, I fully embraced my self-imposed “adult” rating (those of you who have read it know what I’m talking about and probably refuse to look me in the eye anymore). Honestly, though, I’ve read more sexually and violently explicit material while browsing through paperbacks in the grocery store. So, while Ascension might be rated “R” in movie terms, it certainly wouldn’t be anything harder than that (no NC-17 for me, thank you very much).
When I started working on The Four-Year-Old Guardian, I originally planned for it to be a children’s story. Due to elements of the plot, I was looking at my characters being either 11 or 15. I knew there would be some demon fighting action and some magic wielding going on, so 11 seemed a bit young to me. Once I took the plunge and aged everyone by four years, I felt I had the tone I was looking for. Marketing it for a YA audience allowed me to up the violence about (again, nothing gratuitous) and made the romantic elements a little less awkward (icky, I know). While there are certainly some dark moments in the series (most of which are yet to come; I know, I know, I’m still working on Together Alone), I think it fits nicely in the YA/Urban Fantasy mold.
The Shadow Walker, however, has been my problem child. First and foremost, I have yet to pigeonhole what genre it should be. Supernatural? Paranormal? Maybe even SF? I tend to think of it as Horror light, but my mother insists it doesn’t work. Also, because my main man Thomas is 18, I made it YA.
But even as I finished the first book, I realized there was a huge disparity between the tone of the two series. They might both be YA, but Only Human on the Block was a fun little romp, even if it did open up with the murder of a young girl (okay, maybe it wasn’t all *that* fun of a romp). In comparison, Unseen Things gets quite dark. It’s not inherently explicit in language or violence (although there is certainly some violence involved), and any sexual activity is merely hinted at. When I finished The Four-Year-Old Guardian, I immediately launched into working on Bravado/Dramatique. And when I was done with that, I started writing Together Alone.
But when I first wrote The End after finishing The Shadow Walker, I had to take a few days off to reflect on the creature I had just given birth to. It ended exactly as I intended all along, but I was left feeling a little shell-shocked by it all. Still, it was but one book in a trilogy, so I regrouped and went to work on the sequel, The Shadow Within. The night I finished it (just last Monday, Oct. 29th), I had nightmares. I’m referring to the tossing and turning kind of nightmares, not the screaming aloud ones (I’m far too manly for that).
I honestly had to wonder if I hadn’t gone too dark, but the story was what I meant it to be. And as I started working on World of Shadows, the final book (and my NaNo contribution this year), I realized perhaps I shouldn’t have ever skewed this toward the YA demographic in the first place.
Where the first two books are somewhat claustrophobic in their environments (as they primarily take place in a single location, with few exceptions), the third book opens up the rest of the planet. What started out as a localized event is now expanding globally. The threat of the Uracai threatens everyone as shadow governments (see what I did there?) are set in place, paving the way for their ultimate invasion.
So, it’s part political thriller mixed with some creatures of ill intent topped off by a tale steeped in revenge. But is it YA?
I don’t rightfully have an answer for that. But I do know it’s pretty messed up and I can’t wait to finish it.