Category Archives: Archetypes and Genre

Young Adult, New Adult (???) and the Weird Business of Demographics

What in the world is a marketing demographic? They’re something that often seems so simple, so based in real-life logic about how humans grow and experience things, that sometimes you can forget how constructed they are. And how much our idea of what is suitable for a demographic of young people—or, even what a young person is—can vary from person to person, publisher’s office to publisher’s office. Where are those lines drawn, and who is holding the pen? Is it authors? Is it agents? Is it marketing departments? Is it a confusing disaster with no concrete answer??

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From Painters to Pirates: A Study of Non-binary Protagonists in Young Adult Fiction

I have a new scholarly paper out, free to read in the International Journal of Young Adult Literature! This scoops up and lays out a bunch of my thesis data, representing a lot of research work. Check it out if you’re interested!

Abstract:

Non-binary gender is a marginalised queer identity increasingly receiving mainstream media representation, a subject that warrants investigation. Non-binary is an umbrella term under which many experiences of gender fall, a factor that necessitates a nuanced variety of narrative representations to avoid perpetuating or creating static and singular archetypes. This article examines a sample of young adult novels with non-binary protagonists published between 2017 and 2020, exploring the various ways these texts express and explore their central characters’ gender identity. My findings reveal thematic commonalities between these novels, with particular focus on the language used to describe these characters’ felt sense of gender, their experiences with dysphoria/euphoria, their relationships to broader queer communities within their story worlds, and the intersections of queer gender and speculative elements. I argue that this subset we might call ‘non-binary YA’ serves as an emblem of the development of queer YA overall, its rapid expansion through various genres and narrative types providing a microcosm of the growth of the literary field and pointing to its future.

Download the full PDF here!

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Tanuki, Technology, and Tricksters in My Master Has No Tail

My Master Has No Tail opens with narration that promises this: “Today I shall tell you an old tale of a time when tanuki and foxes still tricked people.”

The series follows a young tanuki named Mameda who travels to the city to play tricks on humans like in those old stories. However, things are a little different: it’s the Taisho era, and advances in technology mean that a lot of the old repertoire doesn’t work. Electric streetlights make it difficult to cast illusions in the dark. New ways of making and handling currency mean it’s not as easy to pass transforming leaves off as money. There are cars and trams threatening to run Mameda over every time she tries to cross the street! She’s despondent, until she finds her way into a theatre.

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The Queer Art of Not Staying Dead

This post contains major spoilers for the end of Gideon the Ninth and the whole of Harrow the Ninth, and minor spoilers for The Dawnhounds.

If I had a ten-cent coin for every New Zealand sci-fi/fantasy novel that killed off its sapphic main character only to bring her back to life through cool worldbuilding and thematically resonant means… well, I’d only have twenty cents, but it’s neat that it’s happened more than once.

We all know the trope—the cliché even—of the tragic queer character. “Bury Your Gays” is part of most people’s fandom lingo even if they’re not familiar with its broader media history. Whether due to censorship regulations, underlying homophobia on the writers’ part, or otherwise well-meaning creatives stumbling into familiar patterns, there’s a long, established literary history of killin’ off the non-heterosexuals. This makes every story that doesn’t do this refreshing, of course. But on a deeper level, it also makes room for stories that engage with this trope through genre fiction: drawing the reader’s eye to the familiar pattern playing out, and then ultimately rejecting it for maximum thematic satisfaction.

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Non-binary Narration: The Potential of POV in YA Novels with Genderqueer Characters

Watch along for a dip into some of my research on the different ways writers can use POV—first-person, close third-person, or the “voice of god” omniscient third-person—to tell different kinds of queer stories and affirm the identities of their non-binary characters in different ways. I use a small sample of recent YA novels as examples, and even talk a little about my own novel manuscript 👀

Please also enjoy my cowboy shirt, the way my glasses sometimes go fully white in the sunshine like an anime character, and the dorky eye-catching thumbnail I made.

Originally presented, virtually, at the Australian Children’s Literature Association for Research conference, 1st July 2022.

Transcript:

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Our Flag Means Death and the Treasure Hunt for Queer Genre Fiction

This post contains spoilers for the end of Our Flag Means Death season one.

Traditionally, fiction centring on queer characters has tended to be anchored in contemporary realism, making genre works—sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, historical, etc.— exciting and notable. This is true for basically every field and medium you look to: statistical studies like Malinda Lo’s note that “Historically, LGBTQ YA books have mostly been contemporary realistic novels”, making the slow increase of more genre works for that demographic intriguing. In the world of anime and manga, yuri, BL, and more general LGBTQIA+ focused titles also tend towards realistic settings, making series like Otherside Picnic and The Executioner and Her Way of Life really stand out for their clear positionality in sci-fi and high fantasy respectively.

When we get mainstream queer titles onscreen, they tend to be the Love, Simons and The Miseducation of Cameron Posts of the world. And these, of course, are important advancements! Every queer film that hits cinemas, every queer series that hits streaming services, is part of the evolving history of queer storytelling, and dismissing any one of them because they’re “just the same realist tropes again” isn’t helpful.

But it does mean that when a major network releases a work of queer fantasy, sci-fi, or in this case historical fiction, it stands out as something new and noteworthy. And it opens new, unique possibilities and ways forward that ought to be studied and celebrated alongside the simple fact of a “gay pirate show” existing.

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(Re)Telling an Epic: Biwa and The Heike Story

Late last year as I languished in my feels after bingeing The Heike Story, I joined a centuries old tradition. Across many years, media, and languages Heike Monogatari has drawn audiences into its intricate tragedy, weaving the tale of one noble family’s arrogance and inevitable downfall against the lush and philosophical backdrop of medieval Japan. It’s an epic in the truest sense of the word: sprawling in scope, deeply poetic, and intwined in a glorious tradition of oral storytelling. It may seem like all this should make it nigh-impossible to adapt effectively, but somehow Science SARU pulled it off—not only successfully playing out the tale in eleven episodes, but successfully getting me, and many other very modern viewers, hooked emotionally.

Part of this, of course, is the enduring power of the story itself, but part of it is how the story is told. The Heike Story employs a clever narrative trick to play out the epic while also playing with the epic, adding new and very metatextual dimensions. And that narrative trick’s name is Biwa.

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Genre-Savvy Protagonists in Queer YA Rom-coms

The rules of the romantic comedy are simple and easy to learn, especially when you’re in love with the concept of love… but what if you’re an LGBTQIA+ teenager and this formula has historically cut you out? Well, you have to tweak those rules to make your own.

Presented as a “podcast” for Deakin University’s online Concepts in Popular Genres symposium, 6 – 8 December 2021. A transcript is available here!

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Playing with Genre and Queer Narrative in the Novels of Malinda Lo

I have a new scholarly paper out, published and free to read in the International Journal of Young Adult Literature!

Abstract:

Malinda Lo has been an invaluable voice in the emerging field of queer YA fiction, both for her accessible statistics on the representation of LGBTQIA+ identities in traditional publishing, and for the content of her novels. Her fictional works place sapphic protagonists into genre narratives – sci-fi, fairy tale, thriller – that are traditionally presumed to be the realm of straight heroes. But the queer rebellion in Lo’s writing goes beyond simply casting queer characters into genres and roles that have historically been considered heteronarrative: Lo’s work is an example of what I define here as ‘queer narrative play’, a process of deliberately and visibly troubling, tweaking, and upturning readers’ expectations of the roles and functions of queer characters within recognisable genre frameworks, deftly challenging the historical binary that has existed between ‘mainstream’ genre fiction and ‘marginal’ queer coming-of-age stories.

Following from Tzvetan Todorov’s suggestion that “genres function as ‘horizons of expectation’”, this paper will explore how Lo’s body of work playfully challenges the traditional representation of LGBTQIA+ characters in a variety of methods; from creating speculative worlds that remove the need for narratives such as the coming-out story, to drawing readers’ attention to tragic queer tropes in order to make later subversions of them visible. Queer narrative play is an example of the ways in which contemporary YA writers may enact a rebellious conversation between author and reader, creating playful and progressive new works by reshaping the pre-existing materials of literary expectations, and Lo’s work makes for a stellar example of the craft.

Read and download the full text here!

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Genre and Gender in Wonder Egg Priority

Wonder Egg Priority is perhaps, by now, most famous for how it started out strong and then scrambled itself. The shift from dreamy fantasy to convoluted sci-fi and the show’s unsympathetic treatment of its young female characters, particularly in its finale, are two key factors in the series’ downturn. But these two storytelling issues do not exist separately; they intertwine and inform each other.

Egg’s shift from magic to sci-fi coincides with its shift in character focus. Early episodes center on the four female protagonists. But by the end, its narrative authority lies with its adult male characters, the Accas and Ai’s teacher Mr. Sawaki, who explain the motivations of teenage girls rather than the girls themselves telling their own stories. Intentional or otherwise, it’s worth examining this shift in priorities from magic and the emotional reality of young women to science and the “logic” of grown men. It provides insight into the author’s biases and underlying gender politics, anchored in a study of the series’ genre politics.

Read the full article on Otaku Tribune!

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