Emma Fox talks about writing (and reading) Y.A. fiction.
A brief conversation with AWC’s 2017 Juvenile Fiction Contest winner, Emma Fox.
Your YA novel won the 2017 AWC Juvenile Fiction Prize. Can you give us a little insight into what inspired this story? Any particular images, sights, or sounds? Why?
The Beast of Weissburg began as a loose collection of vivid images that kept clattering around inside my head: a young man holding a wounded fawn...bloody tracks in the snow...the yawning mouth of a cave. I could sense a story, so I followed up on these mental threads by asking myriad questions: Who? Why? What if...? I had recently traveled through the Black Forest region of Germany and the Bavarian Alps, and this experience provided the setting and many of the cultural details of the book.
How do you define “juvenile fiction”? Do you see any sharp lines between juvenile and “YA”? What, if any, is the dividing line for you?
C.S. Lewis famously said that "a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then." I don't think there is a hard-and-fast line between juvenile and young adult (YA) fiction, or even between YA and adult. When I see adults referring online to their favorite books--the stories that have most impacted their lives--they often include titles that today's publishers would categorize as middle grade or YA (L.M. Montgomery's Anne series, for example).
I think that a really good story, one that appeals to our common humanity, transcends cut-and-dried age boundaries. Really, the current distinctions between "juvenile" and "young adult" have more to do with length and theme: middle grade books often feature tales of adventure and camaraderie, while many YA titles wrestle with themes of identity, coming-of-age, and finding one's place in the world. YA also often includes an element of romance.
Who is your favorite audience? Who do you hope to reach?
There are a lot of fantastic young people in my life--former students, mostly--and I try to keep them in mind as I write. These young teens are my ideal audience: warm hearts, eager minds, courageous souls. Still, as I said earlier, a good story shouldn't be too tightly bound by age constraints.
At its core, The Beast of Weissburg is for everyone who fights to do what is right, despite the lies inside their head: the voices that say, You're nobody. You have nothing to offer. You're unlovable and unloved. I want my readers to know that they are seen, heard and loved for who they truly are.
What short stories do you admire the most? Why? What have you learned from them?
Many readers are familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings cycle, but very few have read his short stories, which is a shame. Tales from the Perilous Realm, an anthology of five brief stories (plus some poems), is a great place to start. "Farmer Giles of Ham" is Tolkien at his witty, humorous best, and "Smith of Wooten Major" is probably his best example of pure "faerie" tale. I find anthologies like this one both helpful and fun, because I get to see the author delving into a range of concepts, and trying on various "voices." It's a wonderful way to study an author's technique in microcosm.
Do you have any current projects we should know about?
I've recently begun work on a YA fantasy set in mid-nineteenth-century Russia. It's a story in which historical and magical worlds intersect, and at times collide, with dire consequences.
Emma Fox lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, three young children, and an energetic border collie. Along with her love of books and writing, Emma's passions include art history, dark chocolate, heirloom plants, global travel, and music with soul. The Beast of Weissburg is her first full-length novel. Visit her blog, where she reviews YA fiction, or catch her on Facebook and Pinterest.