At Breaking the Glass Slipper, we love YA with a speculative twist. We have previously had Frances Hardinge on the show to discuss the merits of the genre, in an attempt to shake off all the genre haters. Today on the blog we have a debut YA fantasy author, Alyssa Wees, discussing her novel The Waking Forest and what she loves about fantasy, YA books, and female protagonists.
The Waking Forest is out now.
What is it about fantasy and magic you love so much? Why did you want to write in this genre?
I’ve always been drawn to fantasy more than any other genre. For me, fantasy—and fairy tales especially—give voice to the things we can’t always articulate concisely, our fears and hopes and anxieties. Sometimes it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the things we don’t know or can’t say, and so we create a monster or a dark wood or a powerful witch to make sense of those feelings. I first read The Chronicles of Narnia when I was little and I’ve always identified with Lucy Pevensie. Writing fantasy is my way of opening my own wardrobe and seeing what’s inside.
Why is it so important to write books for young adults? And what do you want to see more of in these stories?
As a teen, YA books were a wonderful escape for me. I had very little free time between school and training in ballet six days a week, so diving into a YA fantasy book for even just a few minutes between classes was a welcome refuge from the various pressures I experienced during that time. I did a lot of reading for school, of course—and I did really enjoy some of the books we read, like The Great Gatsby and Jane Eyre—but I found that the books we studied didn’t always feed my imagination or curiosity in a way that was satisfying. Reading books that were specifically for young adults, and that focused on characters that were my age, with trials and emotions that were relevant in my own life, even in fantasy, was so meaningful to me. I really believe that the books I read kept me afloat and helped keep my anxiety at a distance, and because it had such an impact on me I always knew I wanted to write for young adults. It’s my way of “giving back” to the community and being part of the broader conversation in young adult literature as a writer rather than as a reader.
Young adult is growing in fantastic ways, and I’d really love to see more dark, original fairy tales in the future. I enjoy retellings, but there’s something so spectacular about a story that feels familiar and completely new at the same time. Two adult titles come to mind when I think of original fairy tales: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, and Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. They’re both great crossover titles, but I’d love to see more stories like these in YA.
You alternate between two female pov’s in The Waking Forest. How do you ensure you create two distinct voices?
On the surface Rhea and the Witch of Wishes, the two main protagonists of The Waking Forest, are very different—Rhea lives with her family by the ocean and the Witch lives alone in the woods; Rhea has desires and wishes that have yet to come true while the Witch is granting wishes to children who seek her in their dreams. Rhea is full of anxiety and curiosity about her visions and nightmares while the Witch is content in her rather macabre palace made of bones. But then, both characters are visited by strangers who have a story to tell and neither is really ready to hear it. In this way, I intended Rhea and the Witch to be mirrors of each other. Their journeys are separate but closely linked, and both will need to confront the darkness creeping into their lives in their own time and in their own way. To keep each voice distinct, it really comes down to setting and tone. Rhea’s voice is much more contemporary, while the Witch’s is like an old fairy tale being told around a fire at night. While their journeys are reflections of each other, their settings and tones feel almost like two separate stories, slowly and methodically intertwining.
YA is one of the only speculative fiction sub-genres that overwhelmingly features female protagonists. Why do you think that is? Why does this so drastically change when we reach adult speculative fiction?
It’s absolutely awesome that there are so many female protagonists in YA, but I think it’s also a bit of a double-edged sword. It seems like male protagonists and authors have dominated adult speculative fiction—and traditional adult fantasy in particular—for so long that it’s harder for women to break into speculative fiction written for adults. Sadly, women’s stories are often infantilized and undervalued and I think that some of the stories that are meant more for an adult audience are being pushed toward YA, often blurring the line between the two. On a hopeful note, I do think this situation is changing. There are so many excellent women writing in both YA and adult fantasy. N.K. Jemisin, Victoria Schwab, Naomi Novik, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia are just a few that come to mind in the adult category, but there are so many more and hopefully we’ll see more in the future!
Why should we be reading The Waking Forest?
The Waking Forest is a YA fantasy novel about Rhea, the eldest of four sisters, who has terrifying visions and nightmares of a forest no one sees but her. When she makes a deal with a mysterious stranger who seems to be made of darkness in exchange for learning about the forest’s secrets, her family begins to disappear one by one. Meanwhile, the Witch of Wishes lives alone in a palace of bone in the same forest that Rhea sees in her visions. The Witch spends her nights granting wishes to children seeking her out in their dreams. Her peace is shattered by the arrival of a stranger who seems to know something about her past, something she’s not yet ready to face. The Waking Forest is perfect for fans of dark fairy tales!
Alyssa Wees‘s debut novel is The Waking Forest. She lives and writes in Chicago.
To learn more about Alyssa and her writing, go to her website, alyssawees.com, and follow @AlyssaWees on Twitter.