Bridging the Gap
November 12th, 2011
Event Recap:

Face the Fiction Bridging the Gap with Alaya Dawn Johnson, 11/12
Another wonderful, interesting meeting! Ms. Johnson was quite
forthcoming and honest with her insights and opinions about the
author-publisher relationship....
(Gene McGrath)

Hear, hear!

What do you get when you mix an awesome venue, a warm and
funny guest, and a great group of friends?  Face the Fiction, that's

First off, we should give a shout out and congratulations to our
friends the Skees and Well Read Books, celebrating its First
Anniversary this week with an awesome sale!  Head on down and
take a look around.  SFSNNJ Members got to get in on the fun in
advance on Saturday as the Sale was extended to our members (in
point of fact I bought a nearly complete set of Necromunda novels
that I am in the process of greedily devouring).  There are still a lot
of neat books on the shelves that I didn't buy.

Gene and I were the first to arrive, followed in good order by Mike,
Amir, Chris, Ann Marie, Josephine, the ever-stealthy Liz, Aurelia, the
not very stealthy Remi, BJ, and a host of others who I should have
kept track of, but was too busy gossiping... er, I mean chatting!... to
pay enough attention to every last face in the crowd.  The accursed
transit system deposited our guest in town a mite later than
anticipated, but she was a wonderful sport about the whole thing,
and we proceeded to hunker down and have a great discussion.

Alaya Dawn Johnson, author extraordinaire, launched us on a
journey between two genres that would seem, at first glance, to be
unrelated: Adult and Young Adult Fiction.  Now, one might wonder
why people would think that these things were worlds apart, and
Alaya did a great job of explaining the view of adults on the subject:
when most of us were growing up, YA novels are what are now
considered Intermediate/Juvenile literature, and some adult
literature, like Ender's Gameor the novels of David Eddings, are now
considered to be YA.  Alaya defined the differences between the two
as two-fold:

First the protagonist should be in the 12-21 year old age range.  
While this is not a hard and fast rule (sometimes the protagonist
starts off younger or ends out the series older), it is important that
the character be in this range to make them relatable to the target
audience.  Although Alaya had initially meant for her Soul Binder
series of Second World Fantasy novels to be adult in scope, the age
of the protagonist made them an excellent fit for the YA audience.

Second. the scope of the story should be more narrowly derived, and
not quite so epic.  Stories should be told in the first person or tight
third person narrative style and should really not stray far from the
focal characters/area.  When a story branches out and covers more
characters, or sets up different focal points and concepts, it is more
difficult to get the YA audience sold on it.  Again, there are
exceptions to every rule, but this one seems pretty hard and fast.

We turned the discussion to a comparison of the work that Alaya did
on her Soul Binder series with her books Moonshine and The Wicked
City, which portray a 1920's New York City where Vampires are the
immigrant underclass and a young suffragette is busy campaigning
for equal rights for the Vampire underclass.  One important note in
the difference between the two series is that the YA series, Soul
Binder, has a lot more sex and violence than the adult series.  Of
course, one would assume the opposite, especially since the cover of
Moonshine implies both sex and violence, but the reality is that the
YA audience is looking for things that are more 'realistic'.  This is
important because it helps young people when they can find people
and situations that they can identify with and appreciate as being
applicable to their own lives while being divorced from the reality of
those lives in many ways.

Spending a lot of time on Soul Binder we learned about Alaya's time
in Japan and how that influenced her desire to write a culture based
on an amalgam of Japanese and Polynesian tropes.  She did a lot
of research, which she shared with us, and it was great to see more
diversity in the cultures in the typical fantasy genre.  Another cool
idea was that Alaya wanted to make sure that magic, in her world,
'sucked'.  Magic, as described by our guest, required sacrifices but
was basically doable by anyone in the books, so long as you
accepted that it was going to be miserable and horrible and
likely-as-not really not worth the trouble.  I loved this idea, and the
basic premise that the system, once entered in to would eventually
start to become a somewhat awful cycle, was great.

Briefly we discussed Alaya's work on a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure
style graphic novel, and the new experience of writing a script for the
graphic novel.  She had never tackled a project like that before, and
was tickled to find that the artists conveyed her directions in the
script almost perfectly (the piece looks great and should be great
fun).  I, of course, asked my important question, and the answer is:
Alaya writes to music unless there is a looming deadline or she is
'seriously writing' in which case she prefers to be undistracted.

Ann-Marie asked some great questions about influences and current
reads, and it turns out that Alaya and I must have shared a
bookshelf at some point in time since we appear to have both read
all the same things.  David Eddings, Diana Wynn Jones, and David
Brin were all discussed, and we spent a lot of time on the Brin novel
The Practice Effect because both Alaya and I thought it was brilliant
in its concept (you should read it if you have not done so).  BJ
asked Alaya a number of questions about the Polynesian culture
and the role of magic.  Mike and Alaya discussed the part that cuss
words have to play in writing after a particularly amusing anecdote
about Scholastic's reticence to use the word, even though its
appearance was during the height of a particularly racy bit.

All in all, we had a great time, and laughed a lot with Alaya, but
sadly eventually we had to get moving and get our guest back
home.  To whit: I really hope that she made it home OK, since I am
quite sure that several of us were planning to adopt her into the fold
and never allow her to leave North Jersey!  Thanks again for a great
night, and tune in next month when Local Authors Make Good at the
SFSNNJ Holiday Party featuring Don Smith, author of The Goffle Road
Murders and Sandra Schlosser of Spooky New Jersey fame!  See you
at the Party!

(write-up Todd Ehrenfels)
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Bridging the Gap with Alaya Dawn Johnson
7p - 9:30p

Well Read Bookstore
425 Lafayette Avenue
Hawthorne, NJ 07506

This group meets on the second Saturday of each month and spotlights
guest speakers from SF and genre related fields of interest.

This month Bridge the Gap with Alaya Dawn Johnson:  "bridge the gap" by
writing for adult and YA audiences.  What goes into an adult genre story as
opposed to a YA genre story?  Alaya Dawn Johnson - (http://www. is a speculative fiction writer.  

Novel: “Wicked City.” Thomas Dunne, April 2012 (a Zephyr Hollis novel, sequel
to Moonshine).

Previously Published:
Short Story: “Their Changing Bodies.” Subterranean Magazine. Summer 2011
issue (special YA edition, edited by Gwenda Bond).

Short Story: “A Prince of Thirteen Days.” Welcome to Bordertown (anthology)
edited by Ellen Kushner and Holly Black, May 2011. (Reprinted in Fantasy
Magazine, May 2011).

Novel: “The Burning City.” (Book 2 of The Spirit Binders). Agate Publishing,
May 2010.

Novel: “Moonshine.” Thomas Dunne, May 2010.

Novel: “Detective Frankenstein“. Graphic Universe (Lerner) in March 2011.

Short Story: “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Zombies vs Unicorns (anthology)
edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier, September 2010.

Short Story: “The Yeast of Eire.” Strange Horizons, September 2009.

Short Story: “The Score.” Interfictions 2 (anthology), Fall 2009.

Short Story: “A Song to Greet the Sun.” Fantasy Magazine, Fall 2009. (Part of
the winning submission package for the Speculative Literature Foundation‘s
Gulliver Travel Grant).

Short Story: “Far and Deep.” Interzone #221, March/April 2009.

Novel: “The Goblin King“. Graphic Universe (Lerner) in February 2009.

Short Story: “Down the Well” in Strange Horizons, August 2008.

Novel: “Racing the Dark“. (Book 1 of The Spirit Binders). Agate Publishing,
October 2007.

Novella: “Shard of Glass” in Strange Horizons, February 2005. Reprinted in
Year’s Best Fantasy #6, edited by David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer.
Shortlisted for the Carl Brandon Society Parallax award.

Short Story: “Third Day Lights” in Interzone issue #200, September/October
2005. Reprinted in Year’s Best SF #11, edited by David Hartwell and Kathryn

Short Story: “Among Their Bright Eyes” in Fantasy Magazine issue #4, 2006.

Short story: “Who Ever Loved” in Arabella Magazine, December 2004

Poem: “Good for Hanging” in Chizine, Fall 2004. Honorable mention in The
Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror #18

Article: The Revenant of Tokyo Bay: Godzilla and the Japanese Ghost in The
Internet Review of Science Fiction, March 2004.