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May 13, 2016

Entryway Renaissance, A Guest Post by Jeff Wheeler, Author of THE QUEEN’S POISONER


Author Jeff Wheeler is no stranger to the shifting demands of the adult and young adult fantasy markets. When he wrote his first book, there was a call for darker, grittier fantasies for adults who had grown up reading the genre. Wheeler, however, avoided this trend by keeping gratuitous sex and violence scenes out of his work. In this post, he discusses the need for a books that both teens and adults feel comfortable reading --- a genre he calls "Entryway" fantasy, and how he has helped other authors find homes for their "clean" works. 

One of the things I learned during my 22-year career at Intel was that sometimes products shape markets and sometimes markets shape products. Think about what the iPhone and Kindle did to the smart phone and e-reader businesses. At first, each company had just one device. Then customers began to weigh in and wanted variety and so size and shape and weight were factored in and multiple spin off products were developed to match the niches. The same thing has happened to the fantasy genre.

When I set about to write my first Muirwood book, the trend of fantasy had been shifting away from epic fantasy and was turning dark and getting darker. In fact, they’ve since labeled it “grimdark.” Adults who grew up on fantasy wanted more and more mature themes, wanted grittier fare, and anti-heroes instead of Frodo and Sam. But not all adult readers wanted that and certainly not all adult readers wanted their teens reading it. As the fantasy market evolved, it left a gap that wasn’t being filled between YA and adult fantasy. After self-publishing my first Muirwood books, I was struck by the reviews and reader comments that were grateful my books weren’t filled with sex, swearing, and graphic violence. They were books that adults were comfortable sharing with their teens and that their teens liked it too.

Nearly a year after self-publishing the Legends of Muirwood trilogy, I was contacted by David Pomerico with Amazon Publishing (now at Harper Voyager). He shared a belief that the fantasy market was lacking cleaner fare, which he dubbed --- and I give him full credit for naming it --- “Entryway” Fantasy. These are the kind of books that harken back to the tales that inspired so many of us to write in the first place, authors like Terry Brooks, David Eddings and Hickman & Weiss. He saw my Muirwood series as helping to fill the void. After 47North re-published the three Muirwood books, the sales and reader reviews proved David’s thesis was spot on. There is a resurgence towards “cleanreads” going on in the market right now. The problem is, readers don’t easily know how to find them amidst so many offerings.

I continue to see evidence of this trend as I read my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and the multiple comments from readers who have been introduced to my writing through my latest novel, THE QUEEN’S POISONER who make comments that it’s like Game of Thrones except without the “gross stuff.” And it is not just the book reviews, but I get plenty of messages from fans all over the world who are grateful to have books they can share with their teens and enjoy themselves and they ask me for suggestions of other authors to try out. The movement isn’t just within the YA audience. It’s happening for parents and grandparents too. Writing clean fiction hasn’t hurt my sales. If anything, it’s helped grow them.

Recently I presented some classes at a writer’s convention. I mentioned that because of my passion for this movement, I had decided to reboot an e-zine I shut down ten years ago called Deep Magic: the E-zine of Clean Fantasy and Science Fiction after joining forces with another fantasy author, Charlie M Holmberg --- author of the Paper Magician series that Disney just picked up. Charlie and I did this to help other authors find homes for their Entryway stories and novellas and to showcase other authors who were writing in this space. We also wanted to inspire another generation of upcoming authors. One of the classes I taught erupted into applause after I made a brief mention about Deep Magic. It startled me. It also revealed that this is a trend which is picking up steam.

I think David Pomerico was right. There is plenty of room in the genre for excellent writing that isn’t too dark. In fact, I think it’s long overdue.