Young Adult

Expect Civilian Casualties By Gary Bonn

Sunday, December 09, 2012

What sets the romance genre apart? Why does writing it drive me into a passion and leave me exhausted? All genres can involve the excitement of anticipation, the desolation of betrayal, and you feel it as you write, but no other genre has the same intensity of effect on me.

In no other genre is it so critical that the reader gets into hearts of characters, goes through the heady moments, the hope and despair. This can only be achieved if the author writes with the same degree of emotional immersion as he or she hopes the reader will achieve.

You have to fall in love with your characters and live every moment with them. You can’t simply watch what they do – you have to be them.

Other genres tend to have a faster pace and less intimate emotional involvement, but what if a slow pace isn’t possible? How many young loves burned with brilliant intensity in the brief moments snatched together during war? Is it possible to write intense romance and action at the same time? Well, yes.

Some years ago an editor asked me, ‛Why don’t you write romance for young adults?’ Then he added, ‛Do you do vampire stories?’

It’s illegal to kill people – even editors – in the UK, so I suggested he shoot himself to save me the hassle and handcuffs.

‛No really, give young adults a try,’ he said.


‛Gary, you never grew up. Just write naturally.’

Piqued as I was – he had a point. ‛Fine,’ I replied, ‛but I don’t do vampires: I’ll create my own, my own... er...’

So Anna was born and took over my life for months. The character, Jason, was me at seventeen. Anna scared me to death. Both Jason and I fell in love with her.

Writing is like figure drawing (my other job). You lose yourself in the intoxication of other identities. I couldn’t walk downstairs, enter a building, or make a fire without wondering how Jason would have done them – and how he’d have reacted emotionally. In my mind, I felt the sand of his beach between my toes; reflected sun dazzled me from the sea; Anna’s hand, hot and strong, held mine. Her ringing laughter still echoes from cliffs – and I feel a stab of loss. She fascinates me – and does it while she laughs, smiles, kisses, dances... and just goes on being the most dangerous person on earth.

What is so seductive about the young adult genre? As a writer you’re free and writing for un-genre-programmed people, hungry for the new, the unique. Despite a recent tightening of the genre as publishers try not to take risks, young people love being stimulated. They want intensity and passion, but absolutely not repetition. When I give talks in schools I often ask both sexes what sort of books they really want. There’s an overlap – quite a broad one at that. I wrote Expect Civilian Casualties not knowing this, and hit the overlap by pure luck.

While in schools I often get the same two questions – here they are and they lead nicely to my conclusion.

What’s being an author like?

All jobs have their negative side, but in writing about 50% of your time is enjoyable. Your characters will grow their own identities, totally ignore your intended plot lines and do things their own way. This is the reassuring sign that they are real: not puppets. You get to live in strange places too. I spent two whole weeks living in a unique land (in my head). I lit the candles, felt the hot wax dripping on my fingers; the desert grit that found its way into my food. I got up at dawn and prepared for the daily task of clearing nightmare creatures in order that we, the Trenchers, could work. By the end of that period, Eve, Torii, Sharp, Linn and the rest of the heroes there were like comrades.*

Why are you a writer?

I’ve lived in fantasy-land all my life – I may as well make a living from it.

No! It’s so much more than that.

‛...for a story is like the wind, it comes from a far-off quarter and we feel it.’ (Xhabbo.)**

That’s my target, my passion: to let you, the reader, feel it. To take you somewhere new, see the world through someone else’s eyes; to make their heart and mind yours for a while.

* Harsh Reality. To be published next year by Firedance Books.

**Quoted by Laurens van der Post in the Witness to a Last Will of Man.