Oh noes! The killer unicorns! They have taken over my website!
In other news, the killer unicorn takeover of the known world continues apace. At the School Library Journal, kidlit blogger Fuse #8 casts her vote in the ever popular “What supernatural beings are next?” discussion:
“Werewolves turn out to be the obvious answer, though there’s a surprising push for mummies, mermaids, and angels. My vote is for evil unicorns. And if Rampant is any indication, I’m on the right path.”
I am always surprised to see the question framed thusly, as if the point of any smash book is dependent on the type of supernatural creature that appears within its pages. However, Tea Cozy isn’t the only one to ask it. Publisher’s Weekly was doing so three months ago. I remember, back before Twilight ever came out, attending conferences where the industry pros inisted that vampires were played out. I know several folks whose vampire YA novels, out before the zeitgeist, withered on the vine, and others who chug along merrily, such as Scott Westerfeld’s Peeps books or the novels of Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. Christine Feehan has been peddling vampire romance since 1999, but it was Anne Rice who reinvented the genre in the mid seventies. Buffy’s cult-classic status revitalized the genre of urban fantasy. And vampires are still super strong. The saga may be over, but Meyer is still on the top of the bestseller list, and ongoing series, such as the Casts’ House of Night or Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy novels (I’m a huge fan of these!) keep her company there. Not to mention the reissues of LJ Smith.
Tea Cozy says, “First it was vampires, then zombies.” There may be a rash of zombie novels in the YA field right now, but the vampires haven’t gone anywhere, and for my money, it’s fairies that are all over the place. Fairies and boarding school girls. I can think of half a dozen fairy books that are either out or out this spring, and three times as many boarding school books. I heard a rumor that a large chain bookstore declared a few years back that “fairies would be the next big thing.” A few authors may have consciously responded, but in most cases, these books were written by people who were unaware of market edicts, and were just telling a story that spoke to them.
I don’t believe that ‘the next big thing’ comes courtesy of a certain strain of supernatural creature. People didn’t buy Twilight because it was about vampires. (In fact, it was advertised heavily as “a vampire book for people who don’t like vampire books.”) They bought it because the book spoke very strongly to them. After all, before it became popular, everyone was basing their opinion of “the next big thing” on a far younger series starring a boy wizard. Now of course, the people who may not have liked vampires are converted, and many will buy anything with a fang on the cover.
In the comments of the Tea Cozy post, some postulate that angels or demons will be “the next big thing.” If so, they should probably thank Cassandra Clare, who has been writing a bestselling series about part-angel demon hunters (a very few of the “demons” are, in fact, vampires) for years. People don’t love this series because it’s got demon hunters in it. They love it because it’s great.
Another thing people love: future dystopias populated by action heroines. But I’ve yet to see the article that credits the immense popularity of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series with helping to boost the enormously well-received The Hunger Games last year. (For the record, I loved both.) But instead of people going, “Oh, I think the next big thing is these futuristic female-focused thrillers,” they are still talking about “insert paranormal creatures here.”
HUNGER GAMES SPOILER WARNING (mouseover): Or does The Hunger Games count as a “werewolf” novel? END SPOILER WARNING
And sometimes, these “trend” books have very little in common. Take the so-called zombie trend. Generation Dead is a satirical metaphor about discrimination. You Are So Undead to Me is a humorous, Buffy-like approach to the topic of zombies, Soulless is a classic horror novel set up: “escape from New York’s zombie apocalypse”, and — my personal favorite — The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a literary exploration of human survival that doesn’t even mention the word zombie. (The zombie novel for people who don’t like zombie novels?)
I may be in trouble now for calling it that. 😉
Seriously, though, “the next big thing” as defined by “what there will be twelve dozen books out about” may be based on a particular paranormal creature, as publishers scramble to recreate the Meyer magic. But the “next big thing” as defined by “what will capture the public’s imagination en masse?” That will not be so simply defined. I believe it is the love story that draws Meyer’s fans, not the bloodsucking. (There is, in fact, very little bloodsucking.) But the last big thing, Harry, had only very minor romantic elements, and that only at the very end.
Is the next big thing unicorns? I’m sure Bruce Colville Coville (sorry, curse my butterfingers!) would be thrilled to hear that. I, on the other hand, write unicorn books for people who don’t like unicorn books. (Or maybe, based on the stories I’ve heard of people who have refused to read the book on the grounds that the characters kill unicorns, what I write is books that people who like unicorn books don’t like? Hmmm… something to ponder.) When I sat down to write Rampant, it wasn’t from a position of “hmmm, what paranormal creature is next?” And that is probably because unlike many of the usual urban fantasy creatures, I’m not writing about something humanoid — they don’t blend (except for their fangs/wings/fins/tendency to howl at the moon). They aren’t magical creatures falling in love with mortals (or other magical creatures) and causing romantic/political/cultural/physical agony. It’s a gorgeous paradigm, but I’m not writing it.
The book I’m most excited to read this year* is Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld, which I’m positive will start the alternative World War I living airship trend. It’s totally the next big thing.
* Because I’ve already read the other two I’m most excited about: The Forest of Hands and Teeth and Justine Larbalestier’s newest. Yeah, I know you’re jealous.