With the pending release of The Nameless Prince, I’ve often been asked why I chose to write for the Young Adult market. The truth is, I’ve written in many genres. This is my debut novel, and it just happens to be YA. The concept was inspired, and it just demanded certain things, including a protagonist on the cusp of adolescence. I wasn’t thinking necessarily about conforming to the traditions of any one genre, or of marketing limitations with regard to readership. I just wanted to write a good story. I will say, however, that I’d carried a long-standing desire to write a ‘through the rabbit hole’ fairy tale, based on the hero’s journey. I’d always loved stories in which the protagonist (usually a loner) encounters a mythological creature in an unexpected place, and follows it to an alternate realm through some kind of portal. I grew up on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, among others, and found myself returning to the worlds they created over and over again, as an escape. I like the idea of offering this solace to young readers- a place to go that makes the tough journey of adolescence a bit easier.
I remember stumbling into Bridge to Terabithia as a child and for the first time, relating one hundred per cent to a main character. Jesse was an unlikely protagonist- sensitive, intellectual, interested in the arts and culture- all the things boys were not supposed to be. I want to offer something relatable to readers that makes them feel validated. Especially the marginalized, disenfranchised, or unique!
I’m interested in challenging young people, not condescending to them or ‘dumbing down.’ My interest in writing YA has to do with offering content with literary value and artistic integrity, not just fluff. But I learned early on what I was up against. In developing my own intellectual properties (for both the literary and film markets) and pitching to acquisitions executives at major distribution companies, I learned terms like ‘child-centric,’ and ‘family entertainment,’ Several years ago, I was pitching a CG Animated feature to Lion’s Gate. I was told the fact that the protagonist advances in age (in a montage midway through the film) was a deal-breaker. The fear was that we would lose the G-audience. Convention dictated that the pre-teen audience could not identify with characters a few years older than themselves.
Are you kidding? I thought. They can’t wait to be their older brothers and sisters. They aspire to being older, even romanticize the idea. When I pointed out the long history of precedents in which the main character ‘comes of age’ in a montage (Bambi, Lion King, Tarzan, Anastasia, the Fox and the Hound etc., etc.) I was reminded that those films were 2-D, not 3, and came out over five years ago. So there it was. The formula was just this limiting and short-sighted. And it had to do with making bank at the box office. The almighty dollar, and nothing more. What about the idea of imparting wisdom and life lessons to the youth of today? If we limit content to that which pacifies based on the pleasure principle, to what is already on their radar without challenging audiences, what have we gained? These are the films that taught my generation and those before, how to live in the world!
I personally believe that both valuable content and commercial success can coexist; they are not mutually exclusive. Lion King struck a chord with audiences, as did Avatar and the Matrix, precisely BECAUSE of the profound nature of their universal message. The themes go to the core of the human experience. In the literary realm, the same can be said of commercial successes like Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings, and countless others.
I’ve also been asked in interviews how I hold the attention of young readers in this technology-driven climate. Kids grow up surgically attached to a device of some kind, headphones tuning out the world around them. Given the potential for isolation and lack of community, I believe the same old ingredients still work- humanity, affinity, a strong character arc, and illustrating something relatable about the human condition. In fact the younger generation may be starved for poetic simplicity. I myself went from seeing one of the latest Matrix movies (very effects-driven and sophisticated) to a performance the very next day of Vietnamese shadow puppets at the Bodhi Tree bookstore. I was more captivated by the latter! Studio Gibli films (directed by Miazaki) mesmerize children with their relative silence- the lack of explosions and scoring, the wind whistling on the stillness. I have no interest in giving up on young people and catering to cultural A.D.D. I will continue to challenge them to take in character-driven, rather than effects-driven or technology-driven fare.
This is not to say that The Nameless Prince is out of touch. It is quite hip and relevant, if I must say so myself! With sixteen nieces and nephews, and fourteen years of former students, I have my finger firmly on the pulse. The world of Silver Lake is urban and contemporary, pulling timely social issues straight from the headlines, such as the ongoing war between local gangs and the growing homeless population. There is a strong theme of Gaming, as many of the characters are addicted to Gears of War and World of Warcraft. This aesthetic becomes a driving force on ‘the Interior,’ in the war between its residents and the Dark Forces that threaten them. But behind it all is something more universal- the idea of exposing the humanity that exists between the lines.
The theme YA readers will likely identify with most, is that of discovering ones true identity. Seth embarks on an odyssey of riddles and self-discovery, symbolically learning his own name. This questioning of purpose, this testing of the waters, is synonymous with adolescence. And many teens go through this questioning phase feeling like they’re the only one in the world who’s ever felt insecure. The irony is that no one is exempt, but it’s not really talked about. If Seth’s journey rings true, makes readers feel less alone, my mission is accomplished!
When first asked ’why YA,’ it took some time to remove myself from the mindset I’d been living during the writing of The Nameless Prince. I’d been so steeped in the adolescent world of Seth, Elena and their peers, that I’d forgotten some of their concerns are unique to adolescence and perhaps not on the forefront of many adults’ minds. Perhaps I think like a child, or the other way around- as I child I thought like an adult. Either way, I don’t see a big separation. As someone who promised himself at eleven never to become ‘jaded,’ and has devoted his work largely to the theme of preserving innocence, it’s easy for me to slip into the shoes of the characters in The Nameless Prince. And so far, adult readers have said the same! It seems to be speaking to readers, whatever their station in life. And this is rewarding to me- that the text takes on new meaning with perspective. Rereading The Lord of the Rings or the Narnia Chronicles as an adult for me has been a very different experience than the first time around.
The Nameless Prince is meant to be ‘fantasy for all ages.’ Having said that, the language may be too sophisticated for Middle Grade readers, more appropriate for YA and older. Similarly, some of the plot details are a bit dark. The alternate realm known as ‘the Interior’ can be seen to truly exist, or as an elaborate construct of Seth’s subconscious, designed to reveal the truth that will set him free. He has glimpsed certain things that the world is not revealing to him, and stored them away in his subconscious. It is suggested by Seth’s court-ordered psychologist that Seth himself created a safe place to learn the facts, on a ‘need-to-know’ basis. The truths that are revealed, surrounding the mysterious departure of his mother soon after his birth, prove quite harsh. But the message is ultimately redeeming. The journey of riddles in The Nameless Prince is arguably one big parable for overcoming disillusionment, and returning to innocence.
Despite all the academic speak, the Interior is at turns charming, whimsical, absurd, comical, and sublime. I’ve fallen in love with its fanciful residents. I find myself wishing to return time and again to visit. And with several rounds of edits, as well as the scrutinizing of multiple print proofs, there have been a lot of ‘visits’ of late! I don’t see myself tiring of Interia anytime soon. And my wish is that readers will grow fond of the world and its characters, just as I have!
About The Nameless Prince
Seth Bauman has issues. His Mom split ten years ago, right after his birth, and guardian Uncle Troy won’t discuss the past. Seth’s only friend is Mexican immigrant Elena, whom he must walk home from school through Silverlake’s gang-ravaged streets. When Elena is abducted by local gang ‘the Mayans,’ Seth has no choice but to follow the Boatman of the L.A. River into the sprawling network of sewers and metro tunnels concealing Mayan headquarters. To Seth the great labyrinth unfolds as a magical realm called ‘the Interior,’ whose residents immediately deem him the ‘Nameless Prince’ of prophecy, sent to save them from peril.
To find Elena, Seth embarks on an odyssey of riddles and self-discovery. Only in ‘Interia’ is it safe to discover the truth about his past, and the forgiveness that will set him free. In rescuing Elena he rescues his own innocence. In fulfilling prophecy by learning his name, Seth discovers the greatness that lies within.
Excerpt and purchase link: http://twilighttimesbooks.com/TheNamelessPrince_ch1.html
About the author:
Dominick Domingo is a veteran Animation Artist (Lion King, Pocahontas, Hunchback, Tarzan, Fantasia.) who’s illustrated YA books for Penguin, Random House, Lowell House, Disney Publishing, Hyperion Books, and Harcourt. Developing original screenplays as a filmmaker led to a growing writing resume. To capitalize on it, Dominick recently penned a collection of Narrative Nonfiction essays titled “Jesus Shoes,” two of which have been included in anthologies. One of the essays, ‘L’Epiphanie,’ was awarded the 2011 Solas award in the humor category for ‘Best Travel Writing.’ The Nameless Prince represents Dominick’s foray into Young Adult urban fantasy. He’d be happy to retire as a full-time author. He lives in the Silver Lake neighborhood of L.A., surrounded by hipsters.
Author web site: http://www.namelessprince.com/
Author blog: http://www.dominickdomingo.com
IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0231460/
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