On the Outside

Has there ever been a series that you read and thought was okay, but you just didn't get why people are so fanatical about it? I'm that way with the Hunger Games trilogy. I see posts and you tube clips all over the net and everyone's so excited. I certainly don't want to spoil their fun or anything, but I wish I could participate. It started as a strong story, the second two books never matched the first, in my opinion.

It feels like there is a party going on and everyone was invited except for me. :)

One of the Two Books

Did you watch the HBO mini-series "The Pacific?" I don't think it was written as well as "Band of Brothers," but then it had the unfortunate luck to come out after that huge hit, so it had to make sure it was decidedly something else. The special features are damn cool and the show is good, just not as good as "Band of Brothers." I do appreciate that it focused in a large part on the battles that were relevant to the 1st Marines that haven't gotten a lot of attention before. We've all heard of Iwo Jima. You've probably heard of Okinawa and/or Guadalcanal. But who's heard of Puvuvu or Pelilau or Cape Gloucester?

The really cool thing is that the two main characters (at least the most main among the ensemble cast) are Robert Lecke and EB Sledge, both of whom wrote their memoirs, which were used to craft the series. Sledge broke the rules and took notes during combat (a no no since it might act as intelligence should he be killed or captured). He then worked up his memoir for his family to explain why they knew the man they knew. It was friends and colleagues that encouraged him to publish it. And after doing so, it's considered the foremost treatise on front-line combat (focusing on life and effect of fighting a war rather than just strategy and big picture stuff).

It's call WITH THE OLD BREED and it's pretty awesome. Sledge survives WWII, goes on to get a PHD and teach college biography. He retells his experiences with honesty but objectivity, bringing a scientist's observance to his own first-hand experiences.

While I am not a war buff, I think this is a good read for anyone who wants to truly understand what was sacrificed and what happened in the Pacific war.

Reading is Fundamentals

Today's post is written on my phone while I take the late train into work. Will be busy as soon as I sit down, so it's now or never.

Someone commented on a blog I read how the blogger must feel so proud for buying books as gifts. A coworker of mine only reads classics because she likes feeling superior to people who don't. I don't get these mindsets. The latter is just dumb, mofe telling of her character more than anything, but the former... I own a lot of books. All readers do. I cannot think of a single book I own that would make me proud.

Reading is one of many media people use for entertainment and learning. I don't get the weight people put on it as the most important thing EVAR! I like movies and plays and music too.

Bordering on the Ridiculous

Sara Megibow posted recently that she "did her part to help Borders" by buying a book there. And all I can think is, you either screwed the publisher or screwed the author by buying there. If Borders doesn't pay for the books it's selling, someone has to take the loss. Either the publisher will take that hit, or they won't count is as a sale and the author will take the hit or maybe they'll both share a little bit in the screwage. Either way, the only way they get paid is if Borders recovers and Borders isn't going to recover.

The "doing her part" thing is what bothers me. All of a sudden there's some kind of community obligation to save Borders from itself. And yes, Borders brought this on itself. It used to be dominant over Barnes & Noble and while sure Amazon dramatically upended the industry, it could just as well be Barnes & Noble teetering on bankruptcy while Borders becomes the last brick and mortar mega-bookstore. Bad management, poor planning and implementation, bad business. And for as frequently as agents remind authors that writing is a business, that fact never seems to apply to bookstores. Borders is a business and it failed. Yes it represented the third-largest book seller in the industry (not represents like some are still saying--if it's not paying publishers, it's the largest book thief in the industry).

Borders does not have such loyal clientele that if it goes out of business, they'll quit reading. This isn't something we need to do to save the industry. It represents a marked difference in methodology with its competitors, one that I've liked as a customer. But it is simply incapable of functioning as a business, so that doesn't matter. To buy at Borders now is to effectively buy a pirated copy of the book.

I can't help think of Amtrak. Not a lot of you have been on an Amtrak train. That's why the government gives them money every year to stay in business. They don't draw customers. Amtrak tickets are the same or more expensive than flying and the trip time is five times as long. We "save" Amtrak every year because the only companies interested in buying it are European and we couldn't have that. Better to throw millions of dollars to a company that doesn't know how to function in its own business than to let Europeans try and make a profit on American soil.

While I am liberal in most of my political persuasions, this is one instance where the free market is doing exactly what it's supposed to do. Borders has failed as a company. It will now go out of business and its marketshare will be taken by those capable enough to do so. This isn't a cause for writers and industry insiders to rally around. There is no noble cause here. They weren't the victim of monopolization or unfair government pressures. They were a business that failed to do what it set out to do.

It's time we turn our attention to those companies that are still surviving. You want to do your part, buy a book from a store that actually pays the people that make the book.

Cheating at Dreaming

Monday night I dreamed that I was selected for the first New Hampshire HUNGER GAMES. This was not an event to celebrate Suzanne Collins' popular YA trilogy. This was a handful of people being send into the wilderness of New Hampshire to fight to the death until only one remained.

There were some differences between this dream Hunger Games and the literary reality. Obviously we had not risen up against a capital established after the collapse of the United States. Also, we were able to equip ourselves from a selection of various items before going into the arena (unlike the book where all the equipment was in the arena). There were only 4-6 contestants total rather than the 24 of the various districts. And most noticeably, the book existed in this dream world. This gave me a significant advantage because it turned out I was the only one who read the book and thus truly appreciated just how dangerous this thing we were going into would be.

I got a backpack full of various survival goods, water, rations, sleeping bag, tent, and as a weapon, I got...a pick axe. Don't ask me why. There weren't any guns or bows or knives. I don't even think this was meant to be a weapon. It was with the rest of the survival gear.

We are dropped into our arena, which is simply the forested White Mountains of New Hampshire. It's dark, night is already on us, and everyone scatters in different directions. Not much occasion for a melee if there's no cornucopia and only six total contestants. Everyone goes off to find a place to camp and rest so we can start fighting tomorrow when the sun comes up.

What? That's crazy. This thing has started. None of them understand, which means I have an even greater advantage. No one is hunting me. I move along a valley looking for the most advantageous spot when I see a field to my left. Dead center with no trees or cover or anything, one of the other contestants has set up a tent. There's a lantern on inside and I can see him/her moving about. Seriously? This one is going to be easy. My pick will go right through the tent. (S)He won't even know I'm there until it's over.

I make for the field and that's when I hear something behind me. I turn around and see what I think is another contestant--though she looks a lot like the little girl from "The Ring," white shirt, white pants, hair hanging over her face. And much like the girl from "The Ring," she shuffles when she walks but does so at extreme speeds. There's a cool little sound effect (this is a dream after all) and she's right in front of me!

Oh no, she's a Muttation (the stupidest word from that entire trilogy--seriously, they can still be called Mutts as a shortening of Mutation)! I lunge at her with my pick at the same time she comes at me. I only hit her in the shoulder with the haft.

My dream freezes. I am annoyed that I didn't just kick this mutt's ass. That was going to be a glorious overcoming of fear and surprise to show that I was destined to be the victor but instead I just whacked her on the shoulder with a piece of wood. How lame is that?

So I rewind my dream and react a few seconds earlier, sinking the head of my pick axe through the soft part of the mutt's shoulder. That's right, I cheat in my dreams.

(My dreams, my rules!)

Plontsing the Sac

I've been on holiday! It is becoming a tradition that each Christmas my wife and I go up into the White Mountains for a few days. Though New Hampshire is a small state, the North country and the South Country are pretty different (as we're often reminded by those that live in the North). You can cut the state in half and vary the temperature by 10 degrees. Life is different there, including living in the lower elevations of the northern Appalachian Mountains. It's a great time, though this year absent snow. We are expecting a blizzard to hit tonight, so that should make up for it. Of course, it was supposed to start snowing 2 1/2 hours ago, so who knows if that will actually materialize.

If you're ever in North Conway, consider staying at the Wyatt House Bed & Breakfast. They were great to us. The food was delicious. And it's ideally situated.

While I was there, Jen too copious amounts of naps, more than usual, which gave me the writing time I needed to wrap up JH and send it off to beta readers. That number is down to two, now, which is disappointing. But people have lives and it's the holidays, so I understand.

I had thought to maybe spend a few weeks reading. I'm going to put attention to finishing Tad Williams' SHADOWHEART. I finished MOCKINGJAY yesterday. It was good, but I don't think it was worth the hype that it got. The ending averted being a disaster and ended up being just okay. The whole trilogy almost seems like it was written just to show which boy the character will choose, which is interesting for all of five pages, not three books.

As for me, spending time reading is turning into prep work for writing THE 7TH SACRIFICE (I've officially changed its name to be 7TH instead of SEVENTH).

For starters, I'm no longer calling the counties the counties. I originally conceived this story between writing WANTED: CHOSEN ONE and THE TRIAD SOCIETY. The former puts a lot of focus on duchies and a king. The latter puts more focus on counties. For 7Sac, I had wanted to use counties as a regional boundary because so often people focus on duchies or kingdoms and I like that county is still a word we use today. When I abandoned my first attempt at 7Sac, that bled over to TTS. The problem is, now TTS is a finished novel and the possible first in a trilogy, so using counties again seems like beating a dead horse.

I went horseback riding on my vacation. The farm was 77 acres of an original 1000 acreage granted to the owner's family in 1771 by King George III. Yup, I went horseback riding on a 239-year-old farm. New England is awesome. This made me tweak things a bit.

Basic breakdown. "The Kingdom" is where this takes place. The Kingdom is broken into four areas, originally called counties. Each of these counts claimed the thrown after the king died under mysterious circumstances. That's getting modified. The counties are acreages. Acreage is a little cumbersome to say. I was watching "Valhalla Rising" yesterday (disembowelment on Christmas!) and they calls Mads a terror from the southerlands. Well isn't that nifty. You always hear highlands or lowlands or East and West or what have you. Hell, I even used Southerland in TTS as Soderland (German), but this feels different. The acreages are delineated by compass.

Cumberland Acreage, the Westerlands
Arostook Acreage, the Northerlands
Somerset Acreage, the Easterlands
Kennebec Acreage, the Southerlands

Now, instead of counts, each of the Acreages is rules by a prince or princess, with Cumberland being home to the Crown Prince and rightful heir. The rest claim he assassinated their father and thus forfeited the throne. Each of them now call himself/herself King/Queen, but most just refer to them as the Pretenders (a term I made the first time around that was used much less).

I also used Tinkers in JEHOVAH'S HITLIST, so it wouldn't do to include them again in 7Sac. But I love the tinkers I've created, so really I'm just changing the name since the two types of tinkers were completely different. Now they'll be called Peddlers.

One thing that's getting dropped all together is the varying naming structures. Each county represented a different European culture in terms of naming. I think I'll just stick with Brittany this time as I so often move into other areas of Europe for inspiration. Main character's name is Cheshire, after all, and don't want to change that. So it wouldn't make sense if everyone else had a Russian name.

The visuals in "Valhalla Rising" were pretty amazing, enough to make up for the fact the story (there was a story?) made no sense whatsoever. Quite inspirational. Gave me a lot of ideas on description for the Four Corners, where the four acreages meet and where the abandoned royal palace still stands. I had thought to write the description here, but I'm not in the mood any more, so I'll save that for next time.

Hope you all had an enjoyable week while I was away. Time to get back to work. :)

(Oooo, and I got a Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock t-shirt in my stocking! Woo hoo!)

(And a titanium spork!!!!)

The Transition Story

Empire Strikes Back is my least favorite of the Star Wars trilogy1. This is heresy among accepted Star Wars fandom, but it is the way it is. You can rattle off the various elements of the movie that make it better than the others, a richer universe, more defined characters, a darker/grittier edge to it, and you'd be right. It has the basic fundamentals to be all the things the other movies aren't but is missing one thing: a story.

Oh, it has story. It has plot and adventure and action, but as an arc of introduction to conclusion goes, it's incredibly wanting. Now I had to suffer through a novel in college that showed how you can craft a story that doesn't have that kind of arc. But I don't participate in media to suffer. I want an inciting action. I want a climax. I want resolution. Empire Strikes Back is a bridge from Star Wars to Return of the Jedi. You couldn't reach the third story without the second movie, but they didn't offer any sense of accomplishment on its own.

The Two Towers? That's a movie that bridges Fellowship of the Ring to Return of the King but also stands as its own movie. Dislike the absence of the Rangers or the increase in self-depricating Gimli jokes or Legolas surfing down stairs on a shield, the movie begins, there is a big ass fight at Helm's Deep, and the movie resolves pointing to the third movie.

CATCHING FIRE is not a bad book. It's certainly not as good as THE HUNGER GAMES and by the end I'm more annoyed with Katniss as a character than the author probably wants me to be, but it's not a good book either. It's a bridge. Sure the climax and resolution exist. A climax and resolution technically exist in Empire Strikes Back as well. But they are of a degree that I don't think warrants a story of their own2.

I don't read a book just to get me to the next book. If a book exists only to propel me to the next book, it's not worth reading. It should have its own merit, it's own story, it's own essence. The entirety of CATCHING FIRE was a transition from the events of the first book to the events of the third book. The events of the second book only occur in two chapters. Really, at that point, you're looking at an epilogue of the first book and a prologue of the third book and bam, you have everything that's happened in the second.

Transition stories feel like the author has enough peanut butter for one sandwich but has four slices of bread, so (s)he just spreads it on as thinly has (s)he can. And when you pay full price for a book, you want all the peanut butter.

1 Yes, there is only a trilogy. That is all. Nothing else. Han shot first only.

2 The problem being, they were necessary to craft a trilogy, so the genuine failure is that they just weren't big enoug.

A Matter of Style

Mentioned previously, I'm reading CATCHING FIRE, by Suzanne Collins. It's the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy. With the exception of this morning's dumb decision on the part of the main character, the book maintains the style of the first book I enjoyed so much. There doesn't seem to be a lot going on, though. Well, there's enough, but nothing that says "THIS IS THE CHALLENGE THE PROTAGONIST MUST FACE!" It's just a continuation of a theme with no real plot point propelling the story forward. There is one, I guess (President Snow, I will say without spoilers), but it is treated in such a way that I don't find myself genuinely concerned with the main character.

And I think it's because of how THE HUNGER GAMES ended. It was a fair ending. I did not feel cheated. I did not roll my eyes or swear or throw my nook across the room. But if I had been writing the story, there would have been one significant change.


At the end of THE HUNGER GAMES, the gamemaster predictably reverses the rule that says there can be two victors, forcing Peeta and Katniss to face off. But they have poisoned berries, so they start the game of chicken. If the capital expects them to kill one another, they'll refuse and kill themselves instead. They pop the berries in their mouths, the capital caves at the last minute, they spit the berries out and stand triumphant.

That's how it happened in the book. In my book, the capital caves, announces them as the winners, and then they both fall down dead.

At the point, everything that's happened in the first 100 pages of CATCHING FIRE could have been summarized in a single epilogue. And I think because I'm effectively reading a continuation of a story that I would have condensed into a single chapter, I'm finding it kind of hard to sign onto the premise of the story like I did with the first one.

I'm not done with CATCHING FIRE. As long as it is average, I will read MOCKINGJAY. I'm curious whether either/both characters survive the story. Since it's a YA trilogy, I will assume they do. I would have been more satisfied if THE HUNGER GAMES had been a single book and they had died at the end.

No One Likes a Dumb Protagonist

The subject line says it all. No one likes a dumb protagonist. We accept flawed characters and we accept that situations can be shrouded in mystery or so layered that a character cannot comprehend it on spec. They need time to peel back the layers or let the whole thing soak in before it finally clicks. This is all well and good. It's even better. No one wants a story so superficial that there's no depth or complexity to the challenges the main character faces. They need to unravel it all.

HOWEVER, as they unravel it, you have to be cautious about how you give them clues or what clues you give them. They need to figure out what's happening at one of two possible times. Near the end to propel them to the climax. Or near the beginning where they realize X is happening and thus need to begin the investigation that will lead them to the climax. If you are going for scenario A but give them a clue large enough that they should figured it out closer to the beginning, you have officially made your character stupid. Some clues are such a fish to the face that anyone with an IQ of 100 should be able to figure it out. So when your character doesn't... yeah, exactly.

I'm reading CATCHING FIRE (sequel to THE HUNGER GAMES) and Katniss just got slapped in the face. In a single paragraph, she said the fish was in fact a badger and continued on as if nothing happened. No, see dear, when you do that, I care for you less. When your obliviousness leads you to trouble later, I figure you deserved it because you were too stupid to realize someone just hit you in the face with a fucking fish. That kind of thing hurts. The scales scratch you all over. They used to use that as a punishment in biblical times. It's not a badger. They're furry and shit.

Decide when your character is going to figure things out, beginning or end, and measure out the progression accordingly. Do NOT switch the two because any later emotional conflict caused is completely deserved and then your reader is not engaged with your character. And if your reader is not engaged with your character, your reader is not engaged with your book. That's when they set it down and go read something else. You don't want that to happen. You want your book to be the one they read instead of finishing their own manuscript because it's that good. Use your fish appropriately.

Time Out

I have two thousands words left before I complete JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. I just bought SHADOWHEART, the fourth and final volume of the Shadowmarch Tetralogy written by my favorite author, Tad Williams. This is a time for writing and reading a big ass book.

...yet SHADOWHEART sits on my table (damn that thing is heavy to carry) and I haven't opened my computer since yesterday morning. Why?

A book came out earlier this year, MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins. The tweet-o-sphere erupted in various expostulations of worship. No genre is more represented on Twitter (or the internet, really) than YA, and there was no one that didn't love this series. I'm not a big YA reader myself, limiting that to Rawling and Hardy and that's about it. So when I see such a one-sided outpouring, I tend to stay away. Especially since a lot of the outpouring began with agents. Popular online agents tend to have a trail of sycophants behind them, so I find their corroboration of the agent's opinion to mean little.

Then a few actors hired a production company to film them in an 8-minute trailer in hopes of landing parts in the forthcoming movie. This trailer spoke to me. I downloaded the book preview (a genuine previous and not some front matter plus two pages crap I so often find) and immediately bought the book.



Finishing a novel? That can wait. SHADOWHEART? That thing weighs a lot. Why wasn't there an ebook?

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins? Believe the hype. This thing is good.

No Sympathy for Bookstores

The general premise is that if you want to be a writer, you should buy books whenever you can, whether they are for yourself or gifts for others (this sentiment most often comes up around Christmas). I don't have a problem with this, to be honest. Support the business you work in. Makes sense to me.

This then moves on to the "and buy at your local independent bookstores." There are a lot of assertions to be made about the benefits of independent bookstores versus national chains and online purchasing. These claims are almost always made by people who live in large cities (notably New York) where independent stores like the Tattered Cover have well established their awesomeness1.

For the rest of the country, the reality of the independent bookstore doesn't call for such unprecedented love. Of all the small towns I've lived in (five in three different states), the independent bookstore is much the same: used books, limited selection, disorganized or poorly defined space, a limited new release section that only includes names like Grisham or King, and prices set at full value or higher. In my current town, there are two independent bookstores, both conforming to this description. They open at 10 and close at 4, so even if I felt obligated to patronize them, I would have to take a day off of work to do so.

Not growing up in a place like New York where an independent bookstore might have a large enough market to survive the B&N onslaught, I am not enamored with the notion of the underdog2. Now don't get me wrong, I don't dislike them. There are stores like the Tattered Cover that have so well established themselves that people can mention them online and others know exactly what they're talking about. Two thumbs up for those places. It's the presumed obligation that rubs me wrong. A business needs to earn my business. If you cannot provide me the book I'm looking for at an hour in which I am able to patronize without requiring vacation spent, you won't get my dollars.

Not that the large chains are doing any better. My experiences with the last two paper books I've purchased have been miserable. I skipped my hometown Borders and B&N and went to the Borders on Boylston in Boston. This is one of the better Borders in the country, so I should be able to find Tad Williams' new release, SHADOWHEART, without much difficulty.

...or so I thought. The book wasn't on coop or on the shelf. There wasn't even space made for it on the shelf. The first three employees ignored me, talking to themselves. The fourth one had never heard of it but was able to confirm that they had six in stock. It ended up being on a cart because it hadn't been shelves yet. What kind of store doesn't have new releases shelved the day they're supposed to be released? When I worked at Blockbuster, Tuesday new releases were shelved Monday night after closing like any common sense business would.

If I had purchased the book online, it would have been delivered today and for $13 less than what I paid for it at Borders. This brings me to the fundamental aspect of book shopping in any store, whether you're a local indie or a national chain:

You have to earn my business.

Amazon is the big bad wolf because that's how we roll in America. If you're the biggest, you're evil. Support the little guy. Fist in the air. Do the right thing. Go to your local independent bookstore and give them your business.

I don't give any business charity. If a local bookstore earns my business, it's on them and good luck to them. That's the kind of place I'll support and speak well of (and often--have you seen how many times I reference Jackie's Diner on my website?). Spare me the guilt trip. I was raised Catholic. It doesn't work.

I really wish Nashua (or even downtown Boston) had a place like the Tattered Cover. There's an antique bookshop near where I work, but that doesn't do much for me. Otherwise, it's online purchasing or continued bad experiences with the national chains (I ranted on twitter what happened when I tried to buy Bujold's CRYOBURN, so I won't repeat that, but it was even more annoying than this time around).

More so than ever, I am pleased with my decision to go e-only in my book purchases3.

1 I lived near the Tattered Cover when I lived in Denver. It is indeed awesome.

2 Which is weird, because usually I'm a sucker for an underdog.

3 SHADOWHEART is the last in the Shadowmarch tetralogy, so this should be the last paper book I buy, depending on how much farther Bujold takes the Vorkosigan series.

That was EPIC!

The fastest way to start a literary nerd fight? Say X fantasy book is/is not epic fantasy. Epic fantasy may be the poorest defined genre currently being published1. I think this is a result of the '80s/'90s where almost all fantasy published was epic fantasy. Epic fantasy was so pervasive within the genre that epic fantasy = fantasy. There wasn't a heaping of sword and sorcery or just plain old fashioned fantasy. Which leads to the confusion today of what counts as epic.

It would be nice to be able to say that the definition remains the same and it's just the education of the audience that is lacking, but nerd fights over genre boundaries always end up challenging the fundamental nature of epic's definition.

Epic used to be matter of scope. The threat was world-threatening and the journey was world-spanning. The stakes were the highest they could be ("evil power rises and destroys the world!!!!") and the hero would leave his modest beginnings to distant lands never dreamed of to return a changed person ("I was a prince this entire time and no one told me!"). Most often epic fantasy is said to be the genre that models itself after the Hero's Journey.

These are where the challenges come in. If the threat is to the microcosm of the protagonist's world, isn't that just as great as the entire world being threatened? And to travel across the breadth of that microcosm, isn't that the same as traveling across the entire world?

What gets me about these kinds of challenges is the imperativeness that such focused stories be quantified as epic fantasy. It's an innate desire of a fantasy author to be compared to the icons of the craft, those authors that inspired us to pick up a pen in our youths. And with the exception of Robert E. Howard, all those authors are epic fantasists. Tolkien, Goodkind, Jordan, Williams. All of them published tomes of work that devastated their worlds and enthralled ours.

If we don't write epic fantasy, how can we be as good (or better!) than they were? So everything we write has to be epic, even if that means we need a hammer to drive the peg into that hole.

I don't think it's the definition of epic that is in question, but our own psychological need to be compared to our heroes that fuels the epic argument. But there are some fuzzy lines. Someone suggested that Harry Potter was an epic fantasy. After I stopped my gut reaction of "nuh uh!"2, I began to question whether or not that was possible. Harry certainly has a Hero's Journey. He travels to new worlds, and Voldemort wants to destroy the entire world, wizard and muggle alike. But really, the distance Harry travels is very minimal. Not even the breadth of the British Isles. That lends itself to the epic nature of a microcosm adventure.

As I ponder that, I wonder, does it matter? It's easy to define the Lord of the Rings trilogy as epic. Memory, Sorry, and Thorn. A Song of Ice and Fire. There is no pondering there. Those are EPIC, in every measure of the genre. But can't there be just a regular fantasy genre? Lois McMaster Bujold's CURSE OF CHALLION I call fantasy instead of epic fantasy. It's good fantasy, but not world spanning or world threatening. The fact that it is not epic fantasy does not diminish the quality of the story.

So in the end, I don't have an absolute argument. I can certainly pick out the easy ones. But the middle gray area is open to discussion. In the end, I come down to "How much does it really matter?" Perhaps its just a matter of ego and not a matter of importance.

1 Other than literary fiction which focuses more on language and depth rather than any kind of genre hierarchy. I did not say literary was the poorest defined genre because a lot of genre books that publishers don't want to pigeonhole into that genre end up in literary rather than the appropriate genre in an attempt to widen the target market. As such, it is disqualified for cheating.

2 Can a YA story also be an epic fantasy story? YA is more a demographic than a true genre. Same with middle grade. It informs some choices that will be present in regard to swearing and sex and (supposedly) violence. But otherwise, YA is actually an adjective. YA fantasy, YA mystery, etc. There's no reason HP can't be YA epic fantasy. But then, you don't normally see epic fantasy tagged onto a modern fantasy setting. That usually lends itself to urban fantasy. Plenty of fodder for argument all around.