On Cozy Fantasies, Comfort Reads, and the Need for Whimsy in YA Fantasy, a guest post by Jamie Pacton
Friends, I am tired.
I don’t know about you, but it’s been a long two+ years of pandemic, political instability, bad news, and, in my life, incredible personal loss and tragedy after the unexpected passing of one of my children. I’m a wildly different person, mother, and author than I was back in May 2020, when my debut, The Life and Medieval Times of Kit Sweetly came out. And that’s okay enough, I suppose. Life happens, things change, we lose people we love, we fight radically unfair systems of power, we take in bad news, we give out as much love and care as we can, and we keep going.
But sometimes, it’s a lot, you know?
I am sure you do. And the teen readers I’ve talked to lately are also feeling the strain of just existing in these trying times. Somewhere, in this storm, we need relief. We need a soft place to land. For me, books have always been comfort, companions, and escape. When I was younger, I liked nothing better than spending the day curled up with a book. In an often-tumultuous family home, books were my refuge, and they allowed me to see new worlds and escape into lives that weren’t my own. As an adult, I’ve also always sought comfort in books. Certainly, I enjoy books that challenge me and make me think and ones that make me a better person, but I also adore stories where love works out, where happy endings happen, where magic exists, and where you might stumble across an enchanted circus or, as in the case of my new YA fantasy, The Vermilion Emporium, a magical curiosity shop.
I first got the idea for The Vermilion Emporium on New Year’s Eve in 2018. It was close to midnight, and outside my windows, thick snowflakes fell, sugaring the world in gentle stillness. I sat by a fire, wrapped in blankets, drinking a cup of tea, and my children slept peacefully in their beds upstairs. It was a near perfect moment, made all the better by me having just finished Erin Morgenstern’s luminous, The Night Circus. I was cozy and so full of magic and beauty that I can still remember the exact existential textures of the evening.
Utterly charmed by this snowy moment, I promised myself that one I’d day write a book that was a dreamy celebration of love, magic, family, and impossible places bursting with whimsy. It took me a while to find the story, but the need for it never disappeared. As my personal life got harder in the years after that magical New Year’s Eve, I found myself craving a story where love never wavered, where magic lurked in the most unlikely places, and where hope found a way, no matter how terrible things got.
Eventually, I wrote The Vermilion Emporium. It came out as a story about two misfit orphans who find each other outside a curiosity shop and discover the coveted and deadly secret to weaving starlight lace. In this story, I let myself dream. I let myself walk through the rooms of the Vermilion Emporium, unsure what I’d find behind each closed door. It was a discovery process unlike anything I’ve ever done while writing, and it was immensely satisfying.
Now, readers are now walking through the many rooms of the Emporium as well, and many of them are loving it fiercely, just as I have, which I’m most grateful for. Still, a few early reviewers, found the book too whimsical, the love story unbelievable, and the whole thing not bold enough. Which makes me sigh a little, because, although there are twists and turns in this book, and there is betrayal and political intrigue, and there are high stakes and moments where life literally hangs by a very thin thread of starlight, these elements are really not the point of the whole thing. The point, my friends, is to wrap you in a hug of a story and leave you magic-full in the best possible way.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that we’re seeing the rise of cozy fantasy books as the world we live in gets ever more challenging. Books like Travis Baldree’s Legends and Lattes, a book of “high fantasy and low stakes,” as the tag line cheerfully declares, has exploded thanks to enthusiastic readers. It’s gone from a quiet reader favorite to a NYT bestseller, and other books with cozy leanings are following suit.
Meg Hood, who’s made a name for herself hosting the incredibly cozy space @Megstearoom on TikTok, which has at the time of writing this essay more than 66k followers and 1.5 million likes for her videos, says this about why cozy fantasy matters: “I am constantly drawn to the cozy fantasy genre because it truly feels like an escape. I think many of us need a breath, a moment of peace and stillness. We find that level of sanctuary in a slow-paced story filled with comforting settings, kind characters, and fresh cinnamon rolls. Cozy fantasies are like a warm hug in book form, and I believe this genre will only continue to expand because of the healing it offers us as readers.”
I think Meg is right, and it is my dearest hope that The Vermilion Emporium offers you just a small, magical port in the storm. I hope it’s a hug in book form and a place where you can believe in impossible dreams, get swept up in whimsy, and find both magic and hope, things all of us could use right now, indeed.
Meet the author
Jamie Pacton is a Young Adult and Middle Grade author who grew up minutes away from the National Storytelling Center in the mountains of East Tennessee. She has a BA and MA in English Literature, and currently teaches English at the college level. While pursuing her dream of being an author, she worked as a waitress, pen salesperson, lab assistant, art museum guard, bookseller, pool attendant, nanny, and lots of other weird jobs in between. Her writing has appeared in national and local magazines, and she spent many years blogging for Parents.com. Currently, Jamie lives in Wisconsin with her family. Her YA contemporary books include Lucky Girl and The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly, and, her YA fantasy debut,The Vermilion Emporium, is forthcoming from Peachtree Teen in November 2022. Find Jamie online at www.jamiepacton.com and on Instagram and Twitter @JamiePacton.
About The Vermilion Emporium
The heart-wrenching story of The Radium Girls meets the enchanting world of Howl’s Moving Castle in a story of timeless love and deadly consequences.
It was a day for finding things…
On the morning Twain, a lonely boy with a knack for danger, discovers a strand of starlight on the cliffs outside of Severon, a mysterious curiosity shop appears in town. Meanwhile, Quinta, the ordinary daughter of an extraordinary circus performer, chases rumors of the shop, the Vermilion Emporium, desperate for a way to live up to her mother’s magical legacy.
When Quinta meets Twain outside of the Emporium, two things happen: One, Quinta is sure she’s infatuated with this starlight boy, who uses his charm to hide his scars. Two, they enter the store and discover a book that teaches them how to weave starlight into lace.
Soon, their lace catches the eye of the Casorina, the ruler of Severon. She commissions Quinta and Twain to make her a starlight dress and will reward them handsomely enough to make their dreams come true. However, they can’t sew a dress without more material, and the secret to starlight’s origins has been lost for decades. As Quinta and Twain search the Emporium for answers, though, they discover the secret might not have actually been lost—but destroyed. And likely, for good reason.
A powerful and romantic adventure set in a whimsically magical world. The Vermilion Emporium shines a light into the darkest spaces. It’s about healing in a world shrouded with despair and discovering a spark of magic when you need it most.
Publisher: Peachtree Teen
Publication date: 11/22/2022
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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