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Teen Spirit

Using Buffalo as a backdrop, Helen Boswell pens an urban fantasy series for young adults

Helen Boswell

Helen Boswell, PhD ’99, BS ’94

By Lauren Newkirk Maynard

Book cover
“I think that everybody needs a little escape now and then, writers included. Regardless of your age, fantasy allows you to ‘suspend disbelief’ for the few hours that you read a book.”
Helen Boswell

Move over, Bella. Meet Hope.

Hope is the protagonist of the Mythology series, a highly acclaimed new entry into young adult fantasy by author/biology professor Helen C. Boswell (PhD ’99, BS ’94). Like her Twilight counterpart, Hope is a sensitive, thoughtful teen, grappling with good and evil—and burgeoning adolescent feelings of love—against the backdrop of an uncertain world. Unlike Bella, Hope has supernatural powers and plays out her particular adventures on the East Coast—specifically, Buffalo. “It’s a perfect setting for an urban fantasy,” says Boswell, who published her first book, “Mythology,” in 2012, and a follow-up, “The Wicked,” last October. Hailing from Clifton Park, N.Y., Boswell now teaches at Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah, where she lives with her husband and two sons.

Why young adult (YA) fiction? YA fiction allows greater potential for characters to grow and learn. I love the challenge of making my characters develop throughout the course of a story to reach that potential. Or perhaps they don’t reach it. I like to have my characters constantly go through struggles along the way—it keeps my readers on their toes.

When did you first start writing fantasy? I began my first fantasy story when I was in middle school. It was a high fantasy, set in a different world that was made of dreams. I still have that old notebook somewhere with my character outlines and part of the story. It serves as a good reminder to never give up writing, no matter how difficult it seems.

What inspired you to write “Mythology”? My two main characters, Hope and Micah, go to Delaware Park in one scene to people-watch, and it was there that they question what they see in people. I suppose that I was inspired to write “Mythology” by my own similar experiences. I have always wondered what truly underlies what I see in people. I took this concept and ran with it.

The cover art features Shea’s Performing Arts Center and other downtown landmarks. Tell us about the Buffalo setting. I lived in Buffalo during my late teens and 20s, and had rich experiences that have always stuck with me. The main characters attend Sweet Home High School, which is a real school. While some of the settings are fictional, readers will recognize locations such as Elmwood Avenue and Shea’s. There are even several scenes that take place at UB.

The cover artist, Brian Hoover (MFA ’90), also attended UB. How did you and Brian meet? We both attended UB but at different times, and we both wound up teaching at Southern Utah. Brian’s art contains fantastical themes, so I approached him when I was working on “Mythology” and asked if he knew of anyone who could design the cover art. He volunteered to do it and I was thrilled.

Does your education in the sciences factor into your writing fantasy at all? If you had asked me that prior to my writing fantasy, I would have said no, because science and fantasy are so different. But I actually find myself using my scientific background to come up with rules and parameters for some of the magical elements. In “Mythology,” especially, I discuss scientific themes such as the classic “nature versus nurture” debate and the impact of genetics and environment on people’s characteristics.

Did you write fiction while at UB? I dabbled but I never completed writing a full story. Although I was a biology major, one of my favorite professors was Dr. Mac S. Hammond, a professor emeritus of English who died in 1997. I took his honors English elective called “The Imagination and Dreams.” He was impressed by my writing and encouraged me to keep at it. I have never forgotten that.

How many more books can we expect from the Mythology series? I plan on writing at least three with the possibility of more. I set up “Mythology” as a story that could work either as a stand-alone or as part of a series, and as I kept writing, I realized there was a lot more story to tell.

Why do you think serial fantasy and sci-fi novels are so popular with adults as well as teens? I think that everybody needs a little escape now and then, writers included. Regardless of your age, fantasy allows you to “suspend disbelief” for the few hours that you read a book. You can believe that people can fly, that angels exist, that there are other magical worlds within your own. I think serials are so popular because people get attached to characters. One of my characters, Micah, was even nominated for a “YA Crush” tournament this past summer, which was an honor for him. And for me.