The Big Idea: Elijah Menchaca
Losing friends can be hard, especially when you and your friends are a group of adventure-seeking heroes. Come along in Elijah Menchaca’s Big Idea as he tells you why he decided not to focus on one character, but an entire friend group in his debut novel, They Met in a Tavern.
The story of getting a team together, of three to seven characters brought together for a grand adventure, is a cornerstone of fantasy adventure. It’s popular, I think, for a reason: we like stories that give us a group of friends to hang out with. The idea of the found family is infectiously hopeful and aspirational. But by the time we reach adulthood, most of us have also lost friends, whether to tragedy or just going in different directions.
They Met in a Tavern has various themes in it. It’s got colorful assassins, magic powers, shapeshifting butlers, and functional severed robot heads. It’s about rebuilding, valuing the present, and our relationship to our past selves. But fundamentally, it is the story of a childhood friend group that broke apart, and the fallout it has on them as adults.
The friend group in question is the Starbreakers, who serve as both send up and subversion for the story of the five-man band of heroes. For all their individual quirks, I created the Starbreakers to evoke the archetypical idea of the band of fantasy heroes, and YA fantasy heroes at that. There was a smart one, a mean one, a strong one, a nice one, and a funny one. They met as teenagers, exactly how you imagine they did, and went on a string of adventures that would have comfortably filled out a Young to New Adult series. They fought villains, they fell in love, and they found fortune and glory wherever they went.
I wrote this because I wanted to deconstruct the idea of the ragtag band of misfit youths and ask, what do their lives look like after the adventure is over? How do they come down from the high of being in an adventure-having, world-saving friend group?
So I decided that after a start to their journey that would comfortably fit in any number of stories, the Starbreakers got older. And bit by bit, everything started to come apart. The main romantic pair broke up. The strong one felt like they were taken for granted. The nice one began to wonder if the group was on the right path. And just when things were tense, I added one final wrinkle to their backstory: their last adventure together ended with them losing. They survived. The world kept spinning. But the team was done.
Which leads me to one of the major reasons why They Met in a Tavern is about a group instead of one person. Those questions about how their lives look after the end of their story? Each member of the Starbreakers answers those questions very differently. Some of them deeply miss those golden years and wish they could have them back. They think the best friends they’ll ever have and the best memories they’ll ever make are behind them. Some of them couldn’t be more bitter about the whole affair. Everything from the people they used to be to the lives they used to lead is something to be avoided at all costs. Some are trying to make the most of themselves in the aftermath of their last adventure. And some of them are stagnating over the guilt of it.
Into that mix, I threw some circumstances that forced them to confront the past and, more to the point, each other. And once I did, those different answers each of them had about the past became the backbone of the characters’ relationships. Because for all of them, the old friend group is the past. Once they are forced back into each other’s lives, the question becomes whether or not everything else from the past can come back. And whether or not it should.
It’s a hard enough question to answer on its own. The Starbreakers have to answer it while fighting for their lives.