Monday, December 1, 2008

It's good to be YA

When I tell people (who are not involved in the children's writing world) that I write YA, I usually get one of these three reactions . . .

Reaction #1:

Person: Blank stare

Me: "You know. Books for teenagers."

Person: "Oh. Like Harry Potter?"

Me: "Um. Kind of. Though the first Harry Potter books are more for younger kids than YA."

Person: "So when are you going to be a millionaire?"

Me: "Um. Probably never.

Person: Blank stare

Reaction #2:

Person: Blank stare

Me: "You know. Books for teenagers."

Person: "Oooh. Like Twilight?"

Me: "Kind of. Same genre, but there are no vampires in my book."

Person: Blank stare

Me: "It does have paranormal elements in it."

Person: "Oh. So when are you going to be a millionaire?"

Me: "Ha ha. Um . . .probably never."

Person: Blank stare

Reaction #3:

Person: Blank stare

Me: "You know. Books for teenagers"

Person: Blank stare

Me: "You know. . .like. . . Harry Potter . . .or. . . Twilight"

Person: Blank stare shifts into a look like I just said that I make fruit loop necklaces all day long . . . and then try to sell them on ebay.

Me (Shouting after person as they walk away): "Hey, I might be a millionaire someday!"

All joking aside (oh wait, I wasn't joking) a lot of people don't understand WHY I write young adult fiction. Even within the adult writing field, there is a stigma against young adult writing. Kind of like, "Well wouldn't you rather write a REAL book?"

In my opinion, writing for young adults is just as REAL as writing for adults, and is arguably more difficult. As Sherman Alexie (National Book Award winner for his YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian) puts it, "Writing for teens involves a stripped-down technique. You tend to write more like Hemingway than Faulkner. More like Emily Dickinson than T.S. Eliot. It’s not a matter of more complex thoughts, but the number of adverbs and adjectives. In the adult world, the number of adverbs and adjectives can be confused with great writing.” NYC young adult librarian Jack Martin says it even better, "Teen books are like adult books, without all the bull%*$#.”

Writing YA can also be more rewarding than writing for adults because (as Sherman Alexia says) "there's a lot more at stake for teen readers." They are forming who they are and their view of the world. Sherman Alexie loves that teens show up to his readings to ask him about how to deal with bullies and other issues in their lives. He says that readers of his adult books never ask questions like that. Author Margo Rabb was disappointed at first when she found out her book Cures for Heartbreak was going to be published as a YA rather than an adult title like she had intended. But when she got a letter from a 15 year old reader saying that the book had helped her deal with her mother's cancer diagnosis, Margo decided she was just fine with being a YA author.

I've been writing YA for 9 years. It's what I love to write, and what I love to read. I write YA because that is where my "voice" belongs. I once heard another author (I believe it was Carol Lynch Williams) say that you have to write the age that you are "stuck" at. I guess that means I'm "stuck" at 17 because I find that the easiest year of my life to tap into for my stories. No wonder--that was the year I toured Europe without parents and figured out who I really was, finally got my drivers license, made some of the best friends I've ever had, finally got the courage to start auditioning for plays, and started falling in love with the guy who many years later became my husband. I have had many (more than a decade's worth) of even better years since 17, but I often do have to remind myself that I am no longer a teenager (nor do I have the pants size of one--put those low-rider jeans down, Bree. Just put them down and nobody will get hurt.)

YA writing is not for everyone. But for now, it's exactly right for me.

Here are some of my most recent YA favs in case you feel like delving into the genre.

For a more "literary" read, check out:

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolfe
Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
The Way He Lived by Emily Wing Smith
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

For "fun" reading:

Pants on Fire by Meg Cabot
All American Girl by Meg Cabot (I'm not a huge fan of the sequel though)
Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe (this is one of my big favs, but it is definitely not for everyone)

My own personal to-read list:

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
The Hunger Games by Suzzane Collins

Just waiting for the UPS guy to get here so I can start reading.

Do you have any YA favorites I should put on the list?

(Btw, the quotes I used in this post were from "Think Future Panel Debates What Makes a YA a YA" By Diane Roback -- Publishers Weekly, 4/30/2008)


Brodi Ashton said...

Totally have to second your recommendation of The Hunger Games! Great, dark, dystopian teen angst fun.

As for why I write YA, I can Hemingway my a$$ off all day, and Emily Dickenson is, like, my doppleganger. It's weird.

Seriously, though, YA is where the drama is. Teen readers refuse to be conned, and they can see right through pretenses. Some of my best critiques have come from teen readers. They have no patience for crap. Writing a book that speaks to them (which, I know, yours will) is a mark of high honor. Go Bree! Can't wait til your a multi-bazillionaire! (I hear that Stephenie Meyer chick writes Young Adult. You mean like her?)
Yes! Exactly like her!

brickhouse79 said...

Perfectly put Bree (and Mr. Jack Martin). Of course that's why I prefer YA! I'm all about "cut the bull@#$%" and get to it!

I admit that I couldn't stand all that drama when I was in high school, but now that I can look back on it with a dispassionate disdain, I also see the value of it . . . the misguided passion of teenagers in their search for self-awareness and the irony of it all as many are more self-absorbed than self-aware. But then you find those gems—those that actually gain some wisdom from those (dare I say) formative years.

What an honor it must be to be a part of that, and perhaps, in a fun and cheeky sort of way, impart some of that wisdom to those up and coming. Jealous and proud I am of you. Yes—cheesy—but true :P.

brickhouse79 said...

So . . . yeah, I was totally pompous as a teenager and, if that last comment didn't make it clear, I haven't really grown out of that yet.

So in the spirit of cutting the crap: YA Fiction Rocks!

Alyosha said...

Seriously, I can hardly stand to pick up adult fiction. And if I'm not stuck at that age, I'm at least stuck in that mentality. Way more fun to write, and way more important.

Oh yeah, and way more money in it. :)

Kim Webb Reid said...

Good post, Bree. A non-writer friend commented on my blog that she prefers YA because they are more carefully written to hold the interest of a short-attention-span audience. I hadn't thought of it that way before---probably because I am IN the short-attention-span audience. :)

Bree Biesinger Despain said...

Okay, so I just realized that post made it sound like I think I write like Hemingway or Emily Dickinson. Yeah, not so much. But I do agree that it does involve a stripped-down technique and perhaps more precise crafting than adult writing.

gaylene said...

So does that mean I'm stuck in middle school since I write mostly middle grade? Somebody SAVE ME!! I agree, teenage-dome is where the drama and angst is. I love children's fiction, it's clean and fast paced and fun to read (usually).

Mrs. O said...

A lot of those people with the blank stare are just trying to hide the fact that they read it. It's sort of the 'deer in the headlights' look. Because while we enjoy reading it, we don't usually confess openly that we do.

word verification: kisses

Kathy D said...

I prefer board books with animals on them and no words, what does that mean? Oh, maybe just the fact those are the only books I get my hands on during the day with my 10 month old.

Honestly, when you and Brick were talking about YA I kept thinking, "Why don't they just say 'ya' like the rest of the world and not spell it out?"

I haven't had much time to read since having little man J, but reading about your process and other authors makes me want to read them because they sound like good books.

Kim Woodruff said...

I love your posts, Bree. I think it might be younger YA, or middle grade, but I just read "Rules" by Cynthia Lord. It was amazing. Ally Carter's books are on my to read list too. You'll have to tell me if they're any good after that UPS guy shows up.

Rachie said...

Don't worry--some day a soon-to-be-published author like yourself will be telling people that she's going to be a YA author and they'll give her a blank stare and say, "Like Bree Despain?" ;)

Just finished Graceling last night! Can't wait to talk with you about it!

Nicole said...

Ah Bree I couldn't agree more. Well said.

And I have totally seen the fruit loop ebayer look.