I write young adult books–and I love it. But I wouldn’t be so passionate about it if I still didn’t love reading young adult books. I consume the genre, and even though I take “adult” book breaks to get away from first kisses and teenage angst every once in a while (although, for what it’s worth, adults are angsty too), I will continue to read YA voraciously, just like many other people my age who are fascinated by the plotlines and characters linked to a “coming of age” tale (hey, I fell in love with my man at age 19, so I’m not so skeptical about teen love–we’ve been together for 15 years and counting!).
But I am missing a few things. Here, in no particular order, are three items I wouldn’t mind reading more of in YA fiction…
1. Food – I’m starting with this because I’m actually a little hungry. I tell people I run because I love to eat. LOVE it. I am
a terrible cook, which means I only appreciate good fare all the more. But food is something I don’t come across much of in YA books (or maybe most books). I think food tells us so much about the character (ethnicity, habits, control, sweet/salty, etc.), and it can relate the sense of taste to a reader (a hard one to capture in writing). I thought the burger scene in Divergent was great–we knew that Tris had pretty bland, boring food in her old faction by her reaction to the Dauntless cuisine. In my first Teen Mobster book, Accidental Mobster, Danny Higgins is served macaroni and cheese by the mom of his new family. It’s a signal that says, “This place is homey and warm.” I want you to feel safe before the plot twists. So…let’s eat, people!
2. Adult friendships – When I talk to students, I’m always amazed by how close they are to certain adults in their lives (usually parents, but it can vary). Sometimes, in YA books, I feel the parents or other adults are either stereotypical or shadow
people…meant to go in and out of a scene, but really having little effect on the plot. That’s not true for everything out there, but I do see a lot of buffoon-like or overly antagonizing adults and few role models. One of my favorite characters is Cinna in Hunger Games. I loved his impact on Katniss, while most of the other adults were way more troubled. That doesn’t mean I don’t like quirky adults; I’d just like to see more parents/teachers/etc. we can respect. I will applaud Sarah Dessen; I think she does a great job with parents in her books–we are not always the enemy, but we’re human too.
3. Humor! – If I’ve said it before, I’ll say it one hundred times. There’s not enough funny in young adult books. I’m not talking
about comedies…I’m talking about dialogue and action that let us lighten up a little. You know, a scene that helps you take a breath before the heavy stuff gets back in gear. An author who balances humor and drama so very well is Carrie Jones, who makes me laugh even as I’m devouring the story. Now that’s a win-win. Everyone needs to smile–even in the darkest times. I’m not sure many novelists have a natural funny bone, but boy am I loyal to the ones who try!
So, based on that list….any suggestions for me?
I had such a great opportunity to hear a fellow young adult author speak at a recent conference. She had written a riveting book, one that had won several awards, and I ate up everything she said about character development. However, toward the end of her speech (and I can’t even remember exactly what she was talking about at that point), she said something about Amazon reviews sometimes being toxic.
Of course I was puzzled. Had people slammed her book, one that I had thought had a fantastic mix of intriguing plot and deep characters?
It seems that they had.
And I thought, what makes some people so small and petty that they must skewer a book that has been through all the best gates–an author with an agent with an established traditional press that hires first-rate editors? I understand when people rally against a book that has grammatical errors, poor plotting, and other things that are sometimes not addressed if a self-published author doesn’t take the necessary steps to make sure their book will stand up to the crowd. Your audience then becomes the gatekeeper for quality. No one wants to waste his or her money. But this was a good book, not only in my estimation, but in the estimation of expert panelists who had judged it worthy of awards, as well as many happy readers who had given it stellar reviews.
So here, in no particular order, are three things you might think about while you consume a novel. Whether you read for pleasure, are an established or aspiring writer, or function as a beta reader or editor helping someone get work ship-shape, think on this as you digest a writer’s work.
1. It’s not your story. Maybe you like robots. Maybe you think robots should be in every book that ever was. With fiction, we sometimes judge the author more on what wasn’t in the book than on what was. Authors must be mindful of word counts (when was the last time you read an 800-page novel?), and sometimes actions and events must be streamlined. If the story makes sense and has appropriate tension, then quit your whining. You wouldn’t ask Maya Angelou to add robots to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, so let an author of fiction tell you his or her best story too.
2. Style is an artistic choice. Maybe you like stories written in first person, maybe in third. Maybe you don’t like diary-type novels or books written as email entries. Before you decide to hate something, remember that authors can spend months considering their “voice” for a novel and even rewriting one that doesn’t work, because a story or character might demand to have the tale told a certain way. Enjoy the diversity. I love impressionist artwork, but I don’t want every piece on my wall to be a Monet.
3. Realize that writing a (great) novel is hard. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me he had the BEST idea for a bestseller but just couldn’t find time to write it, well, you know. It is easy to imagine a story in movie format, the high tension scenes and scintillating dialogue, but the challenge is not in the concept, but in stitching it together and getting thousands and thousands of words on paper while you avoid clichés, catch numerous typos, and make sure characters evoke the right emotion. That’s what we authors spend sleepless nights pondering, so remember, we’re working hard to give you the best story ever. If you doubt that, start your own novel, and it will grow an amazing amount of respect for your favorite writers.
Then read on…:)
I love hippity hopping for author blog hops, so imagine my excitement when author and friend L.M. Fry asked me to participate in one. Hooray! Besides, who doesn’t like answering questions about him or herself:) Hope my answers give you some insight into this crazy land known as my writer’s brain! And check out the author springboarding off my post…children’s book author Susan Meyers.
1. What am I working on right now?
I’m in what I call an “editing break.” I recently completed a young adult contemporary that covers hate speech, and I’m gearing up for a science fiction novel with series potential that will include some complex world-building, as well as a contemporary YA thriller collaboration with the aforementioned Fry. So, to relax, I edit older works of mine that haven’t been published yet. Yep. I know. Weird-o. Oh! Also, I’m working with my exceptionally awesome agent, Kaylee Davis, to edit one of my YA contemporary novels and prepare it for pitching.
2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?
I like to write conversationally. I want my characters to feel like someone you’d meet at a high school, so when the fantastic happens, it’s more believable. My style’s just a bit on the unconventional side, but I really believe in finding your own voice in this biz.
3. Why do I write what I do?
The young adult genre is like a big bag of awesome. Action? Check. Romance? Check. High stakes drama? Check. The need for humor? Check. Check. I may dabble in some adult fiction next year, but I’ll never leave those teen years behind (insert song from Peter Pan about not growing up here). My teen years defined so much of who I am now (I also fell in love with my husband of twelve years–and counting–at age nineteen), so I really enjoy exploring the decisions and situations that influence that time in our lives.
4. How does my writing process work?
Usually, an idea simmers for over a year before I take it on (because I’m writing ideas from the year before!). Then, when I’m on an “editing break,” I outline it–about five to six intense pages of plot and subplot points. Next, I write like a maniac for about eight weeks straight. Then it goes like this for another two months or so: Edit. Work on something else. Edit. Work on something else. Send to my personal editor (my mom, people!–she’s pretty tough) for any stealthy typos or plot holes. Read on my Kindle. Maybe run some pages by my critique group. Revise, revise. It’s never done until I send it to an industry professional and it’s out of my hands.
And you thought novel writing was easy peasy. (Pffft!)