Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why I Write YA

I love my brother. For as long as I can remember, I've looked up to him as the person I want to be like, the person whose footsteps I want to follow in. When I was a kid, I thought he was the ultimate in cool. Even to this day I will listen to pretty much any band he recommends, simply because it has the Andy stamp of approval.

Unfortunately, nowadays, I only get to see my brother once or twice a year, always at major holidays. In 2009, it was during my wedding in May and then again at Christmas. This year, I'm sure it will be during his wedding (in two weeks!) and again at Christmas. I'll also admit that my family isn't huge on phone calls. We talk on the phone maybe once a month, not because we don't love each other, but just because we are afraid of the brain tumors that cell phones obviously cause (just kidding - I think it's really the sweaty ear factor that turns me off.)

So when my brother visited during Christmas last year, I was catching him up on several months of my life. Our few phone calls had touched on the Big Stuff - how law school was going for him, how day job was going for me, whether I liked being married, etc. Then we started talking other life events, and I decided it was time he knew what I was spending every evening from 8pm - 11pm (times may vary) working on (my sister, a loyal blog reader, already knew. For the record, I love her too.). The conversation went something like this:

Me: So I'm writing a novel.
Big Brother: Yeah? What about?
Me: It's a YA future dystopian novel.
Big Sister: It sounds really interesting, I really want to read it. (Told you she was loyal and I love her.)
BB: What does that mean?
Me: YA? Young adult.
BB: And that other thing? Dystopian? (I promise my brother is an intelligent guy. But he's more math/science, not as much English.)
Me: Like the opposite of utopia.
BB: Oh. So you're writing for young adults? What's that, like teenagers?
Me: Yeah, pretty much.
BB: So are you going to use a pen name?
Me: Why would I do that?
BB: So that when you get published you don't pigeon-hole yourself, and when you want to write real literature you can.
I know what my brother was trying to say. He was assuming that I was using YA as some kind of easy-in (ha!) to establish a career, then I could write something more serious, literary fiction or something, when I was established. But I bet my entire Harry Potter collection that every YA writer winced a little when you read what he said.

I've mentioned before my thoughts on the snobbery associated with YA lit, and how I hate when people assume that just because something is written/published as YA means it's easier to read. And when I was at my conference, I'll admit that I got more than a few side-glaces or mislaid pieces of advice when I told people I wrote YA (for example, multiple people told me, "You should write about angels! They're the next vampire!" Sure they are, if I have Becca Fitzpatrick's timing.) Ultimately, though, I found myself telling a lot of people why I chose to write YA - and when I explained it (aside from the fact that it's one of few markets where debut authors are actually getting published), everyone seemed to back off - my brother included.

So, why do I write YA?

I write YA because there is only one time in a person's life when you can make them a fan of reading. As adults, we're already fans of reading. We're not likely to pick up a book, think, "Wow, this book changed my life, it's so good I want to read another book!" By the time we're in our 20s, 30s, and 40s, we've already fostered a love of reading (or we've fostered a love of reality TV shows). I would love to be the author for one person - just one teen - who made them find their love of reading. We have so much opportunity as YA authors, and we need to recognize our impact.

Even more so, teenagers are going through such a crazy time. So much is happening, so much is changing. Many of them are looking for a place they can escape to, or they're looking for somewhere or someone like them, or they're looking for advice - I know when I was a teen, I turned to books for all of those things. That's why I write YA. For the undeniable chance to change a person. For life.

Why do you write YA, if you do? And if you don't, why did you choose the genre you love?

Special thanks to Heather Zundel for inspiring today's post. I kept thinking I would write something on this topic, and you can tell I've been gathering material for awhile, but her post today reminded me to finally do it. 


  1. This was a great post. And, you're right, I did wince when I read what your brother said. Haha.

    For me, I just LOVE that time in a person's life. I love that you have the opportunity to fall in love for the first time. To learn about yourself for the first time. To make discoveries and really shape the person you are going to become. It's a fascinating time.

    And, being a high school teacher, I just love teenagers. You're right...this time is the time to hook them on books. It's what I try to do every day. They have so many choices for entertainment...TV, movies, internet, video games. The idea of them looking at those things and then picking up a BOOK instead! Uuf! It makes me all woobly inside. I love it.

  2. Very nice post here. I'm not big on the writing of YA myself but have enjoyed books in the genre. I'm reading Graceling by Kristin Cashore. I met her at a conference that included Tamora Pierce. It was about strong female main characters and both write in YA.

    My sister says I should write something else than what I write because she doesn't think mine will be as sellable. I write a variety of genres with gay main characters. For me, I write what stories come to me no matter their genre. Most are for adults but not all. My first rewrite is actually on a YA novel that is now tentativly called "Defiance".
    Part of my writing comes from the characters and plots I discover and part of the reason is because I think gay main characters should be more public and available. That is my other reason for writing what I write.

  3. You nailed exactly why I write what I do. I love my children. I teach teenagers. I want EVERYONE to love reading (and I love what they read). there you have it. :-)

    This was a great post, Heather. I'm glad you finally wrote it.

  4. Awesome post! I write YA because being a teen is really such a magical time. I mean. It SUCKS a lot. But there are so many possibilities and everything seems so tragic or wonderful... Plus, there's a possibility my mental maturity stopped around age 18 so it's a mindset I enjoy revisiting!

    I totally winced at your brother's words! But I don't blame him, it's an easy thing to think if you're not a writer :) (Or a reader of YA)

  5. Aww, this is a great post. I write YA because I don't know how to write anything else...or maybe I don't want to, not yet, this is what grabs me. It's weird, I've never had anyone say to me anything along the lines of YA being not real literature....I guess I got lucky.

  6. Great post!

    You'll get there and your brother will love it :)

  7. Great post! YA is what I love. That is why I write it. There is so much emotion and all the other junk that goes along with being a teenager that makes it interesting to me. It could be that I can't grow up but that is another issue. Stay true to what you believe in and you will get the reward:)

  8. I have nothing but love for my YA writer friends, and my closest writer-friend is a YA author. A very, very talented one. I agree that adolescence is the time to hook nascent readers.

    I don't write YA, but it has nothing to do with any kind of literary snobbery. My characters just happen to be adults, probably because I can relate to them better. Even as a teenager, I read adult fiction. It's just the way I think and what I prefer, but it's entirely subjective.

    As for which genre-- science fiction, mostly. :)

  9. I've always written with a protagonist close in age to myself. When I was 17, so were my main characters, and now in my twenties, so is my main character of my WIP. I have always been drawn to telling the stories of my age group. I think it is so wonderful that you want to write to make a teenager fall in love with literature. Such a noble cause!

  10. Great post! I write YA because I have the most FUN writing YA. It's the teen voice and coming-of-age plotlines that come naturally... and keep me interested through months and months of writing and revision!

    I also love the teen audience. They're simultaneously more openminded and more fickle than adults, so they'll give your book a shot, but if they don't love it, they'll pick up someone else's book. Makes you want to work harder to make it right. Your reason is also on my list.

  11. I don't write YA, but the reason I chose to write something paranormal is because I love the idea that something bigger than us exists out there, that there really is magic in the universe.

  12. Heather--this post is awesomesalsa (cuz awesomesauce is so last week)!

    I started to say I'm not a YA guy but the truth is I am still figuring out and experimenting to determine where I feel most comfortable. Based on my reading tastes, I bet I'm going to end up in Mainstream Adult (notably fuzzy as a genre BTW), but I am keeping my options open to see what happens.

    The reason I write, regardless of genre, relates to the desire to tell a great and lasting story. As an example, I finished rereading Knowles' "A Separate Peace" (YA anyone?) last week, and I was struck dumb as a post by its beauty and truth--the same way it affected me when I read it in high school. For days, I walked around puzzling over the issues raised, and knowing these characters as if they were real people.

    It is a miracle to me that one story could do that not just once, but a second time twenty-five years later. That's the kind of story I want to write.

    Maybe it's a long shot, but that's what I'm after. Thanks for putting this one up, and again, nice post.


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