So…You Write YA?
SO…YOU WRITE YA?
Labels. Oh, glorious labels. Good or bad, we’re addicted to them like our favorite candy or never-ending Netflix marathons. You simply cannot exist if you don’t wear a label. In YA, that label is Ohhh…you write about TEENAGERS? Young adult? Isn’t that for kids? Why don’t you write about someone your own age?
The YA label comes with judgy eyes, snide comments, and a truckload of condescension. Every single author I meet who doesn’t write YA asks me why I do. They can’t understand the allure of writing about children. Here, I will try to answer some of the common questions I face and give you some ammo for the next time you’re cornered.
Why can’t you just make your characters adults?
Attachments. When I have Ashley ride off on the back of some hot guy’s motorcycle, I don’t want her to be thinking about her ex-husband, her seventeen children, the job she hates, and the fact that her legs are full of cellulite. There’s a genre for this: Upmarket women’s fiction.
I want Ashley to be full of adventure and thirst for life experiences (not worn out from her depressing, realistic life). I want her to drop her mundane routine and step into something extraordinary, and you can’t do that as an adult, at least, not without pages and pages of loose ends and backstory. Ashley is still growing, changing, becoming the person she’s supposed to be. She’s malleable, and as an author, malleable = INTERESTING.
Does that mean young protagonists don’t have baggage? Absolutely not. YA is a “genre rich,” and encompasses Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Romance, Contemporary, Horror, and anything else your little heart desires. So why all the raised eyebrows?
But, YA Fiction isn’t REAL fiction!
Oh ho ho…get ye down off yon mighty horse. Tell that to John Irving (A Prayer for Owen Meany), John Knowles (A Separate Peace), and if you want something more modern, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I mean, come on! These are great LITERARY pieces. Real fiction. Psh. Psh, I say!
Okay, but YA is just “fluff”. Easy, vapid, fraught with empty-headed ignorant teenagers and bad decisions.
If you believe this, then you have homework. Read these books and then get back to me about how “fluffy” these stories are. I could add more, but I think after just one you’ll be thoroughly chastised and coming back to me with your tail between your legs.
• The Fault in our Stars by John Green
• Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
• Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Every writer I know writes young adult. Isn’t that a flooded market?
It’s true, you might have noticed the Young Adult section at Barnes and Noble encroaching on, I don’t know, the Health and Fitness section, or heaven forbid, Literary Fiction. YA is BOOMING and it’s thanks to authors like Stephenie Meyer, who encouraged a maelstrom of young writers, or John Green, who continues to wow us with his GIANT brain and even bigger heart. It’s also welcoming, encouraging, and one hell of a great place to be.
To answer the flooded market question, no, it’s not. Here’s why: Remember when I said that YA houses Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Romance, etc? I meant it. There are a LOT of young adult authors, but guess what? There are SO MANY genres that comprise young adult that it doesn’t matter. So you write your zombie dystopian fairy romance or your urban fantasy about the girl who grows stories in her skin. I WANT TO READ THEM. ALL OF THEM. Because young adult truly has all the heart and there’s room for all of us here.
I want to comment on voice. By insulting me as a writer, the young adult genre, or those who love to read YA, you’re stifling our voices. You’re telling us we’re not worthy, or we’re small, or that we’ll never climb the stuffy, turgid walls that surround REAL FICTION.
I’m holding up one finger for you, and here’s a hint, it’s not my thumb.
Teenagers deserve a place to feel safe, so do those of us adults who write YA. And hell, if I can’t climb those Real Fiction walls, so be it. The party is on the ground floor, and it’s filled with other awesome people just like me.
So suit up, fellow YA writers, don your label like proud armor, and let’s have some cake.
Kacey Vanderkarr is a young adult author, and she doesn’t care what you think about that. When she’s not writing, she coaches winterguard and works as a sonographer. Follow her on Twitter: @kacimari