Monday, December 13, 2010

Young Adult Literature: Why I Choose To Write It

Today's post was inspired by Regan Leigh, who manages a highly impressive blog worth checking out.  Writers have plenty of genres to choose from.  And these days, it seems nothing is off limits (Remember when J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye was actually considered shocking?)  Anyone compelled to to write has every option imaginable.

In the beginning, the blank page is exciting - at least for me.  It's the only time in the process when anything is possible.  But that moment is short-lived.  Eventually, a writer must choose a direction, at least if they hope to complete a tangible product.

Although there are exceptions, most successful authors are known for a certain genre - Stephen King for horror, Nicholas Sparks for romance, and Laurie Halse Anderson for Young Adult.  I once had a student ask why I only taught history.  I explained that, at the secondary level, teachers focus on one subject area so they can, essentially, become an expert  - that it's practically impossible for one individual to possess the knowledge required to become an "expert" in every discipline.

In a lot of ways, this scenario reminds me of writing.  Can you be an expert in every genre?  My gut tells me probably not.  At least I can't, anyway.

My seventh graders once responded to the following prompt: "Is it better to be a jack of all trades or a master of one?"  Obviously there is no right or wrong answer, but I think we can all agree it's not easy to be the first.  Personally, when it comes to writing, I would rather study and perfect one genre.  This way, regardless of what happens in terms of publication, I'll continue growing and be able to identify progress.

So, what was it that made me commit to Young Adult?

Easy; it's me.  I never considered another genre.  YA is what I read most.  It's also the genre I most enjoy.  Interestingly enough, I wasn't an avid reader as a kid.  In fact, I hated it.  I faked my way through book reports and passed English at the mercy of sparknotes.com.

But when I started teaching, I wanted to read more.  I wanted to be familiar with popular titles and know what novels to suggest  - especially for reluctant readers.  In doing so, I discovered a passion I never knew I had.  Reading became relaxing, cathartic, and enjoyable.  Weekends were spent in bookstores with a latte in one hand, and a book in the other.  It was the perfect escape - an opportunity to forget everything bad in my life.  For the duration of the novel, I entered another world.  Sometimes, I even became a different person.

Everyone knows you have to write your passion.  I am, and always will be, an educator at heart.  I want to reach kids - serve as a positive role model, instill values, and teach life lessons.  I want to inspire - ignite thought-provoking discussions among teens and make them analyze the decisions they make.  I want to give them hope - hope for a better future; hope for a better tomorrow.

But most importantly, I want them to enjoy books.  And, if it isn't too much to ask, I'd like them to learn from the books they enjoy.

I like to think my background and experience gives me some validity - that by writing what I know, I might be one very very small step above the average person.  We'll see.

Just before putting my feet in the water, I had taken a course in YA Literature.  I was exposed to many new authors and contemporary pieces, and I fell in love a zillion new characters.  As an adult, I realized I enjoy YA because I get to live through experiences I miss as a kid.  Simultaneously, I can partake in experiences I personally never had.

My passion for YA continues growing with time.  Aside from the fact he has never been born and doesn't currently have a pulse (minor details), my character is a real person.  Currently, I may be the only person he communicates with, but believe me, I hear him loud and clear.  At times we fight - I keep telling him I'm the boss, but he knows he is.  He shares his experiences - spills his heart and soul into my ears, and I write his story to the best of my ability.

The fact that Michael and I have this kind of relationship tells me I'm on the right path.  So, I guess you could say I write YA for a number of reasons: it's my passion, it's my expertise, and hopefully, it's my calling.  To quote LK Gardner-Griffie, one of my favorite people ever, "I write YA because I have to."

How about you?  What made you choose your genre?  Why do you feel this is where you belong?  I'd love to hear from you.

10 comments:

  1. Great post! I blogged on this subject as well! http://micheleshaw.blogspot.com/2010_09_01_archive.html Reading a lot of YA also drew me in, though I also have plans to write outside the genre. Best of luck. Looking fwd to your book!

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  2. Thanks for the shout out!! Your passion for writing in the YA genre shines through. I can't wait to see you pubbed so I can read what you have to offer.

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  3. I read and write YA because I refuse - REFUSE - to believe I am NOT eighteen years old anymore! I love reliving those climactic, angst-ridden, heart-thudding firsts: the first mistakes, the first good choices, the first loves...

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  4. I'm so happy that you resonate with YA. I think your teaching experience always help. I always loved YA because they are books driven by emotion, and passion - brutal and honest - that never gets old for me!

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  5. In my humble opinion you are doing exactly the right thing. Write what you know, is very good advice, and just for the record, publishers like authors to stick to one genre.

    I only write Middle Grade. I could never see myself writing anything else. Working with kids inspired me to write in the first place. I helped run a Brownie pack (7-11 year olds) for over six years. Big fun!

    Good luck, Paul. I'm sure you will be great :)

    Do you have a good critic forum? Most valuable at this stage now you have finished your novel.

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  6. Roberta: I know what you mean. Reliving those moments can be very entertaining. For me, I love to think back and realize how everything I considered to be so important really didn't matter much in the grand scheme of things. It's nice to think back, and at the same time, realize how I've matured. Hopefully, I can use this insight to help kids realize nothing is as bad as it seems.

    Michelle: I agree; teaching experience is very valuable, especially when writing for a young adult audience. The job provides you with so much experience to draw from - it has been the most valuable field work I have done for my novel.

    Emailman: Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for offering encouragement. I'm actually not finished my first draft just yet, though I am very close. I currently have some talented beta readers who come from different walks of life (readers, teachers, parents, and even teens). I'm starting to look into some options for critique and writing groups and hope to get actively involved as soon as I have a complete manuscript.

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  7. Awesome :) I started by opening a free account at writing.com. When you have been a member of WDC for six months, I recommend The Novel Workshop. I'm a member of YA
    http://www.writing.com/main/forums/item_id/559910-The-Novel-Workshop

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  8. I write adult fiction, but not one particular genre. I suppose I'm called 'mainstream'. I write what comes naturally and I have written a few children's books, but they're for my kids who ask me now and then to write something for them.

    Dark fiction dealing with adult situations is what comes naturally to me. Why? I suppose because I question the things people do to each other and that in turn develops into some very...odd characters that aren't suited to YA.

    I read YA quite a bit though, because I preread authors and books I'm not familiar with before my 12 year old is allowed to read them. Other than perhaps the younger characters, I barely notice most are YA. A good book is a good book, regardless of genre.

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  9. Renee!! I am being 100% sincere when I say how excited I was to be notified you left a comment on MY blog.

    I agree with you; a good book is a good book. There was a time when I was embarassed to sit in a public place and read YA. Now, I could care less. You're right, except for the characters being teens, I don't notice a difference in the themes or issues being discussed. Speak is a perfect example (based on your twibbon, or whatever those things are called, I'm assuming you are familiar with the book).

    And, the educator in me has to applaud you for taking an interest in what your children read. I truly believe it's one of the most important things a parent can do.

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  10. I love YA! That's one reason I choose to write it. But the largest single reason I choose to write in YA is so that I can be a "jack of all trades" without anyone really even noticing. One year I may write a YA fantasy, the next a YA paranormal, the next a YA thriller, the next a YA contemporary, and so on. That's the joy of YA; you can write seamlessly in separate genres without ever leaving a single genre. For examples, see Neal Shusterman or Jackson Pearce, a YA fantasy author who just recently sold a YA contemporary and finished writing a YA historical. Even Laurie Halse Anderson, a fantastic YA contemporary writer has written a few YA historicals and has plans for YA fantasy.

    THAT is why I write YA. Because I tell any story I want and remain in one genre, so long as the story's about teenagers.

    And also, teenagers mean the world to me. Their experience is unique and vastly misunderstood. I remember being a teenager and how silent I felt, how nonexistent my opinion was to the world. And I've always been an overly expressive person, so if I felt that way, I know tons of my peers felt likewise. I write YA to give teenagers a voice. To let them know they have one, and that it is important.

    THAT is why I write YA.

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