When I was a teenager, the summer before I started high school, my Horizons-Upward Bound English teacher read an excerpt from my manuscript, Fatal Obsession (yes, that’s really what it was called; I was tweleve when I started it). She suggested that I should be writing Young Adult Fiction right now (which was, of course, at age 14). I never did that. I don’t know why I didn’t then, but as the years passed, my interest in YA fiction passed as well. Once I wasn’t a “young adult” literature wise (I still consider myself a young adult in real life, LOL), I never read or wrote any fiction in that genre.
The other day when I came across the note my teacher had scribbled on a copy of FO, I wondered about finishing it (I even mentioned it in The Girl Who Couldn’t Commit). The story is good. I love those characters. Why not finish this book? Why not shop it around for publication? Because it probably wouldn’t sell.
I wasn’t a typical teenager (I mean, I was writing a novel at 12! Hello!), and the things I wrote, while about teenage issues, weren’t typical of teenagers I knew. That way more true today. My main characters didn’t have sex or go drinking as a matter of course (although, my victim did those things when she was in her “bad girl” phase); those behaviors were the atypical ones in my story. The trend now seems to be having characters more in line with the characters in the movie Cruel Intentions than the books I grew up with.
I’m not ready to “get real” and admit that most teens are going around sleeping with everyone in my fiction. I don’t want to write what to me amounts to adults with teenaged emotions. Compared to Twilight or the Zoey books that were coming out when I left my YA phase, my character’s downward spiral is akin to her joining the real world.
As a teenager, I felt passionately about things. I wanted to be in love and have a boyfriend (I didn’t have a real boyfriend, someone I went on a date with, until my early twenties…told you I was abnormal). I had a crush I wrote awful poetry about (I’m lying; my poetry was wonderful :D). But to be quite honest, if my crush had become my boyfriend, I wouldn’t have known what to do with him. I would’ve been angry if he tried to hook up with me. I wasn’t that type of girl (and I’m still not). Most of my characters aren’t those types of girls, either.
So I admit it. I’m out of touch. I can write about peer pressure. I know about bullying. I can even write about those soul-rending emotions that we all had as teenagers that we just knew we would die from. But I can’t write about teenagers having sex as if it’s no big deal, as if they are mature enough to decide they want to sleep with all of these people and have babies. As if it’s legal for them to get drunk at 16 and not remember hooking up with that guy/girl last night. If that’s the current market, Fatal Obsession is fatally wounded, and will be buried until I die. I’m sure my well meaning husband (should he survive me) or children will discover it and publish it posthumously, when it’s really antiquated.
What do you think? Have I been given the wrong impression of YA Fiction? Is there a market for old fashioned values? What are you not willing to do to sell a book?
- Slutty Werewolves, and WTF? (enigmainklings.blogspot.com)
- Is YA fiction a blessing or a curse? (booktopia.com.au)
- Writing young-adult fiction: Better than going to the prom. (slate.com)
- Why I Write YA (mesummer.wordpress.com)
- YA, Yay! (makingbabygrand.com)
- The Girl Who Couldn’t Commit (copywrite1985.wordpress.com)
Good question. I think there’s lots of room in the YA genre for characters who have more to think about than their raging hormones. Guess it depends on your plot and themes. There’s being realistic and then there’s writing what you want. I was also never the kind of teenager that was into dating and boyfriends and all. And neither were lots of my friends. Of course, that was a thousand years ago. But I don’t think teenagers have changed all that much, deep down.
Your debate here with the YA novels has prompted you to ask some of the very questions I asked myself earlier this year regarding my suspense/women’s fiction writing. I do have a short list of things I won’t write…they are not negotiable and I would be willing to lose a book deal if it came down to “write it, or forget it.” Here they are: vulgar language – esp. the “f” word; any story with the fall in lust and then sleep with the guy scenario, and basically anything that I would be embarrassed to have my mother read 🙂
Here’s the deal: if you’ve got a strong story, I see no reason why it wouldn’t be appealing to the YA crowd, even if the MC doesn’t engage in sexual behaviors. I don’t know about YA readers, but I find books I want to read by checking out the blurb on the back cover – I look for an intriguing story that doesn’t sound like fifteen other books I’ve already read.
Please, please, please write from your heart, not for the market. I think you should finish this novel – the way you feel the characters should behave – and then submit it to agents/publishers. At a glance, it seems like our entire society subscribes to the “sex sells” mentality, but if you look closer, I think you’d see that not everyone does. There are some that see past that haze and just want a good story. There’s your market.
Sorry for my novella-length comment, but your post (obviously) struck a nerve 😉
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