Sunday, June 28, 2009

Young Adult Genre Revival

This will be a relatively short YAYA posting, but I wanted to get everyone, readers and bloggers alike, involved, so make sure to offer your opinions!

Lately, literary agents have been looking for steampunk and dystopian novels, implying that these may become 'the next big thing' so to speak (no guarantees!).

So here's the question: Is there something you'd like to see in young adult novels, something that was prominent in the lengthy history of world literature, that isn't there now? Some genre, or topic, that you just love, but isn't present in today's young adult lit just yet?

For example, maybe you have a secret love of biji (
筆記), a genre from Classical Chinese literature that was like a notebook, with short stories, anecdotes, quotations, etc. from the author (Biji). There are a few books like this in young adult right now, like CATHY'S BOOK by Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman (Amazon), but maybe you'd like to see more. (Note: Cathy's Book is also an interactive mystery, so slightly different, but very similar in principal.)

Or maybe you reread Homer's THE ODYSSEY (
Amazon) every single year and would like to see more young adult that has a large body of water as its main setting. I'm not sure of any current young adult like this, so leave a comment with an example if you know one.

Perhaps you're just looking for a new type of fiction all together such as the slice of life, or
tranche de vie, where there is minimal plot, little character development, and an open ending. Something more true to life than any other kind of fiction. The YAYA bloggers discussed a desire to see more of this just the other day. This, of course, would be a more difficult endeavor because keeping someone interested with the daily happenings of life is difficult, but it has been done. Non-YA examples include James Joyce's DUBLINERS (Amazon) and John Steinbeck's OF MICE AND MEN (Amazon).

So let me ask again, in case you become distracted with filling your Amazon shopping cart...

What genre, topic, or literature form would you like to see more of in modern young adult literature?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Interview: Laurie Halse Anderson

Summer reading means a lot of things to us at YAYA, mostly because it's one of the few seasons when we can read for extended periods of time. One book we always, always recommend to aspiring YA writers is Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak. Laurie graciously agreed to do an interview as part of our Summer Author Spotlight.

In addition to Speak, Laurie has written five other YA novels: Twisted, Prom, Chains, Catalyst, and her newest novel, Wintergirls. She's won more awards than I care to count (mostly because it'll make me feel inferior - I'm fragile like that) and is an all-around very cool lady.

YAYA: How did you start writing?
Laurie Halse Anderson: I started writing for fun in second grade. I was a journalist in my twenties. I didn't try to be a published author until my early thirties.

From where have you drawn inspiration?
My Readers.

Speak seems to be a novel that we're always recommending to aspiring YA authors. Can you talk about the difference between writing a first book and a second, in terms of the expectations of a growing audience?
I found the expectations daunting. It took me awhile to figure out how to write without worrying about what other people would think.

Do you have any favorite scenes in your novels?

What was your day job before becoming a literary rockstar?
I don't know, I'm not there yet. (Modesty!) Before SPEAK was published, I was a mom and freelance journalist. (I'm still a mom!)

Have you written novels for other age groups?
Yes, historical novels aimed at middle grades; a series of animal adventure books for older elementary kids and picture books for little kids.

If so, what makes YA different?
Level of emotional intensity and more mature themes.

Do you have thoughts on the growth and evolution of YA as a genre?
I think it is wonderful because teenagers need good books to read. (Yes!!)

Do you believe that Speak and Wintergirls have the potential to become "crossover" novels?
Based on my mail, they already are. I am honored by that fact.

Do you have a favorite author?
Neil Gaiman

Do you have a favorite cliché?
I avoid cliches like the plague!

What's your writing schedule like?
Write from 7AM-3PM, go for a run, do writing business the rest of day. On a deadline, write for 18 hours a day.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Why YA? Revisited

So recently on a writing board I frequent, a writer was expressing his confusion over why an adult would want to write YA. He had only recently heard of the genre (not the first writer I've heard say that lately). He mentioned that he had heard the YA market was hot (it is) and wondered if writers were choosing to "limit" themselves by writing in the genre simply because of the market.

Now, of course, those of us on this blog enjoy writing YA (and sometimes other genres). So while we can't understand why someone wouldn't want to ;) if it doesn't appeal to them, we're not going to tell them they have to read or write it. Historical fiction and erotica don't appeal to me, so I don't read or write them either.

Yes, the YA market is hot. This does not mean that writers who would rather not write YA should suddenly focus on YA. First of all, if one hasn't read the genre (as with any genre), that writer won't know what's been done, what hasn't, or what YA readers want. Second of all, writing solely for the market suggests that that writer has no passion for the genre, and will get left behind by the passionate YA writers. Third of all, there are many more YA writers now than there used to be--somewhat cause and effect of the whole genre getting hot--so even though they may be publishing more books, there's a lot of competition. Finally, and maybe most importantly, by the time a writer entering the genre writes a novel, edits, gets it beta'd, gets an agent, and edits it again, who knows what the status of the market will be? There are plenty of excellent agents who take non-YA, and plenty of publishers who are still publishing non-YA, it's just not as hot right now, and both are looking for "sure things" at this time. (As agent Nathan Bransford said a week or two ago: "Publishers right now want the surest of sure things that are so sure it beats surety over its sure head. And agents have to adjust what they take on accordingly."

What that means for tomorrow's market? Who knows? The recession might be over. A new Harry Potter-type success might drive buyers towards a different genre. People might suddenly realize that it's a lot cheaper to buy a book and read it over the course of [insert reading speed here] rather than go see several movies in the same span of time, which would increase book sales, and hopefully make publishers less stingy about what they consider a sure thing.

So for the lucky people who love the genre, YA is the place to be right now. Why are we lucky? Because we already have novels. We're already in the process of writing/editing/betaing/submitting the novels we wrote because we love the genre. For various reasons.

Recently I answered a thread in a writing forum that asked what drew us to the genre. I went on a long rambling post there about how as my tastes changed over the years (from childhood to my late twenties (now)), I was still interested in the stories about teens and how it led directly into my writing about that age group. It's easier for me to point to tv shows for this because during college, I didn't read for fun as much. When I was a kid, I know I watched shows like the kid sitcom Saved By the Bell and was fascinated by the high school life I thought I was going to be entering. By high school, I was watching dramas instead, Buffy the Vampire Slayer comes instantly to mind (Buffy was just a year younger than me). I followed Buffy (and pretty much only Buffy) into college, where I was introduced to anime and roleplaying games. Many many anime focus on teenage protagonists, so I was still focusing my entertainment on teens. I played an anime-based RPG my last two years of college, playing a sixteen-year-old. This led me to writing fanfic for that particular game, and when I moved out of it, it was perfectly natural to continue writing about teens.

Other reasons "why YA" include things like the magic of first love, the appeal of coming of age, appreciation of tighter pacing, love of stronger voices, etc. These are things that I've heard other people mention as well.

Now, do you have to "limit" yourself to enter this exciting (well, to me) world? Not any more than any other genre. As you probably picked up on in the early days of this blog, the YAYAs fully support edgy YA (even though some of us don't read much of it ourselves). But can you get away with anything in a YA novel? Yes. And no. Remember publishers want the surest sure surety for their books. This means that they want things that are just different enough from what's selling that it's new and exciting without being so different that it's too much of a risk. Yes, you can have a different voice from the average YA novel. But you have to be willing to take on a few rejections from publishers who don't want to risk that it's not going to appeal to a teen. Yes, you can have rape, incest, more explicit sex, drugs, smoking, drinking, self-injury, etc. Those things are also very hot right now in the edgier YA market. But when the audience/agent/publisher feels they might be gratuitous, it's going to be asked to be taken out. And when you start piling them on one another, you're leaving "sure thing" territory and becoming risky. There is also a market for less edgy YA, which is what I would have been reading as a teen, so I'm glad for that. (And let's be honest, even now some of the edgy things that come out are not things I really want to read.)

The nice thing about YA is that there are so many different things to do within it. You have the same genres as adult fiction, just set with teen protagonists and themes. You can go edgy, you can go tame, you can go fantasy, you can go literary, you can go deep (Yeah, teens have already been taught metaphors and symbolism, you know), you can go fluffy, you can go dark. You can do a lot of stuff in YA.

If you want to :)

But anyway, why do you write or read YA? What is it that draws you to that section of the book store?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Book Review: Handcuffs by Bethany Griffin

Summer's here! That means YAYA is kicking off a summertime book club and study. We're starting with a little plug for our own Bethany Griffin, whose novel, Handcuffs recently came out with Delacorte. This review was originally featured at Gracetopia. Grace is, as well as my Facebook wife, a good friend and fellow writer.


She runs out of the room crying.
Let me start over.
My mom runs out of the room crying.
Um, let me start over.

Bethany Griffin’s debut novel, Handcuffs, follows the story of Parker Prescott, an “ice princess” with problems. Her parents are unemployed and about to lose their house, the local high school blogger is spreading rumors that she’s a whore, her sister’s marriage is falling apart right on top of her, and–oh yeah–her ex-boyfriend came over and there was that incident with the handcuffs.

This ain’t Sweet Valley High, folks.

Griffin’s writing is taut and quick, moving through this high-school hell at breakneck speed as Parker tries to fix her life. I could not put the book down–it totally stole an entire Saturday from me.

While the plot is a good one—fast-paced, twisty—it was really the characters that grabbed hold and wouldn’t let me leave. They are exquisitely drawn, fresh and real. I loved Parker, and I was definitely rooting for her very early on. And I may have occasionally said “no! no! Parker don’t!” aloud to the book. Yes, that may have happened. Parker and her problems are easy to relate to–her everyday problems as well as her extraordinary ones. And the ex, ohhhh the ex. He’s mysterious and dangerous… and nameless. Throughout the book he is referred to only as “him” or “my ex-boyfriend” and so on. A cute gimmick? I don’t think so. It focuses the story on Parker. It’s Parker’s feelings for the boy that are important, not necessarily the boy himself. An interesting literary choice on Griffin’s part, and I think a good one.

So overall, I enjoyed this book immensely and I highly recommend it for the YA reader in your life.

Disclaimer: I do happen to know Bethany, she is awesomesauce, but I didn’t let that influence the writing of the review; please don’t let it influence your reading of it.