Thursday, February 11, 2016

on writing: why ya?

The other day I was talking with a friend. I shall not be sharing the name of said friend. In fact, being that I'm a storyteller, it's possible I am completely making up said friend in an effort to give validity to this blog post. Or maybe I was struggling with how to approach this topic and thought, 'hey, what about saying a friend asked me all these awkward questions verses a troubling amount of people have been asking me questions that are a wee bit worrisome?!' But I ain't tellin', thus you'll never know for sure.

Anywho.

Said friend -- having first picked their jaw up off the floor after finding out that the book I'd been talking about writing for five long years was in fact an actual book and had been published -- asked me some interesting questions.

And while I don't feel I need to defend myself or my writing, I do think there is some merit to discussing my friend's questions in a public forum. You see, since publishing, I've noticed a trend in the way people -- specifically adults -- react to my declaring I write YA contemporary coming-of-age. In fact, it's gotten to a place where I feel a little ... ashamed. Like it's some kind of dirty secret I should hide. Thus, in an effort to cleanse myself of this feeling, I've decided to air these questions out and hopefully put them to rest. Or open up a can of worms that's about to explode in my face. Only time will tell.

Question One: Why write YA? Isn't that cheating?
Right out of the gate my friend came out swinging. This question completely stumped me. I've never thought to question why a mystery writer pens mystery stories nor considered their choice of genre cheating. And it was in this moment that I realized something shocking and concerning, there are those who believe some genres aren't real or important. Thus to some if you tack YA onto a book suddenly it's not worth reading and could even be viewed as cheating. Instead of answering the question, I asked 'well, why not YA?' To which my friend stated, 'well, YA is for kids and it's not about real life.' Now, I'm not sure what my friend's childhood was like, but let me tell you, some of the most turbulent and heart-wrenching years of my life were spent between the ages of seven and eighteen. As I was too shocked to respond, they barreled on ahead with this next gem.

Question Two: And by writing YA aren't you limiting your audience? Don't you want adults to read your book?
Now as an avid and eclectic reader the thought of not reading a book based on genre or sub-genre or whatever other label is being thrown at a book has never crossed my mind. I know just as many adults who love reading the Percy Jackson series as I do kids. In fact, I started reading the Percy Jackson series based on two recommendations from adults and then I got a few more adults and a handful of kids hooked on them as well. But before I could shake myself out of my stupor and answer, my friend continued.

Question Three: You're just writing YA because it's so popular and marketable, aren't you? 
This was the part of the conversation during which I pondered why we were friends and how I could easily exit the conversation without maiming another human being. Not bothering to wait for a response, my friend plunged ahead.

Question Four: Not to mention, why such a boring sub-genre? Coming-of-age is run of the mill, everyday life, and uninteresting crap. Don't you want people to be entertained? 
Clearly not. Clearly by writing a YA contemporary coming-of-age novel, my main goal in life is to a. bore the hell out of people while b. writing a book in the most popular genre all while c. alienating all the adults on the planet thus d. limiting my audience and oh yeah e. cheating. Once again, I was gobsmacked. However, the next question woke me up.

Question Five: Why not write a different genre? Something worth writing?
Here I did speak up. And I'll share my answer.

I have in fact written other genres. I've written a story about a man in his late thirties who's a recovering drug addict and is struggling to put his life back together. I've written a fantasy novel set in a circus featuring a ghost, a murderer, and an old man with dark secrets. I've written a story about a woman whose possessed by an alien that makes her kill her husband. I've also written a story about a vengeance demon who goes around killing for the sport of it.

There are more, but Ashley's story was the first to ring true. All The What Ifs was the first time I thought, 'AH-HA. I've got something here!' And I didn't think about the genre or marketability or if I was cheating or who my audience would be. All I thought about was getting her story right and making it worthy of her. Everything that came after that was arbitrary.

And if there are those who don't want to read All The What Ifs based on the genre or the sub-genre or whatever personal feelings and opinions they bring to the table that's totally, completely, 100% right and good and valid and their prerogative. Not every book is for every person. It's just a fact.

But to say one genre is better than another or one story is worthier of telling than another ... well, that's a dangerous and slippery slope and it's what most concerns me about my conversation with my friend.

There's a quote I love and it goes a little something like this:



I'm not going to defend my book to my friend. I'm not going to defend my choice of genre or sub-genre or any of that jazz. But what I will defend is every writer's right to be treated with respect whether they write YA, erotica, political thrillers, fantasy, self-help, or whatever the case may be. Writing is hard enough without dictating to authors that there are better genres or more worthy stories. Writing is a place for hopeful and struggling dreamers. It's a place where all should feel welcomed and all should have the chance to give this crazy life a try. Once we start defining what stories are worth telling we limit the potential for greatness and possibility. And what a shame that would be.

So write, my friends. Write about mysteries and kissing. Write about heartache and first loves. Write about zombies and ghosts and faeries and axe-murderers. And don't let anyone tell you it's not worthwhile. It's all worthwhile. It's all welcome to the party. It's all a thing of beauty.

6 comments:

  1. Great post. Young people need amazing books to read too - otherwise how will they grow into adult readers.

    As an author of middle grade novels, I can relate to all those questions!

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  2. I love this. Harry Potter! I would shout at your friend, a series of YA or even children's books, that adults hi-jacked.

    Clearly this 'friend' is not a writer and has no clue! It's like editing, people ask me about what genres I'm happy editing, and I have NO preference, it's not about the genre, it's about the book itself and the story it contains and the best way it can be written.

    I love All The What Ifs, and I don't consider it a 'kids book' at all!

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    1. Harry Potter is a perfect example of how genres transcend age groups and expectations! If only more people were open to the idea that no matter how old the protagonist is or what stage of life they might be in there is something worth reading about!

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  3. I remember when I became an avid reader my genre was totally all YA ... And I super remember feeling a little ashamed! �� Because in my mind an adult should be reading adult or new adult (which what does that even really mean)... Ain't nothing to be ashamed of though! Read what makes you happy! And if you have the gift of storytelling... Who gives a hoot if its erotica!?! You do you! ✌️❣

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    1. Unknown, I most assuredly will do me. ;)

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