I get asked a lot why I write Young Adult fiction. My first reaction is always a split one – somewhere between humor and anger. I feel like I have to justify my genre because people don’t think it’s “real writing” or they think it’s “easy.” (Or quite often, they don’t even know what it is.) Sorry, friend, writing is writing. All of it is difficult. If it’s done right, it involves flaying open your soul and letting it pour out. Or, if you’re not into that kind of thing, at the very least it involves a lot of hours staring at a blank screen. The idea that writing for kids is easy is like the misguided notion that poetry is easier because it has fewer words. Really the opposite is true. You have to get every word exactly right in poetry. I’ve seen poets spend two hours talking about a single comma or the use of one white space. I don’t have that kind of patience or talent. Besides, my poetry is awful.
Mostly, though, I get angry on behalf of the reader. I’m sorry, but teens aren’t people? They don’t deserve good books and good writing? They don’t deserve to be taken seriously as an audience? That’s silly. Books when you’re a teen or younger have, in my humble opinion, more importance. At that age, stories form you. They make you. They change the way you think, the way you want to be. On some level, people know this. That’s why they try so hard to ban books for kids that harbor ideas they don’t condone. Kids internalize what they read on a level that most adults don’t. I want to ask the people that dismiss young adult and middle grade writing—didn’t you want to be taken seriously as a reader at that age? Didn’t it just chap your hide that all the “good books” were in the adult section and you had to wait years to read them?
It makes me so indignant, that it actually spills over the other side and I just start laughing. With every passing day I’m glad that my parents let me read whatever I wanted. That way when I ran out of the (then) small kid’s section, I didn’t have to wait to start reading the books for grown ups. You know, the books that aren’t dismissed.
I am jealous of teens now. They have some of the best stuff coming their way right now. The writing coming out of Young Adult and Middle Grade sections makes my imagination burn and my heart glow with pure, unabashed joy. There have always been writers and editors that take writing for kids seriously, but now they’re being let onto the playing field. It makes me happier than you can ever know to be part of that team. Someday, I would like to write some books for the adult section, but I will never, ever stop writing for teens. I love it too much.
Now, not everyone means to be dismissive of what I do. Some are honestly trying to be supportive…but they know so little about the genre that they don’t really understand what I’m talking about. So when I say what I do, they say things like, “Oh, like Twilight!” or “Maybe you’ll be the next Harry Potter!”
And yes, I would love to be a fictional teenage wizard. That would be amazing. Of course they mean J.K. Rowling, but I’m not going to correct them. I do correct them on the Twilight thing because, well, my book isn’t like Twilight. This is not a slight to those books—loads of people love them. Some loathe them. No matter how you feel, though, they got people to read young adult and fantasy and that’s a wonderful thing. I correct them, though, because my books aren’t even close in flavor to Twilight, just like they are leagues in a different direction than the Harry Potter books.
It’s not professional for me respond angrily when people get dismissive about young adult literature, and honestly, it’s just not in my nature. Being combative doesn’t make people change their minds. So I nod, smile, crack a joke, and then politely point out all the reasons why young adult literature knocks my metaphorical socks off.
I didn’t necessarily plan to start in young adult. I wanted to write for teens (and eventually, younger) but I thought you had to start out in adult and work your way into the kid’s section. I don’t know why I thought this, I just did. I was quite obviously wrong.
I’m glad the stories in my head are young adult. I’m even more thrilled that I get the opportunity to tell them. The teen audience has been great to me, as have the teen librarians and booksellers. Ladies and gentlemen, I tip my imaginary hat to you. You have let me do what I love, and I hope to keep doing it for a long time.
Homework: Think about a book that formed you as a young reader (if you are no longer a young reader). If you are a young reader, think about a book that has really influenced you lately. What made it so amazing? What can you do that is like that? What amazing story do you wish was out there for you to read? How can you write that book? Share that favorite read with someone. If you are an adult reader, has anything you’ve read as an adult had the same sort of emotional resonance?
Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com
United States (and beyond)
United Kingdom (and beyond)
Australia (and beyond)
Writing Teen Novels