Thursday, November 05, 2009

Why I write YA

I have a couple of big-ish blog posts in the works (a new sock-knocker and the interview with Nova Ren Suma), but I was a little stuck on what to talk about in the meantime. So I begged on Twitter, and Courtney Summers told me what to do.

Guys, if Courtney Summers tells you what to do, DO IT.*

*unless it involves Lady Gaga or Twilight or horror movies I couldn't watch from another room. But otherwise, listen!

Anyway, I am ruining my Serious Post.TM Courtney said, "tell 'em why you write YA." And I thought, hmmm. Why DO I write YA?

Part of it is as simple as "that's what comes out". There was no initial greater YA plan. My first book, The Murderess's Tale, was meant to be straight-up historical fiction. It didn't hit me until long afterwards that the heroine was 16 and it really was a coming-of-age book that just happened to be set in England of 1387. I'd been writing historical YA without even realizing it.

But then I decided I didn't want to write historicals for the rest of my life. I wanted to write a book that *I* would read, that had everything I loved poured into it and shaken up. When I sat down and started brainstorming that book, I listed out all the characteristics of books I loved. And I wrote this paragraph in my writing journal:
So all together, if we have all this stuff, this is some sort of YA. A funny YA, with some sort of fantasy/alternative world element to it, but without the predictable portal crap. A powerful, real voice. A girl who faces things as they are and deals with them—who is having a tough time, and then it gets way tougher and she has to figure it out.
And what came out of that was The Weirdest Thing about Jenna, which got me my most fabulous agent and is out under submission now.  And that was! I'd found my most natural voice.

But the other side of that question is what do I like about YA, about reading and writing it. I certainly take my fair share of guff from other grown-ups about my reading choices ("Why can't you read books for adults?"), so there's got to be a reason I head for the back corner of the bookstore every time.

YA books--well, the best ones--resonate with the inner me (who is apparently 15). They have an immediacy and a lack of pretense. Sometimes I think kids are the most honest, and as we conform and take places in society we learn to adopt masks for different situations, to pretend, to do the socially correct thing. Teenagers are very aware of the masks, which is perhaps the source of some of the scorn for grown-ups you see popping up at that age. They realize they're probably going to have to use them too, and they try a few on. But they're still figuring out who they are.

There's more drama, but there's also more possibility. And far more honesty, both good and bad.

So the reason really is as simple as that, I guess. I write what I love, and I love YA books.

It doesn't hurt that I think the community of YA writers is the best and most supportive (and funniest!) group of people I've ever come across. I keep finding other writers who feel like soulmates, who are Just Like Me.

I sure didn't find that in high school.


Amethyst Greye Alexander said...


courtney said...


But why no Lady Gaga love? That is the time you totally do what I tell you for sure, if it involves Lady Gaga! Eee, I am so glad you wrote this. I love getting insight on why writers I respect & admire choose YA, or how YA finds them (ps: The Murderess's Tale is an awesome title). And I just want to copy and paste an entire paragraph and tell you HECK YES (YA books--well, the best ones--resonate with the inner me (who is apparently 15). They have an immediacy and a lack of pretense.), because it is so spot on. And I think writers who have that awareness and understanding and are tapped right into their inner-15 year old... they rock. Which means I THINK YOU ROCK. Aah this comment is not worthy of your post. I am so glad you wrote it. <3

Alissa said...

I recall there was an article by Lev Grossman in the NY Times not too long ago in which he was exploring what it was that was so good about YA books, and I am completely and totally paraphrasing here, but it was something like stuff happens in YA books.

I'll admit I read grown-up books as well as YA books, and sometimes they can be quite good, but I really hate it when I read a book, and I get to the end and realize that pretty much nothing really happened. That never seems to happen with YA books.

Jo said...

I've written middle-grade and adult but I feel most comfortable with YA and I love reading the genre the most. The variety within the genre is exciting.
So cool that you're interviewing Nova Ren Suma. She's from near where I live and I just read about her and
her awesome sounding book in a local arts mag.

Jacqui said...

I can't wait to read your book. I love YA lit and am totally intrigued. I agree, for better or for worse, teenagers are far more honest than adults. Society expects them to experiment, to live outside the boundaries of propriety. My 10-year-old is starting to see past my adult masks, and calls my bluff sometimes. Or I can see that she wants to, that she doesn't buy the front I'm putting up, but doesn't want to get into trouble.

I'd love to know how you tune into your inner 15-year-old. I'm writing my first YA novel and sometimes find myself writing what I'd love to SEE 18-year-olds do, rather than what they actually WOULD do. Most the time I've got my teenage brain on, but the times it's off it's obvious and I cringe and rapidly hit DELETE...

Ara Burklund said...

Great post, Susan! Agreed to the 10th.

YA encompasses that time when people are discovering who they really are, as well as the realities of the world around them. The emotional highs and lows are just so profound during the teen years (and so important!), I just can't even think about writing anything else.

DebraLSchubert said...

Great post! I just finished my first YA novel (urban fantasy) and I've never had so much fun in my life. (Well, that is if you disregard the middle part where I was trudging through the desert praying for water and looking for a camel to transport me to greener pastures.) I can't wait to read "The Weirdest Thing About Jenna" - sounds like fun and I love the title! ;-)

Dee said...

Great post, especially the part about "masks for different situations." While I think teens adopt all kinds of masks, I also think they are much more willing to admit it and make changes. Maybe this is one of the reasons YA lit resonates with so many adults... :)

Amethyst Greye Alexander said...

Re: Your comment over at my place

*nods enthusiastically* I know. I thought of something earlier for today, and my brain just keeps chanting the words "Push it!" to help me hold on to it.

Also, I think your comment box is psychic. It wants me to type "Mangi". Isn't that Italian for "eat", or something? How does it know I skipped breakfast?.

Susan Adrian said...

Amethyst: Hee. I love your two-word reply. :)

Courtney: Lady not my thang, exactly. But I APPRECIATE your love, bb. And you see how I'm helping in your plot to rule the world? Good, y? (thanks for the nudge)And also, NO, YOU ROCK.

Alissa: I remember that! And I think it's true. There really is an astonishing number of good books in the YA genre right now. Too many for me to keep up with!

Jo: Nova is FANTASTIC. Wait till you see the interview!

Susan Adrian said...

Jacqui: I love it when people say they want to read my books. THANK YOU!! Hold onto that thought!! And how I channel the 15-year-old? I'm afraid it's usually harder to get the age up to where it should rightfully be. :) But I was an actress first, so I try to be *in character* when I'm writing.

Ara: Yes! Well, I could think about writing other things. I'd love to write a middle-grade for my daughter sometime. But by the time I do, she'll be reading YA!

Debra: When it's fun while you're writing--that is a Very Good sign. :)

Dee: Yes, teens use masks too. But they do seem more open about it, y? Or more aware that they're projecting an image, where adults can fool themselves into believing they ARE that persona.

pseudosu said...

I can't wait to see what's become of Jenna. I wound-up writing YA without knowing it too. I recently reread my first novel (the under the bed one) and know I queried it around as "adult lit." Now reading it, it's like "DUH SUE!"

I guess I'm terminally 15 too. Whateves. (rolls eyes at self)

Deniz Bevan said...

Great post Susan! I agree, we end up writing what we love, and what seems to come from my pen is YA... I'm glad we're finding kindred spirits now even if they seemed scarce back in the day!

Susan Adrian said...

Sue: But isn't it great that we're USING our terminally 15-ness for positive things? :) WIN.

Deniz: It makes me so happy to find kindred spirits, even at this stage. I wish them for all the like-mes in high school now, too!

Anonymous said...

I've always known I WANTED to write YA. I just didn't give it a shot the first go. I could list a zillion reasons why I identify with this genre more than any other...but my favorite one, you already nailed: "the community of YA writers is the best and most supportive group of people I've ever come across.


Kimberly Joy Peters said...

Okay - I admit it - I just found your blog, and am working my way through it, so sorry for the *late* post.

The reason I write YA is the same reason my husband volunteers at Air Cadets and other people teach Sunday School: I got so much out of YA when I was reading it, I feel like want to give back.