Monday, March 7, 2011

The Why

I thought maybe I would talk a little bit about why I started writing YA books.

Not that I'm talking to anybody, necessarily, but it is a strange sort of relief to talk about writing at all, to whomever.

I didn't really read very many kids' books when I was an actual kid.  The summer between fifth and sixth grade, I read Presumed Innocentthe Godfather, and Lolita.  The Christmas before, I'd found my parents' modest collection of Kurt Vonnegut novels.  Of the batch, I'd say it's fair to judge Nabakov and Vonnegut as among my most influential writers from this period, although I also made stops along the way to visit Ken KeseyMr. Burgess, and ye olde Wolfe.  It would be super cool to say I was precocious, but really this is just what my folks read, so they were all laying around and easy to get to...which is kind of the opposite of precocious.  It's a lil bit lazy, point of fact.  Anyway.

I did read some kids' books, but I don't think most of them have very much to do with why I write now.  And I'm not really touching on all of the mystery writers I devoured, either, love them or hate them, or even the things I wished I'd read.  The real point of the matter is that I'd never heard of YA until the advent of the Twilight Juggernaut, and by then I'd been teased for years about my Harry Potter addiction; YA, when it appeared to me, was literally about young adults.  Specifically, the young mothers who worked at the same place I did--women between the ages of 19 and 29--that devoured Edward and Bella at rapid rates, leaving their Parenthood magazines in the dust.  I had to know what they were on about.  After I'd surrendered to reading a 'kid's book,' (the Pots, so we're clear) and lurved it, with all my heart, I wasn't much of a snob any more, so I went to the book store and bought some Meyer.

Now, I'm not going to say my books are good, let alone as good as an international bestseller's (and I'm talking about Mrs. Meyer here, because it would be just blasphemous to talk about being able to do what JK Rowling has done.  And tomfoolery.  And kinda delusional, even).  But...the concepts are simple.  The idea of world-building actually seemed kinda fun, if time consuming.  And I have all these people talking at me in my head anyway--what if I made them stop cussing at each other?

But more than this, I wondered what post-fifth grade but pre-high school me would've thought of Bleh-Cob.  I think I would've barfed on it, if I'd bothered to finish reading the first book.  I'll write about why some other time, and it's not me cracking on the author; at that age my world was full of frightening miracles and heretical questions about why humans do what they do.  I was a gushy romantic, in lots of ways, but I was really invested in my independence, the development of my self, in the greater sense, and what I was going to be and do once I was fully unleashed on the world at large.  Twilight wasn't written for kids like me (although the adult in me liked it fine).  So, I wondered, were there any books that were?

Short answer: yes.  And in spite of the genre name having initially mislead me, 'Young Adult' is a pretty flexible umbrella with literally hundreds of titles I would've lurved when I was, in fact, a young adult.  I saw whole new sections of the book store I'd never noticed before--but the ache to create a story for that ghost self was now there.  The fissure was open.  So I reached into the crack in my chest and started pulling out characters, and eventually whole worlds.  I had to name them, and then they started talking to each other (they always do), and now I have a couple books and a lot more to go before I feel like these folks will be satisfied.  Like I--that tiny fractured bit of the self I was--will be satisfied.

God bless Mr. Konrath for his incredibly helpful and insightful blog, and in particular for naming this cycle by giving B. V. Larson, author of Mech, a platform for this wisdom:   "But I will tell you my guiding light: writing is all about the reader. I never sit down and start out thinking about “what I’d like to write.” I start out with what I’d like to read."

True that. It makes sense to my heart to bring this thing full circle. And I've found that this conversation--the dialog between past and present selves, between different writers, readers, within and outside us--and the massive overlap is fulfilling for me. I suspect a lot of adults currently knee deep in YA first drafts probably feel the same way.

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