YA is Not Dumbed Down Writing

Yesterday, I clicked on a link to a debut adult romance novelist’s book, and in reading one of the negative reviews, the reviewer suggested that while other people obviously enjoyed the book (most of the reviews were favorable), it wasn’t for her and perhaps better suited to a YA reader.

This made my BLOOD BOIL. It is not the first time I’ve seen adult readers of various novels indicate that YA is a less-than category, not as “good” as books written for adults. Similarly, I’ve seen reviews of YA novels where adult readers quantify their reviews with “For YA, I guess it was good,” and go on to say things like the protagonist seemed immature (yeah, Karen, she’s SIXTEEN and in HIGH SCHOOL, what did you expect??) or denigrating a plot thread because THEY think high schoolers wouldn’t do things the characters do.

As both a high school teacher and a YA novelist, I’m appalled by how people really don’t understand what today’s youth goes through. Most YA authors (and ALL the ones I know, personally), don’t just assume teens have certain behaviors. They RESEARCH. They ask questions of the Twitterverse and on their Facebook statuses. They are sometimes, like me, high school teachers who are in the trenches with teenagers EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Some are parents of teenagers.

YA is not a “lesser” category. Yesterday, I tweeted about my outrage and YA author Sarah Darer Littman replied that it reminds her of the people who always ask her when she’s going to write a “real” book. YA BOOKS ARE REAL BOOKS. I have a classroom library of YA novels three bookshelves strong. And every year, I have the pleasure of replacing books for the next year’s students because some students borrow my REAL YA books and then don’t return them for one reason or another. Their struggles are real. Wanting to read books about teenagers like themselves who are experiencing things they experience is REAL.

Let’s stop looking at YA as the redheaded stepchild of the literary universe, please!

What I Don’t Know

Yeah, there’s a LOT I don’t know about this crazy industry I’m trying to break into. I know it took many novels, taken through many drafts, critiques, and agent queries to finally find a match for the book of my heart – it was the fourth book I put through the submission process, but the only one to get an offer of representation.

And even then, it took a YEAR between signing with my agent and actually getting a polished up manuscript out to editors. That’s where I am right now. Last fall, my agent took my book out on first rounds. As is normal, a few editors passed right away. As of last update, she was still waiting on responses from the rest, and anticipated another round probably now.

I like that my agent doesn’t update me too often on what’s going on with the book, or I’d be more crazy than I already am. I want my baby to find a home. There was a Twitter thread last week talking about how long the process took for various writers. Some agents shared that it took literally YEARS and four to five rounds of submissions to get a deal for some writers.

So it’s all about patience, and working on the next book in the hopes that once book one sells, book two will be on the back burner and ready to go.

But what I really don’t know right now is what I want to be working on next. Sigh.

What to Write

Last year, I participated in StoryStorm. For those not in the know, it started off as a way to generate picture book ideas – the goal being to come up with at least one idea a day during the month of January. I tweaked it, since I don’t write picture books, and came up with more than 30 ideas for both YA and adult novels, which I wrote down in a 3 1/2″ by 51/2″ notebook that I keep in my purse. I still have it and a second one of the same size in which I jot down ideas as they come – and they have been coming lately.

So now my problem is not ideas – I have at least fifty potential story ideas, as well as several partially-written manuscripts I could go back and finish. So my problem now is deciding WHICH idea to work on. (Plus I have a completed novel with revision notes from my mentor/beta reader I could be working as well.) What do you do with a plethora of ideas and no earthly clue where to begin?

I made a goal for myself at the beginning of the year to develop a regular writing routine by April 1. I decided this year that quarterly goals were stronger for me than New Year’s Resolutions. Sadly, so far, I’m not on track to achieve any of my quarterly goals, but I still have five weeks to get something accomplished. I think between today and next week, the last day of February, I’m going to select a project and then spend March developing that writing routine I wanted to accomplish.

Will be nice to be able to say I achieved at least ONE of the goals I set for myself.

When not writing, read.

One of the tips often given to newbie writers is to read widely, especially in the genre you want to write. It’s always important to see what’s out there already.

Fortunately, the category in which I primarily write, Young Adult, especially Young Adult Contemporary, is also one I absolutely love to read. When I scan through Twitter I see book bloggers mentioning a site called NetGalley. Though I wouldn’t consider myself a “book blogger” yet – I do have another blog solely dedicated to YA novels BUT it was inactive for years – I checked out NetGalley on Monday to see how to qualify to get my eager hands on ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of books I could review for my revived site (sharemyya.wordpress.com, if you’re interested).

Imagine my total surprise that when registering for NetGalley, THEY HAVE AN EDUCATOR CATEGORY! I’M AN EDUCATOR!!! So excited was I! I signed up and immediately browsed through for titles I might want to read. And I have been SO pleased each day this week to get an email from a publisher granting me access to the books I’d like to read. I have half a dozen books to read now, while I’m waiting for my writing brain to percolate its ideas.

Reading and writing go hand in hand. While it’s absolutely possible to read without being a writer, it’s much more difficult to be a writer without reading.

So go forth and read! My book blog relaunched on February 1 and a new book is reviewed each Friday. Please check it out!

Blocked

I admit it – I have not been writing.

My manuscript is out on sub to publishers.  I have a completed manuscript ready to revise behind it.  And a third manuscript almost halfway through the writing process.

But I haven’t written much of anything since mid-November.  I didn’t even finish NaNoWriMo last year.

I don’t know what the problem is.  I never used to have a problem writing.  Or making time to write.  But lately, I have a mini-notebook full of potential story ideas, a few online files with notes on potential story ideas, and I’M NOT WRITING.

Just wanted to vent.  Not sure what to do about this (other than write, of course).

Oh my god, I SUCK

Seriously.  I last posted a blog in MAY?

Summer was a blur.  I teach high school for a living, and once June arrives, man, I’m DONE.  Although I did manage to play Camp NaNoWriMo in July, and wrote a really crappy first draft of an adult romance novel.  The good thing about crappy drafts is they can be polished in revision.  Yay, revision!

Wait, did I seriously just say that?  I hate revision.

November 1 is right around the corner.  Like Thursday.  And I’ve been waffling on NaNoWriMoing this year or not.  I have a lot on my plate – in addition to the high school gig, I took on an adjunct professor position at the local community college. I teach ENC 1101 two nights a week (and love it)!  So I have two fewer nights to exercise, rest, and oh, yeah, WRITE.

What I will likely do then, is bend the NaNo rules a little.  I have a WIP that’s about 12000 words.  I may simply shoot for finishing that novel that’s been languishing for a couple of years now.  I love the concept but the plot isn’t coming together the way I wanted it to.  So maybe what I need is to power through, write, as Anne Lamott says, the Shitty First Draft, and then figure out the rest in revision.

I used to think writing was so easy.  The ideas come easy, for me.  Finishing?  Totally another story.  My favorite companion always tells me everything is about discipline.

I suck at discipline.

But sometimes, you need to bust your own ass to get things done, or they remain nothing but dreams forever.

Hello, November – I’m finishing my WIP in you!

Life Gets in the Way

This is a writing blog, but two things happened this week that I really wanted to talk about.  The first is the #metoo movement that spurred Lin Oliver and the SCBWI to shore up their harassment policy, and the second is the Parkland school shooting.

I saw the School Library Journal article in which women finally started naming names of those they were harassed by at various conferences and meetings of SCBWI.  And it hurt my heart.  A couple of the names shared were authors I’d previously respected, whose works I’d read and shared with my students, and one I’d even met and was friends with on Facebook (I unfriended him when the news broke and was backed up by multiple victims, though he staunchly denies it still).  I went back in my head to all the conferences I’d attended, and tried to think of any time in my professional life – as a writer, a teacher, or in the Corporate America jobs I held before teaching – I had felt sexually harassed by anyone.  I couldn’t think of any.  For anyone who doesn’t know me personally, I stand 6’1” in bare feet, and I’m a person “of size.” (a pretty euphemism for clinically obese.)  Perhaps it’s the intimidation factor that kept me protected from the harassment felt by other women.  I’m often told I can be intimidating. And if that’s the case, I’m thankful.  But I stand with all of my fellow SCBWI members who are victims, and I’m glad they finally feel brave enough to shout down their victimizers.

While I was thinking about this, and how I wanted to address it from a personal standpoint, I got a text message driving home after school on Wednesday from a friend in the next county asking if I was okay, as the news was reporting a school shooting in my county.  I live a few miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  The school at which I teach is maybe twelve miles from MSD.  And though I am grateful that I didn’t personally know any of the murdered victims, my heart hurts.  I can’t focus or concentrate.  Because as I just told the few students who came to school today, two days post-tragedy, when it happens in your backyard, it becomes more REAL.  I sympathized with victims’ families of every school shooting from Columbine forward, but in my heart, I don’t think I ever believed it could happen HERE.  And the fact that it not only DID happen here, and at the LAST school in the district you would expect it COULD happen to, makes it a real possibility that someday, I might have to decide whether to defend my students with my own life.

That is NOT anything any teacher should have to do.

I took a Facebook break yesterday because I was getting very angry at people who kept saying gun control wasn’t the problem, mental illness isn’t the problem, and blaming this boy’s actions on the fact that the “system let him down.”  Poor baby was probably bullied, many who had never met this boy declared on social media.  And yet, reports from people who DID know him were AFRAID of him.  Who’s AFRAID of a victim?

I don’t have the answers, and I wish I did.  But I really wish the armchair quarterbacking would stop.  I wish we lived in a country in which we value our children’s lives more than we value the 2nd Amendment and our faulty interpretation of it.  But we don’t, so I will have to keep on doing what I do – trying to care for all my students in the best way I can, and hope I continue to live another day to keep entering my classroom to educate my babies.

Thanks for reading my rambling today.  I’ll go back to writing about writing next time.