Monday, February 5, 2018

Lost Love and my YA "Voice"

by Fae Rowen

I vaguely remember my mother's words when she tried to soothe my first teenage love-gone-wrong.
Puppy love. He didn't deserve you. He lives too far away. 

There were a lot more comments ranging from sympathy to aggravation on her part. For my part, I was just miserable.

How did it happen?

I was accepted to a National Science Foundation math program at State Diego State University. The six-week summer course included fifty math students and fifty chemistry students from around the U.S. It was an exciting way to spend the summer between my junior and senior year in high school.

I was in the math program, taking the equivalent of sixteen lower division units and nine upper division units of math and computer science classes from specially selected professors for the program. The female math and chemistry students were housed on the top floor of a dorm at the far end of campus.

The male students were housed in a dorm on the other end of the huge campus. You had to walk past fraternity row to get to the guys' dorm. Since the female curfew was 7 p.m., the chem guys, who had no curfew, visited our dorm. Every night.

Now, I was supposed to be doing tons of homework every night. But the chemistry guys were all so cute, and I didn't ever get to talk to them unless I hung out downstairs in the rec room, which I was happy to do since there was a pingpong table.

Did I mention I'd been playing pingpong every night since my seventh birthday, when my parents gave me a pingpong table for my birthday? We set it up in the living room, and every night I'd lose to my father, who never believed in letting me win at any game.

But I got better. Unfortunately he did, too. Finally I started winning sometimes. By that summer, I was unstoppable. The word spread and every night, there was a line of guys waiting to try to defeat me. That's how I met John.

John was not only a gifted chemistry student, he was on his school's debate team and football team. And he was cute. After a week, he'd be waiting outside my math classroom to walk hand-in-hand with me to lunch and dinner in the cafeteria. When a food fight broke out the third night we were served "mystery meatballs," he shoved me under the table and fought until security broke up the fight. Nothing happened to the high school students, but we all got a lecture in our individual classes the next day.

On week-ends the program took both groups to local points of interest, including the beach. Even though my studies were suffering, I finally got my first kiss. I don't think it was John's.

We promised to write, and we did. That summer, my family vacation came within a hundred miles of John's hometown. I went on a hunger strike for four days, and my father finally caved and agreed to drop me off at John's house and wait outside for no more than an hour. I was so excited.

John's mother opened the door and told me John was at football practice. He wouldn't be home for two more hours. When she found out my dad was outside, she invited him in, and gave us something from the kitchen. I don't remember what it was; I was in shock. I don't remember what they talked about, either. It probably wasn't anything good for John and me.

After an hour, my dad and I left. He didn't lecture or tease me.

John's letter arrived in two days. Full of apologies. In a month he'd be traveling five hundred miles to a college two hours away from me for a debate tournament. Could I meet him there?

I talked my dad into letting me take the car there. Alone.

I watched John debate. He was good. He won the tournament. And it was football season. He looked great. But we didn't have that much to talk about and I drove home, feeling sad. I knew my long-distance romance wasn't going to last.

We wrote-not so often-into our freshman year in college, but we were just friends by then. He told me about his girlfriends; I told him about my boyfriend.

With the wisdom of age and experience now, I recognize the bittersweet feeling of loss. I understand that first blush of love—innocent and laced with boundless hope and excitement.

And that's what I relive for writing my YA voice. I become that girl on the roof of my three-story dorm throwing water balloons at the guys arriving at the dorm. I become the wishful, dewey-eyed innocent wishing for that first kiss—afraid to make the first move because I had no idea what that move should be and, heck, I was a mathematician-in-training. I needed to be able to prove everything was correct.

Young Adult stories are all about the new emotions, the conflicted yearnings, the fears—if you get what you want AND if you don't get what you want. Yes, it's not easy going back to those times and reliving your own feelings. But that's where your own YA voice is. Reminisce. Dust off your teen voice. Your WIP will thank you.

Have you used your own YA experiences in your writing? A riff on them?

Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.
P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, lies, and love.
When she’s not hanging out at YA Outside the Lines on the fifth of every month you can visit Fae at  or


  1. I definitely use my YA experiences in my writing ... and some adult experiences that I turn into YA experiences. It's how we get the best stories, even if sometimes painful ones!

  2. That's the truth, Mary! I didn't realize how much my debut book, P.R.I.S.M., drew on my own experiences until my editor started asking questions.

    1. I had the same experience with my first book, My Invented Life. When I started blogging about it after it came out, I saw the deep down issues I'd been working through!! :-)

    2. It's so true, Lauren. Even when we don't know it, we are "writing what we know" from our personal lives.

  3. I do! The first boy I dated was three years older than me and dumped me after a month just by ignoring me. Whoa! I just kind of realized a break-up plot I've been spinning has some alignment to this!

    1. I bet he's sorry now, Patty! It sounds like you've got another great premise.

  4. YES! That YA voice is there in your own past life...