Tuesday, April 30, 2019

When Other Writers Crossed the Line (Holly Schindler)


When I was a young reader, I was always glad—relieved, comforted—when a writer had the guts to cross the line.

It wouldn’t have to be some sort of taboo line. It wouldn’t have to involve sex or drugs. The writer didn’t have to be pushing some boundary of decency.

Instead, when I was a young reader, the times I felt as though a writer was being really daring was when they were being unrelentingly, unabashedly honest. When they let characters say (or think) the kinds of things you would never dare admit to out loud.

The very first book I ever personally connected to was THE PAIN AND THE GREAT ONE by Blume. The book’s about a couple of siblings, and the refrain of the book (repeated by each of them) is “I think they love him [or her] more than me.” (The “they” is, of course, their parents.) 

It seems a tiny thing now, that line from a picture book. When you’re little, that statement’s raw and it’s uncensored. It’s true. And the fear that your parents love your sibling more is something you’d never have the guts to admit out loud.

Seeing those words in print—words you’d never dare say out loud—very much feels like that writer has crossed the line. Dared to say something that previously seemed unsayable.

And it’s a powerful thing, knowing someone else has had those thoughts. Knowing you’re not alone in thinking them. It makes you feel connected. Less alone. 

As the years have passed, those are the lines I’ve always paid attention to. No matter what my age. No matter what genre I’m reading. I’m always impressed by authors who have the guts to write those unvarnished truths. No matter how small those truths may seem. I’m impressed by authors who dare to say what previously seemed unsayable. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

I Cross the Line (Brian Katcher)



First of all, I'd like to say that Crossing the Line was my original title for Almost Perfect.

Okay, now I have to mention that in my only published horror story, I did include a graphic description of a man being graphically crucified. No one, to my knowledge, had a problem with that.

On the other hand, in another book I wrote a PG-13 romance between a heterosexual boy and a transgender girl. This is my most challenged book, by far. There was sex, but it was implied, not graphic.

So why do people have a problem with a couple of terrified eighteen-year-olds having their first sexual experience in a college dorm room, whereas they're fine with a a depiction of a doughboy witnessing an enemy soldier die, nailed to a cross, with his eyes gouged out?

I think it's the same reason as the now defunct Walmart.com music download site was fine with lyrics about Eminem murdering his pregnant girlfriend (you can hear her screaming in the song), but bleeped out the word 'vodka.'

We censor sex, but not violence. We're more concerned about bad words than bad deeds. I once lost out on a lucrative summer school contract with an out of state district because the school board noticed one of my books contained one instance of the F word. The same people apparently didn't have a problem with my description of a young woman being violently attacked.

Check out the many reasons books are challenged. There's language, sexuality, LGBTQ issues, disrespect to authority (see: The Hate U Give), etc. But it's almost never due to violent content.

That guy in San Diego didn't have sex with a bunch of people in front of their synagogue on Saturday.

In conclusion, censorship sucks, but I think we're up in arms (whoops) about the wrong things.

And please read my book Almost Perfect, which the Florida Tea Party describes as 'Obscene...possibly pornographic.'

P.S. According to director John Waters, you're allowed to say the F word one time in a PG-13 movie, provided it's used as an adjective or interjection, not a verb. So now you know that.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Crossing the Line to Get It Right by Dean Gloster


Trigger warnings: Difficult parental situation, alcoholism, mental illness, suicidal ideation

When I was fourteen, my mom was enthusiastically drinking herself to death and occasionally babbling about her auditory hallucinations—burglars with clamps climbing the walls. For a while, she was the sole adult in charge. One night, too drunk to stand, she hefted a table lamp and said, “Come here. I’m going to kill you.” I turned down the offer. Mom didn’t raise any fools.


When I was seventeen, my high school girlfriend, the amazing Bobbi M., would sometimes call late at night when she was searching for her dad’s handgun to shoot herself. I would try to talk her through it and give her the suicide prevention hotline number, 800-273-TALK (8255). She never found her dad’s gun, and she safely reached graduation and years beyond that.
But two of our schoolmates, Cindy (a year ahead of me) and Ralph (two years behind me), did not.


I got through my difficult teen years in part by floating through the turbulent parts on a raft of books. I read voraciously to escape and to spend time with stories where the problems could be solved, or at least the protagonists would learn something important in—and perhaps be changed by—their struggle.


Our topic this month is crossing lines in YA, and as usual, I have opinions: We can write about almost anything in young adult books, because our core readers, in high school, are dealing with deep trauma and serious, adult situations—either personally, or by proxy, in people they care about. Magical thinking (if we don’t write about bad things, those things won’t happen) won’t save young people from—or help them process—those experiences.

But because they are facing those real situations, often without good information, we also have an obligation: To do it right. To get it right. To do it as well as we can, and in the process try to do as little harm as practical. And, where appropriate, to mention that there are places teens can get help.


Those of us who have the extraordinary privilege of writing for young people have the most supportive writing community in the world—our competitors root for us and cheer us on and promote our books on social media. Our readers are more open to experimentation and genre-hopping than any other audience. Bloggers and podcasters and librarians and teachers and bookstore people are enthusiastic in getting our books to readers who might like them. But all that comes with responsibilities and a lot of (appropriately) concerned, watchful eyes. Are there hurtful stereotypes here? Dangerous misinformation? Something that would harm impressionable teens?


First, do no harm.

In my formative years, I read some books with terrible content—I still remember startling racism in a Frank Baum Oz book and science fiction from the 1970s that was so misogynistic it fails professional standards in writing. (I don’t know, guys—what if we portrayed the human females as, just spit balling here—human? You know, with realistic motivations, and real emotions? You have met a human female, right?)

So: Crossing lines. Today is my birthday, even though before today I was already my-knees-wish-I-were-younger years old. And as I type this, I keep taking breaks to get news updates on how another 19-year-old white supremacist with an AR-15 has unleashed gun violence in a Jewish temple in my home state.

Our world needs more empathy, and empathy is a byproduct of exposure to good fiction.

Most YA books end with some note of hope, and part of the magic of fiction is that—when it’s well written—we experience the journey intensely, with the characters.

As writers, we have a sacred duty to do the work to make readers' trips real and meaningful. That’s where I draw the line, anyway.



Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” His current novel is about two funny brothers who have to team up with their friend Claire to save the world. It has all the usual Dean Gloster novel ingredients: Death, humor, the question of whether it’s possible to save someone, a love interest to root for, dysfunctional parenting, and a slightly off-kilter sensibility. Also a mergers and acquisitions lawyer dad who is missing 74 percent of his soul.
Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster




Wednesday, April 24, 2019

My personal line in the sand (Brenda Hiatt)


Alissa Grosso already discussed why “Young Adult” is a stupid label (it is) and Patty Blount talked about the disservice we do our readers (teen & adult) when we tell authors (and teens) that their books should stay inside the lines (I agree with her). 

If there's one line I personally try not to cross in my own teen fiction,
that’s making my teen characters act and sound like adults instead of teens. Lately, I’ve heard this complaint a lot—that too much supposedly YA fiction is about teenaged characters whose thoughts, actions and situations bear no relationship to those of most teens, making them hard to relate to. Because a large portion of the YA market is actually made up of adults, I suspect that the books written for that market have slowly been changing to be more relatable to those adults rather than the teens who are their purported readership. Understandable, I suppose. In the indie ebook market, adult readers frequently make up three-quarters of the YA readership, sometimes more. So the temptation to angle the books toward them, instead of real teens, is strong. 

I think it’s important to resist that temptation, and not because of some lofty “we must be true to our genre” ideal. It’s important because when we tilt our “teen” stories to appeal primarily to adult readers, we don’t just alienate our teen readers, we lose—or at least dilute—the very thing that attracts those adult readers to teen fiction. In other words, by trying to expand our market, we risk destroying it entirely. 

Something else that’s being lost along the way are books aimed at younger teens, currently a terribly underserved market. The vast majority of YA books currently being published have main characters 16 and older, right on the verge of leaving high school (if they’re still in school at all). There are very, very few books out there that bridge the gap between MG (middle-grade) fiction, with characters in the 11-14 age range, and YA fiction. What’s a 13-year-old reader to do? She/he feels too old for fiction aimed at 5th-8th graders, but really isn’t ready to dive into “issue” books that deal with the challenges facing older teens. If those readers can’t find books that appeal to them, we risk losing them as readers entirely, which won’t help anyone! This is one big reason I’d love to see an overhaul of the classifications of books for teens. It’s also why my own teen fiction (so far) has been aimed squarely at that younger teen market. 

And—guess what?—I just happen to have picked up an enthusiastic adult readership along the way! 
When my Starstruck series begins, the main character is a young 15, just beginning her sophomore year of high school. Six books and a novella later, she’s jut halfway through her junior year and still hasn’t turned 17. Sure, she faces all kinds of larger-than-normal-life issues, but along the way she also deals with all the normal highs, lows and frustrations of high school. For me, it’s been important to keep these books grounded in the “real life” situations younger teens deal with (or look forward to), even as I spin rather more fantastical science fiction tales. 

I also do my best to keep these books “clean” in the sense of language and situations, while still trying to keep things as realistic as possible. Sure, I know real teens swear and have sex. My characters know this, too, so those things might be alluded to in my books, but they don’t show up right on the page, where they might startle my younger readers (or their moms). I receive a surprising number of reviews and emails expressing appreciation for that forbearance, so there obviously is a need for stories like mine. 

That said, I am in no way criticizing my fellow authors who choose to tackle more mature themes in their teen fiction, with language and descriptions that bring those themes vividly to life. In fact, I very much admire them. We need books that challenge us, that make us think outside the box and confront issues we’d prefer not to face. I’m certainly not advocating that all, or even most, teen books should be aimed for the younger teen market. I just want the teens caught in the middle to have plenty of age-appropriate reads as they mature their way to the older teen books. I’m doing my best to provide my share of those for their enjoyment. 




Monday, April 22, 2019

Outside the Lines, Literally by Patty Blount

When I was just starting out, I got told a whole bunch of DON'TS like:

  • Don't show sex in your young adult novels -- librarians in bible belt states won't stock them. 
  • Don't use profanity in your young adult novels -- Walmart won't sell them. 
  • Don't show marginalized characters in your novels -- they're not your stories to tell. 
  • Don't show violence in your novels -- parents will be worried you'll give their children ideas. 
  • Don't show tough situations in your novels -- parents will obsess over their children's lost innocence


Here's the truth: the more people tell me I shouldn't do something, the more I want to do that something. 

Here's another truth: I think lines should be crossed. 

Here's a story for you... my youngest son, Chris, was about 17 years old the first time he spoke a bad word in front of me. I'd heard both of my sons say some horrible words when they believed they were alone in the house and chastised them for their language. This particular day, he'd gotten his class ring stuck on his finger and while he tried to wrestle it off, muttered a "f*ck." 

Then, his entire body clenched. 

His eyes popped wide when they swung to me and met my own. 

A thousand apologies tumbled from his lips as he started to back away. 

I had a choice in that moment. I could have chosen to be a strict disciplinarian or I could have chosen to understand that there are times when frustration and anger need to be released. 

I let it go. I knew he was out of patience, knew he was losing control of his temper. No one else was around. It was just us. 

There was no harm done. 

We got the ring off his finger and had a gut-busting belly laugh over everyone's reactions to his slip-up. 

He's 24 now and that remains a defining moment in our relationship.

Here's what it DOES not mean. One f*ck does not mean he's a bad kid, a terrible human being, a godless monster. One f*ck does not mean he's a thug, a gang-member, or a law-breaker. 

This, right here, is my problem with the lines people insist we don't cross. If we write sex, hands flail that we're teaching kids that sex is okay. (Newsflash: it IS!) If we write profanity, the hands flail that we're encouraging bad language. If we write violence, we're teaching kids to fight. And heaven forbid we write about issues like abortion, suicide, or drug use. 

Does anyone remember when thinking outside the box became popular? It's become a catchphrase now, but it seemed like you couldn't turn around without hearing that in a job interview, on a TV commercial, or on sitcoms. Everybody wanted to be the person who arrived at some novel solution to a common problem. There's even a highly-celebrated scene in Apollo 13 when NASA engineers had to design a new filter using a bunch of non-related parts already on board the lunar module. Well, novel thinking and devising new solutions to common problems are only possible when we challenge our thinking! 

How can we expect to raise children capable of thinking outside the box if we keep insisting they stay in their lanes? 

What better way to safely cross lines than inside books? I am personally affronted when I heard about books being banned. Angie Thomas's THE HATE U GIVE is brilliant and should be required reading for white people across the nation. Laurie Halse Anderson's SHOUT was recently banned. My own SOME BOYS and SEND were kicked off a local school's reading list because yes, I used the word f*ck in them. I had one mid-west librarian send me a strongly worded message that started with "What were you thinking?" 

I was thinking that pretending issues like drug abuse, gangs, teen pregnancy, bullying, and suicide DON'T actually exist does a disservice to my readers. I was thinking that writing about such issues in thoughtful ways that show the risks, show the healing, show the growth from those who lived through them, are all teachable moments. 

But you have to sway a bit out of your lane to grasp them. 




Thursday, April 18, 2019

Young Adult is a Confusing Term (Alissa Grosso)

There's a lot of confusion about what exactly constitutes a young adult novel, and I think a lot of that stems from the fact that "young adult" is a stupid and confusing term for a category of books. Notice I didn't say genre, because Young Adult is not actually a genre, but more on that in a bit.



By the way as stupid and confusing as the term "young adult" is it's not the stupidest book category name. That honor is reserved for the term "New Adult." For those not in the know New Adult generally refers to books featuring characters in their 20s or thereabouts, but because when the term was coined many libraries and book stores already had a "New" section in their Adult fiction the term "New Adult Books" sounds like it's referring to newly released adult books and not a specific age range.

Anyway back to Young Adult books. They're not a genre, and though some refer to YA as a reading level, that's not quite it, either because the reading difficulty of a book has little to do with its categorization as Young Adult. Instead, the ages of the characters and the target audience are what generally determines whether a book is classified as Young Adult or YA.

There is some debate and disagreement about what that age range is, but the general consensus is that Young Adult books are aimed at 12 to 18 year-olds. So, basically teens.

The terms "teen fiction" and "teen reads" are often used, and, frankly, are better, less confusing terms for these books. Alas, the official term remains Young Adult.



The reason I hate this terms is that with the exception of those at the very highest end of teenagerhood, these readers aren't actually adults. It would make more sense for the category to be named "Old Children." Of course, Teen Books would also work and has a nicer ring to it, but no, we're stuck with Young Adult.

Young Adult sounds like it should refer to maybe 18 to 25 year-olds, or what is presently referred to as New Adult. You would think in an industry so focused on words they could have picked better words for these product categories, but here we are.

By the way, the reason Young Adult is not a genre is because within YA you do have all the genres that you would find in adult fiction. So there's YA romance, YA science fiction, YA fantasy, YA contemporary, etc.

So, what's the difference between, say, young adult science fiction and adult science fiction? Almost always it's going to come down to the age of the characters. While you can have an adult science fiction novel with a protagonist in their teens, you almost never will encounter a YA novel with a protagonist who isn't in their teens. Character age remains the single biggest determinate of whether or not a book can be classified as YA or not.

This can be something of a stumbling block for those that are not too familiar with Young Adult books or who are considering writing YA novels. They assume the product category must come with stricter rules and guidelines. Some mistake it for a sort of rating level, like the book equivalent of a PG or a PG-13 movie rating.



Thankfully (at least as of this writing) books do not come with ratings like movies and video games. That means that subject matter covered and language used, should not affect whether or not a book is classified as YA or not.

Individual publishers and imprints may have their own established guidelines for what can and cannot happen or what language can be used in their young adult books, but the general rule is that young adult has no limits.

Swear words? That's fine.

Sex scenes? That's cool.

Drug use and other illicit activities? Still okay.

A 22-year-old main character? Well, that's where YA draws the line.

A main character who isn't in their teens means that the book likely isn't a Young Adult novel. It's confusing I know because a 22 year-old very much is a young adult, but in the weird literary world Young Adult actually means someone who isn't yet an adult.

In publishing, copy editors are tasked with going through books to fine tune novels and improve their clarity. It's too bad the people who come up with book category names didn't consult a single copy editor before gracing us with the inappropriate term Young Adult. Had they done so, we might not be saddled with clunky names like Young Adult and New Adult, oh, and if not a copy editor the least those category namers could have done was talk with an SEO expert because if you want a real challenge just try doing a Google search for the phrase "new adult books" because I guarantee you the vast majority of the results are not going to be books that fall into that stupidly named New Adult category. At least Young Adult as a category mostly aces the Google test.



Alissa Grosso is the author of 4 YA novels, find out more about her and her books at alissagrosso.com.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Crossing the Line (Jodi Moore)


This month, we’re exploring whether there’s a line in YA, and if it’s meant to be crossed.

Here’s the thing. I don’t believe there’s “a” line.



I believe there are countless lines. Infinite lines. As many lines as there are people and possibilities.

And just as many opinions on what determines "the" line.

What constitutes a line marked with barbed wire for one, may present an enticing invitation to another.

What signifies a terrifying nightmare for one, may expose another person's day-to-day challenge.

What ignites fear and confusion in one, may reveal another person’s salvation.

What's more, crossing a line can indicate an intersection. A place for us to meet.

For readers facing adversity, introducing others who share similar challenges emphasizes they’re not alone. Consequently, it enables those who have not personally crossed a particular line to “experience” situations in a safe way. It fosters understanding. Empathy. Connection.

Of course, not every book needs to, or should, cross a line. Action must never be gratuitous, but rather, should portray the characters in an honest manner, advance the plot and be true to the story’s heart. It must deliver on its promise.

Because sometimes, crossing that line in a book is exactly what someone needs.


Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Line Between YA and Adult Fiction (Maryanne Fantalis)

This month, we're blogging about lines in YA fiction, and as someone who has written both young adult and adult fiction, I thought I'd write about the line between them.

Maybe it's less of a line and more of a wide, ill-defined borderland.

When I started writing Finding Kate, I imagined it as a YA novel. Here's why:

  • Kate is a young, unmarried woman who lives at home with her father and sister.
  • The central conflict of the story concerns Kate's discovery of her true self
  • Kate's relationships are difficult because people don't see her true self, until she meets the hero
  • The inciting incident revolves around Kate getting married (since there was no "dating" in the middle ages, marriage was the primary social focus of young people, as well as their parents)
  • Kate's character arc shows her transformation from an angry youth into a mature woman. 

Thus, the themes and concerns of the book seemed -- to my mind -- well suited to a YA novel.

I really thought this story would speak to young adults.

Turns out, I was wrong.

I spent about two years trying to get an agent for my YA novel with no luck. After attending the Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference, I realized that maybe YA wasn't the right market after all.

Two things convinced me of this.

The first thing was a brief conversation with an agent I respect who said in no uncertain terms that teens don't read Shakespeare and they don't want to read the books that adults buy for them so my hopes for that market were misguided.

The second thing was that as I went around the conference meeting other writers, most of whom were adult women, I got the most enthusiastic reception I had ever received. I kept hearing, "I can't wait to read your book!" Over and over. Everywhere I went.

I started realizing that if adult women wanted to read my book, maybe I needed to write the book for them.

The themes of the story didn't change; they matured. I explored some ideas and some emotions more fully. It became a richer, deeper, longer book than it had been.

Could Finding Kate have been a YA novel?

Absolutely.

What transformed Finding Kate from a YA novel to an adult novel?

I can't point to any one thing. It's not sex or language or even themes. But somehow, the book grew up.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

If Only The Real World Had Such Lines by Sydney Salter

I regret a mention of beer drinking on page two of my novel Swoon At Your Own Risk. Despite messages of responsibility throughout the book, conservative watchdogs labeled it with a warning on various blogs. I'd leave out the drinking reference, which wasn't integral to either plot or character, knowing that too many people try to protect teenagers from unsavory words and behaviors.

Personally, I raised my daughters to read about all sorts of tough issues in the hopes that they could learn without doing. I knew that CRANK by Ellen Hopkins would give them an honest look at addiction. I consistently presented them with books about drugs, sex and gender identity, abuse... Read, so you can learn!

I hate the line in YA. Real life does not have lines.

Real teens get pregnant because they can't talk to their parents about sex or birth control. My oldest daughter shocked her college classmates in New England with the number of teen moms from her high school in Utah (dozens!). Real teens commit suicide because they can't see how to live life as a gay person. Our suicide rate in Utah is way too high because our religious community is way too intolerant.

So much of what I've witnessed among my daughters' classmates and friends would be nearly unbelievable in fiction. I am utterly relieved to have gotten my girls through their teens years.

I hate the line because it leaves too many teens without the information they need to negotiate a complicated world, largely lived online and unknown by the adults in their lives who are always several steps behind even when they try to be vigilant.

After raising two children in a conservative community I feel so strongly that YA writing reflect the reality of being a teenager in the world. Real life is hard and ugly and filled with tough choices. Wanting our children to be protected doesn't protect them. Knowledge is the only thing that can help them make informed choices. Novels that "cross the line" show readers all kinds of possibilities and consequences from all sorts of different behaviors and life choices.

It's too bad that far too many well-meaning adults get up in arms about things like a reference to beer drinking on page two - and miss the main point.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

My Story, My Rules (Mary Strand)

This month, our blog topic is whether there’s a “line” in YA fiction and, if so, whether we should cross it.

In other words: we're talking about S-E-X.

I usually write fairly sweet stuff, relatively speaking, especially in my YA novels.  To the extent I can.

But I tell the story that needs to be told.  If it means I cross a line, so be it. 

In one of my not-yet-published manuscripts, the heroine’s best friend suffers a brutal death (off the page) at age 12.  The rest of the book is set five years later, and that death affects every single aspect of the heroine’s life.  Because of course it would.  In another of my manuscripts, a girl trying desperately to be popular goes way too far (and farther than she wants) with the most popular guy in school.  That book is about figuring out who you are, what you want, and what you’re willing (or not willing) to do.

I cross lines in those books, but I think it’s vital to the story that I do so.

(At this point I simply have to give a shout-out to Laurie Halse Anderson for her novel Speak.  Does it cross lines?  Absolutely.  It’s one of my favorite YA novels.)

My only published YA fiction so far is my four-book Bennet Sisters series, which involves a modern collision with Pride and Prejudice.  Since Jane Austen tended to avoid references to sex in her novels (even when dealing with characters like Lydia Bennet and Mr. Wickham), I think it’d be strange if I veered too far from that “sweet” path in writing about a modern Bennet family.  Just my opinion, of course!
 
But that’s the key: my book, my opinion, my rules.

I once had a Q&A session at a reader event with an audience ranging from age 10 (a girl who’d already read two books in the Bennet Sisters series) to older adults.  A couple of adults asked about “the line.”  Why did I have ANY references to sexuality in the books?  For that matter, why did I have ANY swearing or off-color language?

My answer:  Because it’s true to the characters and the story.
 
Gidget, the sweetest character EVER, was thinking about sex.  You know she was.

I’m writing fiction, but I want it to be relatable.  Real.  Normal.  Girls in their teens are thinking about sex, even ones who haven’t yet experienced their first date, their first kiss, their first anything.  If they have close sisters or girlfriends, they’re probably talking about it, too.

And that’s a good thing.

I was surprisingly shy in my teens, except on a tennis or basketball court or athletic field.  (I got over that in a big way in law school.)  If I wanted information, I sure didn’t ask my mom or dad.  Instead, I often got it from books.  As the seventh kid in my family, I still vividly remember the “mature” novels I found lying around the house when I was 10 or 12.  I read them all.  Sometimes uncomfortably, but I read them.

A favorite mantra of mine: all information is good.  (Yes, even the crap we all find on the internet.)  In a perfect world, sure, teenagers will have “the talk” (or, better, a bunch of talks) with parents or other trusted adults.  But books don’t ask questions or pry or make you squirm or feel embarrassed.  Books are a safe space.  Teens need that.

If you’re a parent trying to monitor what your teenager is reading, good idea.  But I’d suggest you also think back to the books you read in your teens, keep an open mind, and simply talk to your teenagers about what they’re reading.

And chill.  No matter what they read, teenagers usually turn out just fine.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Crossing Lines

by Fae Rowen

I've always obeyed the rules. As a child I told my parents when I did something I wasn't supposed to do. But crossing the line—or several lines—is different. I've always been a boundary pusher. (Please note: The views shared in this article are entirely those of the author.)

Many of the boundaries in the Young Adult genre are there for a reason. Young Adults are, by definition, not yet adults. Experience and wisdom earned by years of life give adults a different perspective on what happens to them, while to young adults, most of the growing up and coming of age trials are present and raw.

When I was a junior in high school, I "really liked" my chemistry lab assistant, a cute senior guy whose best friend lived three houses from mine. I spent too much time walking my dog back and forth in from of my neighbor's house when my lab assistant's car was parked in front—just to get a glimpsed of him when he was leaving.

Was I ready for a sex scene in a book? Not a chance. Was I ready for reading about longing for a boyfriend? Absolutely. But society—and books—are different now.

Sex is one of the big lines in a YA. Books range from no mention of sex to active sex, depending on author and story. In our society, that covers the experience of high school students, even some junior high ones. If you're writing about experiences this age group encounters, decisions about sexuality, whether or not to engage in sexual activities and "how far to go" are topics that some young adults need help with. Ask yourself why it's important to break the rule you're thinking of breaking. Be sure you have a good reason for doing so, because you will be questioned, and judged, for your decision.

Not that YA books are intended to replace family support and values, but for those young people looking for additional possible ideas of how to get through situations or make decisions or deal with the aftermath of a hasty action, sometimes, as an author, you have to make the decision to cross a line drawn by society, an agent, a publisher, or yourself.

Most of the old taboo subjects in YA are no longer out-of-bounds, they're simply treated with the same consideration and thoughtfulness you'd give if you were talking to a young adult of that age. Shock value or detailed how to's don't usually serve a purpose in this genre.

Language can sometimes be a problem. But if you consider the backstory and motivation of your character, you can "get away with" whatever works within the context of the story. Kids have the vocabulary because they hear the vocabulary on television, in movies, social media, video games, their friends and family members. Don't forget about your character's arc throughout the story. Maybe at the beginning of the story he used his colorful vocabulary for shock value or to put people off, but by the end of the story, he's learned the power of language.

Violence has its own set of lines to be crossed. Gratuitous violence, just like gratuitous sex, is rarely a hallmark of good writing. In YA horror, suspense and violence are part of the genre, though many authors tone down the gore for YA audiences.

Should you cross one of the lines? If it makes sense to your story, to your characters and their character arcs, go for it. If you've crossed a hard line, your agent or editor will let you know. If you don't have an agent or editor yet, ask a trusted critique partner or you can pitch or query your story to an agent or editor. You'll receive feedback that will be valuable.

Most important, read in the genre you write. If you are writing YA Romance, read YA romance. Read a lot of YA romance by different authors. Follow your favorite authors to keep up with the trends.

Good luck to you as you navigate through these tricky waters. Remember, it always helps to have a friend in your boat!

Is there a rule you've broken? What happened? 

Is there a rule you're considering breaking? Why?

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. P.R.I.S.M., Fae's debut book, a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, and love is now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.