Grit Lit

Trish Doller's post inspired me here. Thanks, Trish! I absolutely believe that there are exceptions to every rule, and rules can be broken.

Let's face it--writing outside the lines in YA takes guts and thick skin. For me, writing hard truths takes a special kind of commitment. Using the f-word (even once) in my story will alienate some of my potential audience. But I don't set out to offend anyone. I wish I could make reality easier to digest, but that wouldn't be fair to my audience, especially those who have experienced what I write about. What good does sugar-coating or skirting a hard topic do? I know my teen self would HATE me if I did that. So, I put honesty first--even if it risks offending people. Even if it's hard to read. Even if it means I won't get a lot of sales...

There's definitely a backlash against realistic/gritty books. Just look at any banned book list, or the various articles that come out about parents trying to get certain books banned from libraries. Look at what Ellen Hopkins has talked about a couple times now--getting invited to speak and then being told not to come because someone was offended by one of her books. It can get ugly for an author. Really ugly.

But I think those of us who write the hard truths expect that. We go into it knowing we're going to get certain comments. We will get shunned from certain lists or places. We won't be the first person invited to do talks at certain schools. But you know what? That's okay.

Because for every person we offend, there is someone who truly appreciates our work. Maybe they could relate. Maybe they learned something. Maybe they just really fell in love with the characters. But when they put up a review or send an email, you can tell they loved it with every fiber of their being. And--for me-- that makes up for all the backlash. My goal isn't to win everyone over out there--just the few who get it. The few who want to get it. The few who didn't even know they wanted to get it.

So, I'm going to keep on writing what I love. What every part of me wants to write. I've tried to force a book before, and it's never worked. I never...ever...finish it. Maybe the next book will be lighthearted and fluffy. Maybe it'll be another one filled with hard truths. But whatever it is, I'm not going to censor things. I'm not going to do it half-assed. And you better believe I'll be 200% behind it when I try to put it out in the world.

Because that's the key to being an author who pushes boundaries--for me, anyway. I have to believe in what I'm doing. I have to be proud to put it out there.


  1. Hear, hear!!!!! Seriously, couldn't have said this better myself. Keep writing from the heart, Tara! As someone who craved gritty books as a teen because they helped me survive my own reality, what you write is so important!

  2. Thank you, SO MUCH, for this post. This is something I have put a lot of thought into, and this pretty much sums up exactly how I feel.

    Grit Lit is so, so important, no matter the amount of backlash that comes from it. These books have the ability to give people hope about life again, if not just entertain them, especially ones who have gone through traumatic events that are never really fleshed out in society except on cheesy LifeTime movies. (I love those cheesy movies, but still.)

    Experiencing the characters and their situations on that intimate of a level gets intense, yes, but readers in the targetted audience that read it and love it are *so* genuinely grateful. And the ones who have experienced what you're writing about will be even more so.

    Yes, many people will say that they are trash because they are 'super unrealistic', but perspective is everything.

    Great post !!

  3. This was exactly what I needed to read. Fate! I'm an aspiring writer with a teen trilogy in the woodworks. I just had my first three chapters reviewed by a friend of a friend who is published, and she reported back with the reality of censorship: "..definately don't use the word the 'titties'".

    My opening comedic paragraph introduces my hero tied naked to a volley ball pole, a punishment from the ladies themselves for streaking a practice... I was told that this would be the reason, right off the bat, for a publisher to reject my book. Seriously? How is it that MTV can get away with "The Hard Times of RJ Berger" and I can't get away with THIS?

    There's no rating system for books. They're the last media format to have (or not have, rather) a rating system. We can't free our speech without having a way to let audiences know ahead of time what they're getting into. Dividing book genre by age just doesn't cut it. Without a rating system, we're not allowed to write anything offensive. My book? PG-13. There. How hard was that? Now I can write, "Jeff dropped the f-bomb like never before" and now I can write "...he was crudely refered to as 'the fag who hates titties'..." And now I can have him tied naked to a volley ball pole after pulling a streaking stunt... Geesh. What a devil!

    My gentleman hero can't come to life if publishers are going to reject what we, as artists (having our natural intuitive gift to guide us) know what our audiences really, REALLY want.

    I'm not changing my story. I'll find someone to take me on, and fuck if it's going to be scholastic.

    Thanks for relating.

  4. As a reader I appreciate and prefer gritty/realistic books. I always find I can relate to the characters more and their stories seem to get under your skin. So keep pushing the boundaries :)

  5. I think we lose something vital when we self-censor for fear of offending someone. Paranormal and rom com are awesome--great escapes. But sometimes reality is exactly what we need, warts and all.

  6. I second everything Amy said.
    Grit lit is what I live to read. The fluffy/happy stuff might be escapist reads, but these are cathartic. And that catharsis helps.
    There will always be detractors, but for every detractor, there's a somebody who doesn't feel so alone while reading these books.
    Thank you so much for this post.

  7. Thank you so much for expressing exactly how I feel. It's posts like this that keep me going when it seems like everything around me is screaming, "fluff it or it won't sell!"

    Shit happens in real life. We learn how to deal with it through our fiction.

    And I love the term "grit lit." So perfect. :)

  8. Awesome post! Thank you so much! I write realistic YA fiction, and I draw on my experience as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and a person with PTSD as a result. We all know the look on patrons' faces at a signing when they smile and say, "What's the book about?" and I tell them it's the story of a teen girl's recovery from sexual abuse but more than that it's the story of how she starts a new life in a tiny town in Texas.. and they sort of nod and say, "O-o-oh. Well, good luck to you!"
    It's a story of HOPE and LOVE and it's moving and funny and inspiring (at least that's what my readers tell me)...and it's nominated for a 2011 YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers-- so I'm happy to say that librarians recognize what my readers do! ;)

    Beth Fehlbaum, author
    Hope in Patience (and) Courage in Patience

  9. Great post, Tara. I love the term Grit Lit. I shall have to adopt it to my vocabulary.

    I have been accused of being too much of a realist in my "real" life. But that's the way I like it. Served up raw.

  10. Hi Tara! Thia was really great to read; it sounds like we all need support for writing in the face of occasional hostility. Since my first book is coming out I'm encountering these kinds of reactions from reviewers for the first time, provoking a surprising amount of anger--and it's not even realistic YA, but paranormal. (There's a scene where a larval, or toddler, mermaid gets eaten by an orca, and a couple of people have reacted as if I'd personally carved that larva up for sushi.)It's good to be reminded that the work isn't about placating people who are uncomfortable with grit, but offering our own visceral sense of reality (or harsher dreams) to the ones who are looking precisely for that...


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