YA authors often hear discouraging or negative comments: too much sex, swearing, etc. I've heard it, too.

A BLUE SO DARK: features "rough" language.

PLAYING HURT: features a sex scene.

FERAL: features violence.

But here's one thing I've heard--more than once, more than often--that's great.

Actually, it's incredible:

"I like to read YA books because they just seem more real to me."

I've heard it from teens and young twenty-somethings and even a few readers who could technically be classified as "seniors." I've heard it from teachers. I've heard it from parents.

Once I heard that word, I felt--well--understood. I felt as though I'd done my job.

I also felt as though I had a new goal. Each time I write a book, I ask myself, would a teen call this "real"? I even asked it when I wrote my latest YA, SPARK (which is actually magical realism, rather than contemporary).

If the book doesn't breathe--if I don't think it has a pulse--if I don't think it walks and talks and that main character seems like she could very well be a person walking the streets of my readers' hometowns--it's back to the drawing board.

Whatever the subgenre, from here on out, I'll always be aiming for "real."