Thursday, August 18, 2016

Out of Touch (Alissa Grosso)

A few weeks ago my sister and her kids came for a visit. They live in Maine, where life moves at a slower pace and things are always just a bit behind the times. One of our excursions was to a local park with a boulder field and as we were traversing the boulders her kids said that it would be great for parkour. My sister said she had no idea what they were talking about. For about five seconds or so I felt amazingly up on things because I actually knew what parkour was. Then I remembered that the whole parkour thing probably hit its popularity peak ten or so years ago and that I was as always someone who is slightly out of touch with things.

My sister and her kids in the boulder field where for five seconds I felt like I was cool.

I haven't watched over the air television in years. I don't think I can tell the difference between any of the Kardashians and I'm not entirely sure who they are. It was only in the past year that I learned that Taylor Swift is not a country music singer. She started out as one, right? (Side note: I don't know a thing about country music, but that's because I'm from New Jersey, where it doesn't exist. By the way, proof that my sister has lived in Maine for entirely too long she has now started listening to country music and tried to convince me that some country singer/band/whatever was actually good. It wasn't.) My mom had a Facebook account before I did, and I only signed up for one because it was supposedly a good way to promote my books. I'm still trying to figure out how it works.

When I found out that this month's topic was on staying relevant, a shiver of fear ran through me. What on earth do I know about being relevant? Have I ever been relevant?

I know YA authors who subscribe to and read teen magazines to stay up on things. I know others who live with actual, live teenagers whose brain's they can pick. Me, I'm relying on the fact that I once was a teenager (albeit an especially uncool and out of touch with reality one) and have read a few books with teenage protagonists. Most of the time I feel like the out of touch Hillary Clinton character that Jenna Marbles played to perfection in her "Hello Young People" YouTube video. (Side note: I feel like I should get some bonus points on the relevancy meter for subscribing to and watching Jenna's channel.) The truth is that I completed a first draft of my first novel (Popular) before realizing that what I had written was technically a YA novel. Think about that for a second, I wrote a whole YA book without even knowing I was writing a YA book. I am literally, the last person to know anything.

My most relevant book? It's gone on to have 3 foreign editions, which is pretty cool, since I didn't even know that I was writing a YA book.

The thing is being relevant doesn't necessarily mean being up on things, because we are now in a Snapchat world (know vaguely what it is, don't have an account) where trends move so quickly that it's next to impossibly for anyone to keep up with all of them, and if you are in the business of writing books for a living, forget about it. The whole book publishing process moves way too slowly to keep up with things. Relevant can also mean timelessness.

There are reasons that we continue to read certain books and watch certain movies decades after their initial popularity. It's because the stories and characters transcend time and are still relevant to those of us living in radically different times. Some of those works even focus on the particular time period in which they were written, make it a vital part of that story and yet still manage to be relevant to today's readers. Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to name a few are writers who perfectly capture a particular time in history while still somehow managing to be relevant to today's readers.

So, there's hope for me, yet. Maybe it doesn't matter that I've never seen a single episode of The Bachelor, I can still write a book set in the twenty-teens that will be relevant to today's (and with any luck) future generations of readers as well.

Alissa Grosso is a the author of the YA books Shallow Pond, Ferocity Summer and Popular even though she has been out of touch with teens at least since her own teens, if not before that. You can find out more about her and her books at


  1. This post makes me feel a whole lot better! I love "Relevant can also mean timelessness." It's so true that we live in this weird space where publishing moves at a snail's pace but we're supposed to also be up-to-the-minute. Also, I am horrible at Twitter. And I lived in NJ and love Maine :-), in the summer.

  2. TOTALLY agree about the "timelessness."

  3. I like what you said about stories and characters transcending time. So true.