Confession: Carrie Jones's books were some of the first YAs I feel completely in love with when I first started trying my own hand at the genre. And I am beyond thrilled that she's joining us here today:
HS: You write for all ages, but you started out writing YA. Tell us about some of your YAs.
CJ: Actually, I started writing middle grade, but the first books I published were YA. I know! I know! So wild.
I am terrible at picking favorite YA novels. It always feels like I’m saying I prefer one friend over another or one dog over another. Not that books are dogs! Although, how cuddly would a book/dog hybrid be?
HS: What drew you to YA?
CJ: My natural speaking and writing voice is a YA voice. I love the immediacy of it. I love how brilliant and passionate and exacting teens are. I think it’s the hardest genre to write because you can’t get away with things.
M.T. Anderson said in his 2009 Printz Honor speech that “teen are conspicuously the opposite of bland and blank: They are incredibly eccentric, deeply impassioned about their interests, fantastically—even exhaustingly—knowledgeable. Their commitment to complexity of thought is, if anything, fiercer than an adult’s—because they have to fight so fiercely to defend it.”
How can you not be compelled and honored to write for teens?
HS: As you get farther from your own teen self, do you find it harder to tap into the YA voice? How do you keep it fresh?
CJ: Oh. That’s hard. I don’t contemplate it too much. When the characters come out, they come out as character with attitudes and tweaks and flaws. I almost feel like it’s less about the ‘voice’ and more about the teen mindset, what they care about, that impassioned need to become, to evolve, to be, and to understand that runs through the current of so many young adult novels. It’s more about that than worrying that my narrator ’sounds’ seventeen.
HS: How do you see the genre having changed since your first YA?
CJ: The text right now feels a bit more densely rich—I’m talking sentence structure. Hopefully becoming more diverse in authors and subject matter and narrative structures. YA was very heavily white, written by middle class (and up) able-bodied women and men who went to college and often graduate school. Any increase in a more heterogeneous assortment of story and writers is such a win because it means that teens get to read difference, find empathy and discover worlds that aren’t homogenous.
HS: What’s your favorite YA to read? (When I started publishing, vampires were all the rage. I’ve always had a soft spot for contemporary realism.)
CJ: This is a really hard question for me. I like thrillers. A lot. And I also like those quieter, lyrical novels. I’m really all about extremes, apparently. In my editing work, I read a lot of YA fantasy (of all sub-genres), so I think I’m steering a bit away from them in my pleasure reading.
HS: How has your own YA work changed? Has it changed because of the genre itself? Because of our political climate, etc?
CJ: I’ve always been a bit all over the place when it comes to genre and YA. I’m slowly working on some stories that are a bit more complicated structurally, which are probably going to terrify my poor agent. They are really more call-backs to my first three YA novels (contemporary realism) rather than the YA that allowed me to not live in a car, which was YA fantasy and the NEED series.
I think a lot about Audre Lorde’s quote when I think about writing YA and writing for teens. She has a million quotes of brilliance, but the one that I’m referencing is, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and be eaten alive.”
That’s what’s going on with me and my YA and hopefully the world right now. It’s time for to embrace defining ourselves and leaning into that power of creation both on the page and outside of it. As writers for young adults and kids, we have a responsibility for our stories to resonate with possibility and authenticity.
HS: I’m in the midst of revising and republishing my first YA—have you looked at your own first YA recently? What do you think of it?
CJ: That is so great for you, Holly! I’m so excited that you’re doing that!
For me? Um, no. I have a panic attack if I look at my old books. I’m a bit like Adam Driver. He can’t watch himself on the screen. I can’t hear my words on the page.
HS: I’ve been following you for some time on Patreon, where you’ve published new work across genres. Can you talk a bit about your experience there? What it’s been like writing YA in real time?
CJ: Thank you so much for supporting me there. It means so much to me. Every week not the audio part of the Patreon, I start to choke up because it’s so kind for people to be there on that journey with me.
And the journey itself? IT IS SO TERRIFYING! Yes! That’s in caps. Writing a chapter a week in real time and putting it out there makes me think of my newspaper past and a bit of improv. It’s really vulnerable because you’re showing people how your story develops, warts and all, but it’s also so freeing because you can allow your brain to just produce and produce and produce. If you want to be responsible and get that chapter out, then you have to silence your imposter syndrome or your internal critic or inner editor.
HS: Where do you feel YA is headed? (I mean, you’ve got a crystal ball, right? )
CJ: Oh my gosh. Hopefully to even bigger and better worlds and stories, where we recognize, celebrate and accept stories that we never imagined before. Stories that challenge. Stories that resonate. Stories that are different. Stories that are unafraid.
People always seem to think of big change as a one-time event, but industries and art evolves. Revolutions and evolutions simmer and bubble and don’t just happen on one day for five hours. Progress is like that. I think YA is progressing and it’s becoming more and more a genuine journey towards truths.
HS: Working on any YA stuff now?
CJ: Oh my gosh. Always. I have some paranormals that are pretty straight-forward and a mystery series going on.
I’m working on a couple novels with slightly more complicated structures. One has some fantastical elements woven throughout and is narrated by Love and the other is a bit more of a treatise about entitlement and violence.
That was a horrible pitch, wasn’t it? All my currently published YA and the ones that are coming out super soon are on my website, carriejonesbooks.blog.
Thank you so much for having me here, Holly! I hope you’re own writing (and revising) is going well!