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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Great YA Debate


My fantabulous Agent Kate posted a link to an article on her blog. The article, in short, is yet another rip on the YA fiction industry and all its domains, this time focusing on the "uselessness" of conferences (er, well, starting with the uselessness of conferences and digressing into other things...). Agent Kate also posted her response to the article which was, as expected, dead-on. This, coupled with something else that happened yesterday, got me thinking.

Whilst I was being all archaeological yesterday, the inevitable question came up: "Why are you studying archaeology?" I have a lot of answers to this question.

A) "It's my 6th major. Seemed like a good switch at the time."
B) "The movie Timeline."
C) "I want to find Atlantis."
D) "I need a degree, apparently. Something about getting a job, surviving, food, blah blah blah."

This time, I responded to said question with a combination of A and D. The question-asker, who was an archaeology/science guy who had been in the science side of things for most of his life, asked what I want to do with my degree. I said "Get a job so I can write."

As soon as I said those words, I cringed.

I've learned not to tell people (namely acquiantances) I write. They ask all kinds of questions that I can't answer "properly", and by the end of the conversation, they think I'm crazy and I'm exasperated with them for thinking my life's work is crazy. But yesterday I was tired, sun-soaked, and sweaty, and the answer just kind of popped out of me.

Then came the questions.

Science people: "What do you write?"
Me: "YA fiction."
Science: "YA fiction? What's that?"
Me: *thinks really hard for something a group of science people might have heard of* "Um...like Twilight and Harry Potter."
Science: "What's Twilight?"
Me: *picks up jaw before realizing another reason I love science people* "Some vampire book." *briefly explains Twilight*
Science: "Oh, so you're going to write a book and get rich?"
Me: "Um...no. Not exactly. That's REALLY rare. Like an actor making it big on his first audition."
Science: "So what book are you working on?"
Me: "YA fantasy, based on geology." *thinking they will at least appreciate the humor of my cleverness* "It's about the term 'stream piracy.' Heard it in a class once. Thought it would be funny if there were actually pirates...who, um...who stole..." *voice fades as looks of woa-she's-lost-it grow*
Science: "Stream piracy? Well, um, if you can write about that, you can write about anything."
Me: "Yeah."
Science: "So you're not going to get rich writing books?"
Me: "Um, not counting on it. That doesn't really happen a lot." *makes the mistake of giving examples of people who have gotten astronomical advances* *quickly amends for it by saying that most authors get small advances, then tries to explain how the system works* *stutters explanation because I'm so nervous under their growing confusion* *ends up throwing out some half-baked explanation and closing the subject by asking about an archaeological device*

That's just an example of the types of conversations I've had with many, many people (this was, in fact, one of the much nicer ones I've had). But while I was reading the article posted by Agent Kate, I couldn't help but feel even more exasperated that there are still people out there with such skewed opinions of YA fiction. It's to be expected; for everything, there will always be people who are uninformed about it. I guess I'd just hoped that after the surge of popularity among YA fiction in recent years, there would be slightly more informed people.

Part of it could be due to the fact that I am just really bad at explaining things verbally (speech class = WORST CLASS OF MY LIFE) to those who ask about writing. Part of it could be my incredible lack of patience when it comes to explaining things. But there are certain stereotypes and certain questions that have been proven wrong through the popularity of YA books. For instance, as mentioned in the article, the lack of "sacrifical goodness" in YA fiction. Two words: Harry Potter. Yes, it was about "witchcraft" and we all know witchcraft is the spawn of Satan and just reading about it will ensure our ticket to hell, but every single one of those 7 books had at least one HUGE scene of sacrifical goodness. And good heavens, people; *SPOILER -- though, really? You don't know how this book ends already?* the culmination of the entire series had a Jesus-like ending. *END SPOILER* What's equally interesting is that the author of the article, Duin, considers Harry Potter to be in a separate category in "YA fiction":

"Few are retold classics or heroic tales like "Lord of the Rings" or homespun adventures like "Little House on the Prairie." Very few speak in moral terms in what David calls the neoclassic tradition of the Harry Potter books or Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. Despite the latter's crude anti-Christian propaganda, Mr. Mills wrote, the trilogy does include moving scenes of sacrificial goodness."

Since when is HP not considered to be in the same group as all the rest modern YA fiction? It does stand out for a number of reasons, but if you're going to pick and pull out all the "good books" from the "bad books" then point at the "bad books" and say "WHY AREN'T YOU GOOD??" well...that's a little silly. HP is YA fiction, and YA fiction should be given credit for it.

There's so much more I could go into; that article offers up WAY too much fodder for harping on ignorant folk. But, basically, I'm quite tired of the ignorant put-downs, the snide remarks, and the blank stares of "You want to do WHAT with your life?" I'm tired of having to explain to people that no, I won't get rich like Stephenie Meyer. No, the likelihood of my book turning into a movie is very, very slim. No, my book won't be coming out this year; it'll be awhile longer. Why? Because that's just the pace of the industry.

Let's make a vow. A vow to put to right all the misconceptions of our industry, all the issues that raise eyebrows, all the things that make people snort and roll their eyes and say things like "This is so lacking in moral lessons." Yes, there will always be people with sticks up their asses who will, no matter what, harp on us. But those acquaintances we meet who ask the strands of disheartening questions? Them we can enlighten. So even though I royally suck at verbal communication, I hereby vow to be more patient with those who know nothing of our industry. I hereby vow to take the time to set to right their misperceptions, their questions, their concerns. I hereby vow to tell everyone that I am first and foremost a YA fiction writer, and while it isn't the usual measure of success, it is the measure by which I gauge my happiness, and that's enough for me.

(PS: don't forget to enter my Halloween Candy Contest! You like candy, yes? I thought so.)

16 comments:

BookMunkie said...

Sara, you are rapidly moving up my list of favorite people:) Thank you for your insight on this subject. I'm relatively new to the genre and it never ceases to amaze me how many awkward conversations with the uninformed I have and how many mean comments I get from the non-believers. I tend to get mad, take it personally and want to fight. But I'm quickly realizing that proper education is the best way to go. If that doesn't work, I'm learning to write it off as their loss. Thanks for being awesome!

Mariah Irvin said...

I love Timeline! Especially the part when that guy loses his ear in battle and starts shouting "It's me! It's me!" It was a pretty good book, too.

Trying to explain YA fiction is exhausting, especially when everyone thinks "Ooh, Twilight!" whenever I say I'm a YA writer.

Maybe I should become a science major...

Natalie Whipple said...

You know, you're right. We should educate people instead of pretending we don't write. I love that—and I'm with you, girl.

I get this same thing when people see me draw "Japanimation." And I have to politely tell them it's ANIME without saying the term they used is rather racist. I got made fun of a lot for liking it growing up.

Now I'm an anime drawing, YA writer...you can imagine how little people get me, lol. Lots of explaining. Lots of blank faces. But I shall educate! Rawr!

Donna Gambale said...

Excellent links. What I love is that there is NOT ONE supportive or positive comment on the Washington Post site.

And I also get a lot of doubtful looks when I tell people I write YA. Many people are all like "Ooooooooo you're a writer - that's so cool!" but when they hear YA they're like "You write kids' books?" as if that's somehow lesser. Ick. But I know how awesome the YA genre is, and I'm proud!

Lisa and Laura said...

Yeah, most people don't get YA at all. My mother-in-law still asks me who's going to draw all the pictures for our book. You have no idea how close I've come to saying, "there are no &^%(*&% pictures! If there were pictures it would be a picture book or a graphic novel, but it's not. It's just a novel for teenagers and adults with severe arrested development, like me. Get it?!?

Hayley said...

This, right here, is why I admire you Sara! You are spot on about everything in this post, and I just have say that (well you know my verbal skills are very lacking, and then once I speak I don't shut up...) but I will also try to have more patience with people so I can help put an end so some of this ignorance too.

And your post on Agent Kate’s blog was just as amazing, the writer from the Washington Times obviously has no idea what she's talking about. Especially in today’s society when religion is not the deciding factor of all things, in fact when many people aren’t as exposed to religion as they used to be. "Lack moral lessons" what was she talking about? I've learned more morals from some YA books then I learned from CCD (okay maybe a little embellished but still I learned a lot, and most of it would not be taught in CCD). You covered everything in this post Sara, well done, and I promise to do my part to rid the world of ignorance regarding YA fiction.

Natalie said...

I am so glad I found your blog. I write MG fiction which is sometimes even harder to justify that YA. Sometimes I even have a hard time justifying it to myself. I wonder why I'm not writing something more respectable. But I think my writing is meaningful and I hope my characters exhibit good morals (but not in blatant obnoxious ways).

I get so frustrated by the "Harry Potter is evil" argument too, because yes, Harry is CLEARLY a Christ symbol in the end.

Ugh. Anyway, happy to know you.

sraasch said...

Ya'll are so awesome :)

BookMunkie -- Thanks! It's a good thing you're getting started early; I've been dodging awkward conversations with non-book-people for years. Better late than never, but earlier would probably be easier to change your ways.

Mariah -- Timeline is awesome, isn't it? My archaeology professor assures me that movie is completely accurate. Yeah.

Natalie -- Ooo, you do have a one-two punch, don't you? Both sides will be equally thankful to have their messages spread ;)

Donna -- Haha, I noticed the absence of supportive comments on the article too! It's great to see people getting on her about it; hopefully she takes a step back and changes her attitude.

L&L -- Yeah, screaming profanities has been my life-long struggle. Not that I scream profanities a lot; that I WANT to scream profanities a lot. It's tough.

Hayley -- Thanks :) Patience is a virtue, apparently. One that is ridiculously difficult to attain, but a virtue nonetheless.

Natalie -- I'm glad you found my blog too, teehee! It is hard to justify writing this genre (or MG) sometimes, especially with opposition. But just gotta remember what makes you smile at the end of the day and keep on keeping on!

Whew, so much inspiration! I feel all jazzed up inside!

inthewritemind said...

First off, I am insanely jealous you are studying archeology. That was a passion of mine but I never got to act on it...

Second, I am also really bad at explaining things to people in person--giving speeches terrifies me because I stutter like crazy (I stutter when I'm talking one on one with people).

Finally, I think I will make that vow too--a vow to be patient with people who don't understand the publishing industry. It'll be hard 'cause I'm not patient at all and it's one of the virtues I struggle with, but I will try!

P.S. I'm very glad I found your blog! :)

sraasch said...

inthewritemind -- Don't be too jealous; my major is going to be history pretty soon...that will make number 7. Sigh.

Thanks :) I'm glad to have you on my blog!

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

Hey Sara, you've been SPLASHED by The First Novels Club! Come check out your award:)
http://firstnovelsclub.blogspot.com/2009/10/our-first-award.html

Kate said...

I shall join you in educating people :)

Najela said...

I spent 3 years in the sciences as a Neuroscience major and I took creative writing classes as well. It was really hard to explain why I was doing both. You almost never see science students reading books in class... I think I might have been one of the few.

Najela said...

Ack, I didn't finish. I feel your pain. People don't understand young adults. They think it's like writing books for children, which is something entirely different.

sraasch said...

Kate -- Welcome to the fight ;)

Najela -- It's such a weird crossover, science and writing. I think more math people would be up for reading than science. A LOT more patience is needed in explaining that, no, children's books are NOT YA books.

Najela said...

@Sara- I think it's because reading is so subjective and math is so straight forward. Science can be used in a story especially in explaining things like physics and magic and all that.

A lot of people think that young adult books are strictly for teens too and if you read them, that means you are immature. *sigh* People and their misconceptions.