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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."
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.)