My NoVaTEEN 2017 Experience

Let’s be honest here: I suck at blogging. It’s just not my thing. Blog posts take a significant amount of effort and I’d rather be spending that time and effort on other things (like on the clicking involved with navigating Netflix, for example). But seeing as my last post was over 6 months ago, I’m going to drop a little something to make this part of my social presence look alive. Just because my blog is mostly frozen in time doesn’t mean I’m not around. Catch me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!

Anyway…

On March 11, 2017 the NoVaTEEN book festival took place in Arlington, Virginia. I had the pleasure of being one of the many YA authors who participated in the festival. Man, did I fangirl at NoVaTEEN. I’m so impressed at the group of authors that were brought together for this one teen-focused day. I got to meet Jaye Robin Brown, Nina Lacour, Zoraida Cordova, Caleb Roehrig, Rafi Mittlefehldt, among many others.

My NoVaTEEN experience started out with an author visit at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria where I met a group of library staff and a couple groups of students. I got to have lunch while chatting with the teens about all kinds of writerly and queer things. This was also my first experience being mic’d up for a presentation I gave that was filmed by the T.C. Williams a/v crew. An Open Book Foundation also got involved by donating copies of GIRL MANS UP for the students in attendance—how awesome is that?

I had another author visit the next day at Marshall High School in Falls Church. Once again, some excellent library people and a couple groups of teens. We talked about so many things. There were such great questions, and I was so pumped to know quite a few of them had read my book! I took home a stack of thank-you notes from the student and a ton of excellent memories.

This is the first time I’ve been able to interact with teens who read my book. It was a pretty massive deal for me. It’s still quite weird to me when I think about the fact that I’ve written a book that strangers have access to.

I felt like time went by way too fast! I could’ve hung out with the teens and librarians at both schools for an entire day and I still would’ve been chatting away. It was such an enriching experience for me, as a writer of teen fiction, to get to hang out in schools and talk to young people. There are only so many times adults can find themselves in high school again, so I definitely was hyperaware of everything that was going on, observing closely, because these were perfect opportunities to do some research!

I am so thankful to both schools and NoVaTEEN for making these visits happen.

NoVaTEEN was such a well-organized, exciting experience. I have never seen so many teens at a book event! I would absolutely recommend attending and/or participating.

Check out some of my photos!

Teen, YA, New Adult…What?

There’s this thing brewing in the literary world and it’s called New Adult, which is a category of books that really doesn’t exist all that much. The characters of New Adult books would be 18 to…I don’t know, when does adult fiction start? 26? Something like that? According to Wikipedia, the cut-off is 30 years old.

Anyway, after YA fiction, we enter the Dead Years, until books move on to the adult side of thing. It’s all very annoying. For many reasons.

First off, um…life starts at 18. A LOT of learning happens between 18 and 30! That’s 12 years of getting yourself on your feet, figuring your shit out, before you have to settle to boring old, bogged-down-by-responsibilities adulthood. If we think the shit we did as teens was awesome, think of the shit we did between 18 and 25-ish? This opens up a whole other can of “coming of age” worms.

I’m not going to keep listing why New Adult should be legit. It should be. And pretty soon, I’m sure it’ll push its way onto the shelves and end up becoming this crazy phenomenon where all editors and agents are crying for more New Adult titles.

For now, I want to talk about my thoughts on New Adult versus YA. When I first started reading YA heavily, buying it like crazy—which was in the New Adult period of my life, funnily enough, since I started buying all that YA after I turned 18 and I’m 30 and I’m still mostly reading YA—I thought they were just called “teen books.” Teen fiction. TEENAGERS. And then I was like, YA? Young Adult? How are you a young adult before you’re 18? You’re a young adult from 18 to like…26? Again, check out Wikipedia. So…how did the terminology get screwy? I admit that I haven’t done any research on why YA fiction is termed the way it is. All I know is that if things made sense, we’d have TEEN BOOKS featuring teenagers, and we’d have YOUNG ADULT BOOKS featuring adults who are, you know…young.

IF I STAY is a YA novel (which I really liked) featuring teen characters (17 years old). Its sequel WHERE SHE WENT (which I liked even more) would be New Adult since the characters are now 20-21 years old.

Here’s my other thought: Why is YA sometimes too mature? Why does it feature teens who sometimes are so unrealistic in their “adultiness”? Well, sometimes I wonder how many YA books actually feature New Adult stories and characters but since there’s no market for it, they get cast in these high school roles. Some YA books I read have the characters speaking, thinking like people my ago do. Think of how many characters are gazillion-year-old supernatural creatures in these books? They don’t speak like teens; they just have the young, flawless looks of one… Creepy… Anyway, that’s not to sit here and call real teens dumbasses, but come on…they’re teens. Sometimes I wonder if some of our YA stories are “too old” because being YA is the only way they’d find a readership at this point in time. Really, 12-year-olds could be reading some of these stories, except it’s probably the 25-year-olds who are most likely picking up the book, because they probably see themselves in that story more than the twelve-year-old does. They are “young adults” after all…

Recently I read a YA book that left me feeling like the characters were a little simple, a little immature. Sure, there were definitely issues with the writing itself, but mostly, I found the characters weren’t as complex and deep as I would’ve expected them to be. I finished the book thinking, “Wow, what was a little juvenile for my taste…” Then, I started thinking about the fact that these characters were 15 years old. 15. But I wonder if this book’s 15-year-old was closer to the average 15-year-old than some of the YA books out there, who have 33-year-olds masquerading as barely-pubescent teenagers.

Here is the thought that sparked this blog post: Is it that odd that a 30-year-old registered nurse would find a teen novel juvenile? I’m thinking not.

I think that maybe we, we the people in general, like the idea of stories that explore the “new” feelings, feelings of discovery, self-identity, self-discovery–all that selfish shit. And the teen years is a time we all think about and go, “Man, remember when all you had to do was be with your friends, be this angst-filled kid trying to be individual, get yelled at for not doing your homework?” It’s a fact that adults are the biggest purchasers of YA books. Maybe we adults like to get lost in a story about a group of friends who get together and loiter, and fall in love, and drink, and get in trouble—but then when you start having to read about the same group of friends having mortgages, careers, car payments, children, divorce…blah blah blah. BORING.

I’m not trying to shit on YA Lit and get on the “YA is too dark and edgy” bandwagon. Far from it. We have a responsibility, as YA writers, to tell true stories about teens. All I’m saying is that it’ll be interesting to see what happens to the YA Lit community once the New Adult Lit community starts up in a significant way.

Thoughts?

Sick Lit…I mean, WTF?

Man… I really wanna blog about this. I want to sound all eloquent and knowledgeable on the topic and maybe have my blog end up passed around through social media with people echoing all my brilliant thoughts—

Except all I got is, “Wow… WOW. I mean—what? Like…I don’t even—whatever.”

Can I stress the fact that I am not an industry professional. I do not claim to be an expert. I’m just an avid reader of YA fiction, I write it, I love it, I wish I’d had more access to it when I was in high school.

Here’s the gist: An article came out recently, from the Daily Mail (which like, doesn’t mean shit to me because it’s not the Toronto Star, or People Magazine, or the National Enquirer), and basically, it’s the tired old “Young Adult literature is way too dark, and real, and shocking, and oh-my-god-you’re-gonna-give-the-kids-ideas-with-this-stuff, and inappropriate in general.” We did it not that long ago with the #YASaves campaign (and I wrote a blog article about it here).

Now, obviously this debate is going to keep coming back. Duh. I shouldn’t even waste my time blogging about it. Except in this article, the writer brings up several books I’ve read and loved.

First, we have THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green. I read it a few months ago and let me tell you, it was awesome. Kids out there are not only battling psychological demons. Some of them are battling physical ones. I should know—I work with chronically ill and disabled children. In this book, you’ll meet characters who are dealing with the regular teen angst, but also with chronic and terminal illnesses. I mean, can you imagine? Apparently some people don’t want to imagine. Which is sad because, yeah, maybe the book won’t be a completely accurate representation of what a real terminally teen might go through (hello, cancer is just a total waste of a human being with no point), but I would like to think that as a teen, I’d enjoy having the option to pick this book up and maybe gain a tiny bit of perspective, some empathy, whatever. I would also like to think that if I were a kid in the fight for my life, I’d like to be represented in books out there. They’re teens too. Why can’t they be cast in starring roles too?

Next, we have my personal idol, Julie Anne Peters, who isn’t even named as the author of BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, I’LL BE DEAD in the Daily Mail article. I was reading the writer’s sum-up of the book’s plot and I was like, “What? Is that what the book was about?” Because that is not at all what I remember from it. That’s not what I took out of it by the end. That’s like saying Harry Potter is about an abandoned kid who keeps somehow being responsible for killing and endangering everyone around him. Um, miss the point much?

Is it a newsflash that kids contemplate, and all-too-often carry out, plans of suicide? Please. I mean, all I can think of now is this recent shooting in the U.S. and all the blaming that was going on.

Because it all ties in together. You can’t make kids do things. You can’t make them commit all these horrible acts just by talking about them. It doesn’t get implanted and then grow until the kid is walking around like, “Man, I wish I hadn’t read that Julie Anne Peters book because now all I can think of doing it going online and setting a date to kill myself.” The kid who does that was already thinking about doing something. Stop focusing on triggers. A trigger can be anything. Just because you don’t understand violent video games, and think real-life Young Adult literature is shockingly too real, doesn’t mean everyone thinks like you do. What if that shooter was here to say, “I shot all those kids because I was tired of seeing happy families while my own wasn’t happy”—what should we do then? Not flaunt happy families because it’s a trigger?

Why aren’t we blowing a gasket over all the vampire and werewolf teen romance book phenomenon? All these submissive girls, swooning over dangerous bad-boys all because they’re turned-on and also trying to defeat some kind of evil? Because it’s OK as long as it’s not real?

Here’s a paranormal-y romance-y kind of YA for you:

Seemingly ordinary girl with family tragedy meets angry overly-attractive jerk-boy who opens her up to a world of magic and evil. Ordinary girl becomes attractive, boy is still a jerk, but a wounded one so we feel sorry for him. Boy has some kind of supernatural ailment (he’s a vampire, a werewolf) and it’s killing him. Girl must save boy. Big scene. Someone looks like they’re dying. They don’t. The end.

Now let’s strip out the paranormal-y stuff and turn it into a real-life YA:

Girl with self-esteem issues and strained family relationships meets charismatic boy. Girl’s world changes as boy breaks through. Boy is strong but girl realizes something’s wrong. Boy is sick, or boy is crumbling inside and on the edge. Girl and boy try to save each other. Big scene. Someone might die. Someone might consider not dying. The end.

I mean, what the hell? Both are good—albeit for some issues I have with this submissive-girl-and-moody-jerk-love-interest trend. But the bottom line is they’ll both have an audience. They both have merit.

Anyway, it has come to the point where I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore. The article mentions more books I’ve read and enjoyed. It just blows my mind how many adults are shocked at how awful the teen years can be. Parents, I know you don’t want to know what your precious babies might be dealing with, but just ’cause you close your eyes doesn’t mean it’s not still happening. And you know what? The teen years are also most-excellent at times. But, let’s all think back to our most-excellent teen moments…
Were we doing things adults would want to know about? Probably not. The good stuff’s also quite dark and shocking at times. So, it is what it is. All you can do as a writer is try to report the teen experience as accurately as you can.

End rant