25 Things You Should Know About Young Adult Fiction

As always, this is not meant to be my bold-faced proclamations about This Particular Thing, but rather, twenty-five hopefully constructive and compelling talking points and thought bullets about the topic at hand. It is not meant to be gospel etched into stone, but notions — sometimes controversial — worth discussing. Let us begin.

[EDIT: It’s 28, now. Because, reasons.]

1. If You Say The Word “Genre,” I’m Going To Tear Gas Your Mother

Young Adult is not a genre. I hear that often — “the YA genre.” You’re wrong. Don’t call it that. Stop it. Young Adult is a proposed age range for those who wish to read a particular book. It is a demographic rather than an agglomeration of people who like to read stories about, say, Swashbuckling Dinosaur Princesses or Space Manatee Antiheroes or whatever the cool kid genres are these days. Repeat after me: Young Adult is not a genre designation. See? Not so hard.

2. And That Age Range Is…

“Teenager.” Young adult books are generally written for teenagers. I’ve seen 12-18, but really, just call it “teenager” and be done with it. (The age range before it is “middle grade,” which runs roughly from 8-12.) This is where someone in the back of the room grouses about how when he was a young reader they didn’t have young adult books and he read whatever he could get his hands on, by gum and by golly — he read the Bible and Tolkien and Stephen King and Henry Miller and Penthouse and he did it backwards, in the snow, besieged by ice tigers. “In my day we didn’t need teenage books! We took what books we had and liked it! I once read a soup can for days!” I’ll cover that in more detail, but for now, I’ll leave you with this lovely Nick Hornby quote: “I see now that dismissing YA books because you’re not a young adult is a little bit like refusing to watch thrillers on the grounds that you’re not a policeman or a dangerous criminal, and as a consequence, I’ve discovered a previously ignored room at the back of the bookstore that’s filled with masterpieces I’ve never heard of.”

3. Young Adult In Fact Runs Giggling Over Many, Many Genres

Young Adult can be whatever you want. It can be epic fantasy. It can be space opera. It can be (and often is) dystopia. It can be elf romance. It can be funny cancer. It can be ghosts and fast cars and serial killers and Nazi Germany and one might even say that it operates best when it karate-slaps all your genre conventions in the face, when genres run and swirl together like paint and make new colors and form new ideas and change the way you think about stories.

4. It Should Feature A Teen Protagonist

It’s not a completely bizarre thing to suggest that teen books should feature teenage characters. I mean, I guess it’s not essential, but I’m not sure that your book about an old man fighting raccoons in the park — young and sprightly as he may seem! — will really qualify. And here is where Cranky Old Crotchpants in the back says, “Them dang teenagers should read about more than just themselves! Selfish little boogers always stealing my flip-flops!” And here I say, the best thing about YA fiction is that it’s talking to what was once an under-served population: teenagers. It’s not saying, You will buy this book because you’re solipsistic little shitbirds but rather, it’s saying, I will write this book because finally someone’s going to start telling stories about all the things that are happening to you and your friends.

5. This Teen Protagonist Should Ideally Suffer From Teen Protagonist Problems

We write about teens to talk to teens. And you talk to teens by embracing their problems. Teen problems are — well, crap, do you remember being a teenager? Holy fuck was that ever a weird time. High school! Sex! Drugs! Drinking! Parents! First love! First breakup! Bullying! College planning! SATs! Pregnancy scares! The realization that your parents don’t know all the things you thought they knew! Even in a genre-based setting teen-specific problems can be reflected (quick plug for a friend’s book, out today: The Testing gets pitched as The Hunger Games meets the SATs). Young Adult fiction isn’t about selling books to teenagers. It’s about writing books that speak to them. And speaking to them means talking about their problems.

6. Sex, Drinking, Drugs

I mentioned it above, but it bears repeating here: sex, drinking and drugs are part of a teenager’s reality. This isn’t me suggesting every teenager has sex, or drinks, or does drugs — only that it’s there. It exists for them. And some adults may bluster — “Bluh, bleh, muh, not my teenager!” — to which I say, even Amish teenagers deal with this. The Amish. The Amish. So, I’m always dubious of any young adult book that doesn’t at least address one of these three in some way. Not saying they need to be drug-fueled drunken orgy-fests, mind you.

7. The Hormone Tornado And The Unfinished Brain

Read this: “The Teenage Brain Is A Work-In-Progress.” Their brains ain’t done cooking yet. They’re these unfinished masterpieces that are pliable in some ways, rigid in others, and whose emotional and intellectual development is driven by a drunken chimpanzee whacked-out on a cocktail of high-octane hormones. The teenage brain is like, NOW IT’S TIME TO KNOW SHIT AND DO SHIT AND HAVE SEX WITH STUFF AND KICK THINGS AND POUR YOUR HEART OUT AND DRIVE FAST AND AAAAAAAAAAAH. I’m not saying a teen protagonist has to act like a coked-up ferret, but it is important to recognize that the teen psyche is a really strange thing.

8. What Were You Like As A Teen?

Write What You Know is one of those roasted chestnuts of writing advice that fails to tell the whole story — it sounds like a proclamation, that it’s the Only Thing You Should Do, but it’s not. It’s just one of the things you can do. And given that most of the people writing young adult fiction are not themselves young adults it behooves us to not just study teenagers like we’re Jane Goodall or Dian Fossey (“I am hiding in the teenage human’s locker. This locker smells suspiciously of gym socks, weed, Cheetos, and desperation”) but rather to look back our own time doing battle in the Teenage Arena. Rip off the old gnarly Band-Aid and let the memories flow. What were your teenage years like? What did you deal with? Remember! And write.

9. The Prevalence Of First-Person Point-Of-View

YA fiction is often told in a first-person point-of-view. One could intuit reasons for this: first-person tends to be a faster and more forthright read, teenagers often embrace their own first-person narratives (from handwritten journals to, say, Tumblr), teens might be more inwardly-focused than adults. The first-person POV is not a necessity, to be clear — nobody will beat you with a copy of Divergent if you write in, say, close third.

10. The Preponderance Of Present Tense

YA fiction is also frequently given over to the present tense. One might suggest reasons for this: present tense is a snappier, sharper read (more “cinematic” as the saying goes); it also provides a more urgent read; the teen mind lives more in the present than in the past, and so narrative tense should reflect it. Again, present tense is not a requirement, just a frequent feature.

11. Shorter, Punchier Books

You won’t find many Young Adult books that are big enough to derail an Amtrak train or to bludgeon a silverback gorilla. The average Young Adult novel probably hovers around the 70,000 word mark — shorter if it leans away from genre and toward literary, I think. That’s not to say you won’t or can’t see BIG GIANT GALLUMPHING TEEN EPICS, but it isn’t really the norm. Particularly for the first in a series.

12. Pacier, Chattier Books

They also tend to be more quickly paced and with a great deal of dialogue. I’ve read some young adult books that read with almost the spare elegance of a really sharp, elegant screenplay.

13. The Role Of The Adult Character

Adults are rarely the main characters of a young adult book. Why would they be? They don’t have teen problems. They’re witnesses, at best. That said, adults can be the supporting characters (though usually still peripheral to the teen world — teachers, parents, older siblings) and they can certainly be the villains (which is true to the teen mold because sometimes, when you’re a teenager, the adults in your life can be giant, cankerous assholes). What I mean to say is, TEENS RULE, ADULTS DROOL *flushes Dad’s toupee down the toilet and sets fire to the house*

14. The Teens Sound Like Adults

Sometimes the teens you read in young adult books sound like adults. They speak with intelligence and wit. I’ve seen this as a criticism against YA fiction, but hey, fuck that. I write with the assumption that — drum roll please — teenagers are capable of intelligence and wit.

15. But They Should Always Act Like Teens

Just the same, teenagers in your young adult stories are best when they actually act like teenagers. Teens do stupid shit. I look back over my teenage years and it’s like… oooh, oh, wow, yeah, I made some poor life choices. Driving way too fast. Unprotected sex. Disputing authority even when authority might’ve actually been right. Doing things because they seemed “cool” rather than because it was actually a good goddamn idea. I once punched a locker based on misappropriated jealousy (still have the scar). I once accidentally shot a hole in our kitchen ceiling with a .22 rifle. I was once in a car with a friend who tried to circumvent like, five minutes of traffic by driving on the side of the road, thus breaking the car on a giant drainage block. I could probably do a lecture on all the really teenagey things I did as a teenager, and I didn’t even drink in high school (it took me till college to learn the love of the sauce).

16. Riskier Stories

Personal opinion time: some of the bravest, strangest, coolest stories right now are being told in the young adult space. It’s stuff that doesn’t fly by tropes or adhere to rules — appropriate, perhaps, since young adults tend to flick cigarettes in the eyes of the rules and don’t play by social norms as much as adults do. (Though teens certainly have their own social codes, too.) I wish adult fiction so frequently took risks on the material at hand, but it doesn’t. And as a person (relatively) new to the young adult spectrum, I used to assume it was all Twilight: generic pap. But then you read John Green, or Libba Bray, or Maureen Johnson — or holy shit, have you read Code Name: Verity?! — and your eyes start to go all boggly. Amazing storytelling in this realm. Amazing! I’ll wait here while you go read it all. *stares*

17. More “Adult” Stories

Young adult stories are encouraged to deal with some heavy shit when needed. Suicide, racism, misogyny, teen pregnancy, depression, cancer, rape, school shootings, and so forth. Don’t feel like it needs to be all cushy and cozy and given over to some Hollywood notion of what it’s like being a teenager. Sometimes YA books get called “children’s fiction,” which makes it sound like it stars characters looking for their next cotton candy fix while trying to stop the playground bullies from stealing their truck toys. Young adults still deal with some particularly adult things.

18. Very Hard To Compare To Film Ratings

A lot of young adult books hover somewhere between PG-13 and R in terms of how you might translate it to a film rating — but that’s ultimately a broken comparison because of, well, how broken film ratings happen to be. For example: if you were to film The Hunger Games as close to the book as you could make it, it would almost certainly be an R-Rated film for the depiction of violence. Some of the sex in young adult books would similarly earn an R-rating or — given our deeply Puritanical roots — something closer to NC-17 (GASP TEENS HAVE SEX OH GOD BURN THE BRIDGES SINK THE BOATS). The takeaway is, you can get away with some profanity and some sex in young adult fiction — though, I have seen talk of some libraries, teachers and booksellers refusing to promote certain books to teenagers because of edgy content found within. This is, as always, a YMMV issue.

19. Adults Like It

Adults read a lot of young adult fiction, particularly “cross-over” fiction that leans toward the higher end of that teen age range. One might speculate adults like it because it recaptures some part of their youth. Or that adults are frequently not as grown up as they’d prefer these days. Or that they get some vicarious thrill. Mostly, if I’m being honest, I think it’s because of what I said in #13 and #14 — some of the bravest, most “adult” storytelling is happening in the young adult space. They’re gravitating to the quality. Or so I like to hope. At the very least, those who claim young adult books are there to play off of adult nostalgia for the age have never read a young adult book. (“Teen suicide. Remember those good times? Like a Norman Rockwell painting!”)

20. Something-Something New Adult

Now there’s this other thing called “new adult,” which I think is maybe like “diet adult,” or “adult, now with zero calories?” I dunno. My understanding is that it’s maybe just a sexed-up version of young adult? Or that it’s the next age range after young adult for, say, 19-25 year olds? (Soon we’ll be writing books based on your birth month. “THIS BOOK RECOMMENDED FOR THOSE BORN IN JUNE OF 1984.”) I always thought that 19-25 year olds were just regular old adults by then, but maybe I’m that crotchety old crotchbasket on the lawn yelling at you kids to stop trampling his begonias.

21. As Always, Hell With Trends

THE TREND RIGHT NOW IS TEEN MUMMY UTOPIAS FEATURING SPUNKY CHARACTERS LOCKED IN TURBULENT LOVE RHOMBUSES. Whatever. Fuck trends. You can’t really beat trends. You can’t really write to them either. Trends are boring. Write what you want to write and make it as awesome as you can make it. Set the trend instead of following it.

22. You Are Reading Young Adult, Right?

If you’re gonna write it, you better be reading it.

23. Of Waning Snobbery

I was once a young adult snob. I was that old dude on his front porch yelling at the wind — “I don’t need your stinky young adult fictions! I read Ender’s Game when it was just a book and the author wasn’t a homophobic Tea Party sociopath! It’s just a marketing category! I’ll fill your hide with rock salt from my shotgun MARTHA GET ME MY SHOTGUN.” But I think that’s changing. In part because folks like myself acquiesced and actually starting reading what was prematurely condemned. I’m happy to be seeing fewer and fewer essays elsewhere about how YA is too dark or too puerile or how adult fiction is just fine, thanks, shut up — as if the presence of young adult fiction somehow eats away adult fiction instead of contributing to the overall health of a great book market. Go read that Nick Hornby quote again.

24. Teen Self-Publishing Squad

I don’t really know how self-publishing impacts young adult fiction or vice versa. I did self-publish an “edgy YA” (Bait Dog) which did well over Kickstarter and has since sold fine enough since (well enough that Amazon picked it and a sequel up to publish with Skyscape starting next year). Trends have been that teen readers preferred physical books as they did not often own their own e-readers — though, I’ve heard they’re inheriting e-readers now, thus opening them to the digital space more easily. Good for indie publishing types, I think.

25. You’re Not My Mom!

We as adults have a tendency to talk down to children and adolescents. “Eat this. Don’t eat that. Get good grades. If you pee in the pool, the pool filter will release piranha. Don’t do drugs. Definitely don’t steal Daddy’s drugs. If you masturbate too often, your fingers will turn white and fall off.” Don’t do this in your books. These books aren’t lesson plans. You’re not preaching from the Adult-Sized Podium. (This is true of all books, by the way — you should be telling stories while within your audience, not from outside it. I just think the tendency to get all teachy-and-preachy is stronger when writing for teens.)

26. Big-Ass Market Share

The young adult market is strapping and robust, like a young Russian lad thick on borscht and vodka. Last year sales in young adult were up 13%, and up 117% in e-books which is more than twice the digital growth in adult markets — plus, by most reports, young adult fiction yields bigger advances, too. And it’s these bigger advances right now that maybe suggests young adult authors are better leaning toward more traditional publishing than self-publishing (whereas in other areas, like in romance, the reverse may be true).

27. Genres Being Codified

I always poke around the Barnes & Noble YA shelves and I’ve noticed that the big bookstore has begun to lump YA into weird, clumsy genres. What I used to love about that shelf is that it was once just YOUNG ADULT. No “general fiction,” no “mystery,” no “SFF,” just — boom, here’s all the awesome books, please dispense of your genre tropes and judgments. That’s changing. Now it’s like, “Teen Adventure!” and “Teen Romance!” and “Teen Boondoggles With Drugs And Dystopias!” and blah blah blah. I don’t like it. I also don’t like that the shelving seems almost arbitrary, like someone let my toddler do it.

28. Good Story Is Good Story No Matter The Age Range

Young Adult is not just some easy space to jump in and make a quick buck. It’s a place for great storytelling and no matter what the rules are now or what they become for this age range, good story is always good story. I’m not so blindly optimistic to suggest that you can’t lose with a good story (nor would I say you can’t win with a bad one because, well, c’mon), but just the same: put your best foot forward with the best story you can tell. If it’s a story about teens or toddlers or geriatric dudes or koalas or space koalas or teenage space koalas, fuck it: slam your best effort down on the table. Write a killer story. The end.


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188 comments

  • I usually only read YA now. Because that is where I am finding the best stories told with no limitations or boundaries. Brave stories, fierce stories.

    Or it could be I’m still a 16yr old trapped in a 42 yr old body.

  • I used to be one of the people that looked down on YA novels, even when I -was- a young adult. I just assumed it was all “Twilight” paranormal romance crap and preferred sticking with Tolkien, Anne-Marie MacDonald, and Neil Gaiman, thank you very much! But I grew up, and more importantly, matured. And over the past year or so, I have discovered the likes of John Green and Stephen Chbosky, authors unafraid to delve into very adult issues whilst retaining the filter of a teenage worldview. “The Fault in Our Stars” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” punched me in the heart and opened my eyes to an entire new world of literature.

    I want to thank you for writing this article. I wish more people would realize that YA novels are -not- just trend-hopping drivel. Well, most aren’t. They are visceral and real and uncompromising. And not so different from most of the best “adult fiction” novels out there.

  • OK. Great article but (always a but) a couple of points I’d like to make. I’m British and YA hasn’t fully blazed here yet. My question is: are any of these books for boys? In Britain boys don’t read. Now there’s an outrageous statement and not wholly true – but almost. Boys here play video games, watch films and may read the odd graphic novel or war book. Emotion is definitely not their thing (even though they’re surging with it). All the YA novels I’ve seen trailered appear to be for girls.
    Had to smile at your advice to write what you know which is what I’m doing revising my novel, Charybdis. Yes the main character’s in her teens, yes I’m writing in the first person and tense (pleased about that, now I know it’s the ‘in’ thing. But rather than dub it a YA, I’d call it an historical; it’s set in 1964.
    PS: I wrote a book for boys, Tribes. Great response but hard to market.

  • Boys don’t read much here, Anne. To be honest. But maybe if we keep giving them something to read, they will? But the research shows boys are more engaged by non-fiction and will read it voraciously. Makes it a tough spot for us male YA writers. Of course the novel I’m working on is from the perspective of a girl, so perhaps I’m cheating. Then again, girls like reading male protagonists too.

    • Thanks for the response, Chuck. I’ve brought up 3 boys and taught several and you’re absolutely right. Boys like facts – and lists, rather than fiction (as a general rule). They warm to fiction later. So we might be onto a non-winner trying to get them on board in their early years. I certainly found that, if a boy was falling behind with reading, it was best to find him material he was interested in – football, fishing, dragons, whatever – and ditch the conventional reading scheme books in favour of those.

      • Hey! I think, ok, yes, there are more YA books for girls than boys…but have you READ those books for girls? Is the act of reading so inherently valuable that we’d rather have our kids read vapid (and frankly, kind of scary) pap like Twilight and Gossip Girl than play sports and learn about gadgets? If boys’ books of the same ilk exist(ed), they’d be about eating heroic amounts of Cheetos and penis enlargement. I mean, really, does there need to be a ‘boy’ equivalent of an eighty-dollar Brazilian wax and enduring itchy prepubescentile nether bits for the sake of securing a boy’s attention? Or being so in love with someone a hundred years your senior that don’t freak the f*** out when that person sneaks into your bedroom in the middle of the night to ‘watch you sleep’?
        Kids reading stupid books…I’m cool with that. Dragons are awesome, plots that don’t make any sense can be super entertaining, sports are !!! (Quidditch!! Dragon races!! The grease and blood and sweat of football of both types!!!), sex is fun, sex is good, not everybody does it but that’s what books are for, la la.
        But books for ‘boys’ about ‘boy’ stuff…do we really need them? The ‘girl’ stuff is already bad enough.
        I don’t think that ‘boys’ like ‘facts’ any more than girls do. I think perhaps your mindset as to what interests boys is, in fact, limiting their interests. It’s like adults stating that ‘girls’ like ‘boys’ and ‘relationships’ as a general rule and thus we should write a bunch of books that revolve exclusively around those two topics.
        Oh, shit. Already happened.
        How about this: Encourage boys to read. From a young age. About whatever interests them. Before their peers and other gender-normative bullshit kicks in. Encourage girls to read. About whatever interests them. Before their peers and other gender-normative bullshit kicks in.
        At the very least, that way they’ll have gotten into the habit of (hopefully enjoying) reading, even if when the gender-normative bullshit kicks in their tastes skew more towards what they’re being told ‘interests’ a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl’.
        And thanks, again, Mr. Wendig, for the thought-provoking ‘list’ of ‘facts’ about YA fiction. You’re a fabulous example of happily cohabitating norms and exceptions, and hooray for that!

  • I like Robert Cormier’s response to the following question- not sure where this fits into the list, or what my point is posting it!

    Q:
    Why do you choose to write
    young adult novels?
    A:
    I don’t think of them that
    way. When I write I write to the
    fullest of my ability and I
    usually have an interesting and
    intelligent person in mind with
    whom I can be subtle. That person
    often turns out to be 14 years
    old, but that reader can also be
    45.

  • When I began writing I hadn’t intended on writing YA in particular, it just happened. I am 22 myself and I just wrote something that I would enjoy reading myself. I do agree however that most adults read books tarred as ‘young adult’ and enjoy them just as much. I think that with the hectic lives we all lead, people want something that isn’t majorly long or difficult to concentrate on. Nowadays if you want to write a bestseller, target it towards young adults and everyone will end up buying it.

  • This is the best essay defending and explaining YA that I have read, and I read a lot, because there’s never enough to convince people of all the things you’ve listed here, like that it’s not a genre, that it’s not for stupid people, and that it’s not easy. So thank you! Also, you’re awesome.

  • This is the BEST advice I’ve ever had in my life. You’ve calmed me down about whether I was doing ANYTHING right. This is excellent.

    P.S. The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game are two of my favorite series 🙂

  • Chuck, you are an energizing force of YA.

    Thank you for this blog.

    D.M. Cherubim (A writer of at least one Young YA book, or a book written for those who are too young for YA and buy books meant for older kids, just like I used to.)

  • I’m sure someone has already brought this up, because I’ll be honest, I haven’t even remotely looked over the other comments before spewing my word vomit onto your page. While I agree with most of your statements, I have to disagree on the first one. Young adult literature has absolutely become a genre. There are myriad subgenres. The dictionary states that a genre is “a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.” Is that not what young adult is? A characterization of the conglomerate of feeling and issues teenagers and young adults struggle with? Because if you follow your logic, there is the vampire genre in the young adult sphere. That gets incredibly confusing and frankly Twilight is lightyears away from Interview with the (a?) Vampire. So, tear gas my mother all you want but I will stand firm in my belief that young adult is a stand alone genre.

    • Actually, I’d argue there’s a paranormal romance (or urban fantasy) genre in both adult and young adult, and “vampire” tends to be a subgenre of that.

      All that being said, if you want to call it a genre, that’s all good. It’s not like it’s worth fist-fights in the street or anything.

  • I am 16 and, just so you know, I read this post and was horrified. Some of the stuff is good stuff, but honestly, neither I nor any of my friend group are even thinking about drugs or alcohol or sex… none of us are even in relationships! I am, however, thinking about exams, school etc, but I don’t read about exams because I don’t like them. I don’t read about people struggling with exams because I do that myself. Rather, I read to gain new experiences, to learn new things. I love to read historical fiction because I find it amazing that the incredible things that happen in my books actually happened, once. For me, the ideal young adult book certainly features young people (because I can picture myself in their place and ‘experience’ the book better) but it most certainly is NOT set at school, doing the things I do every day. How boring! It would feature a young person like myself doing interesting, exciting things in an interesting, exciting place, so that, when I’ve finished reading, I’ve learned and experienced new things and I have a better understanding of the world, of people and of history.

  • By and large, your arguments are sensible. I am confused, however, because my local library only seems to recognise anything remotely connected to vampires as YA. Nothing else. There are shelves full of Twilight knock-offs. Thinking this to be a blinkered view I took to Wattpad as a potential barometer. That broadened the view but only to the inclusion of thwarted teenage romance (99% from a female point of view) in which the male idol is a werewolf/vampire/shape-shifter/faery/fill in your own mythical beast. Perhaps it is a genre after all?

  • October 7, 2013 at 6:29 AM // Reply

    Would folks be kind enough to recommend their favorite, drop dead-cant miss-keep me reading all 120 pages non-stop- 1 please? You too Chuck if’n you dont mind.

  • Thanks Chuck,
    better late than never, but the book I have just finished (first draft) is a YA book and not for younger kids. You would have thought i’d look that up first, but hey, it is a great story and just wrote itself.
    started the second in series while first one matures….

  • My YA book (possible Saga) only relates with some teenagers (Harry & Alex + Hiding stuff from parents god according to some but ‘dull’ to others) yet the other rules are definite ticks. My Dad thinks it’s really interesting but I don’t know what my theme is. Could you help? P.S. there are around seven different sections this is the first…
    Alex Jones is an twelve yr old who on discovering a plot to destroy London with nuclear weapons is kidnapped and taken to a terrorist base she is forced to kill 38-42 terrorists and escapes into the desert (Afghanistan) She runs for days and is on the verge of death when a patrol finds her, Harrison Reeve a solider who is best known for being the irresponsible joint heir of Reeve industries believes she is an insurgent who is faking near death but an old school friend Ali Baxton recognises Alex and convinces his captain to take her back to the base. Captain Reggie Jobs agrees and Alex falls unconscious. Three days later she awakes and gets to know her three roommates; James Dean a twenty year old knife thrower, Harrison Reeve and Ali Baxton. She talks to Reggie Jobs about what happened at the base and Reggie takes James to find out if she’s lying. Faced with the scenes of death James develops acute PTSD and goes ‘Mad’ Ali turns against Alex but Harry realises what a rough time she must be going through and falls in love with the strong willed twelve yr old. When she returns home she spots a man who gives a well known author a death threat. he turns out to be a contract killer who is angry at being included in the Authors books and has threatened his family. Alex who strangely understands what the killer is saying in Russian convinces him not to kill the Author who asks her to translates on various jobs and strikes a deal with her that meant she may in the future have to help. she does. during the ‘job’ a rival gang (the killer is a member of the Russian Mafia) water board Alex and it changes her. When she is told it was a government official who tortured her she strikes up a deal know as the truce which allows her to work with Yasha Aramov (killer) but also intelligence agencies.

    This is the first book and the theme kind of changes as the books go on.

    • Wow, just wow. And I thought I wrote some weird shit. I can’t believe no one responded to your posting, Fin. Did you ever finish this book? What happened with it? And did you turn it into a saga? I’m not sure what your theme is, either — a problem I have with some of what I’m writing right now, too — but it sure sounds (as your dad said) interesting. I can see a movie or an illustrated movie come out of this. The kind of thing one comes across on the tube at 3 in the morning. And if you’re not on drugs, I’d sure like to know what you’re on since I could use a dose of it. Maybe a small dose.

  • Thanks Chuck. You have reminded me that I was looking for a particular “funny teenage cancer’ novel for a while and couldn’t remember who wrote it. Three simple key words and there it was.

  • Loved your straight to the point descriptions. I laughed out loud at “They speak with intelligence and wit. I’ve seen this as a criticism against YA fiction, but hey, fuck that. I write with the assumption that — drum roll please – teenagers are capable of intelligence and wit.”

    I wrote a book and so many beta readers, critiques, reviewers were trying to shove my book into a “Genre” which I am glad that you stated what I said… YA is NOT a Genre!

    I write to write… not to satisfy a unknown YA committee of people who have defined what YA should be. My book should be fun to read for all ages but will hopefully entertain my kids who I was inspired to write the book for.

  • This blog entertained me and I am now purchasing your books. If you are THIS good of a blogger then I wonder how you deliver as a writer! Many thanks for this post; highly entertaining and informative. Kudos!

  • Please for give the insane length of this reply. I’m a writer; I can’t help it.

    You make valid points, but you also repeatedly contradict yourself and end up proving the point you are trying to argue against. See, I’m the old guy you made a nice straw man of, the one who you keep painting in curmudgeonly tones as if to say, “Shut up grandpa! Go back to the nursing home with all the other old people because young folks have the world all figured out and old people can’t possibly have any insights, and besides, they don’t like reminders that someday they too will be old.”

    I’m also in the process of querying my first novel, despite being “old” (meaning 50s, kids – I get really crotchety when someone who’s 25 calls herself “old”). When I started my book a couple years ago, I barely knew YA existed, and as far as I was concerned I was just writing science fiction. But because my primary characters are teens, I was quickly and repeatedly told that it was YA. Further, it was made clear to me that it would be very tough to sell it as adult sf, for the same reason. So I’d better start reading up on YA. I did. And was unimpressed with what I saw, and, frankly, resentful that the publishing industry was going to make me conform to that.

    You are right about how it used to be. When I was a teen we didn’t read “teen” books. We just read books. Of all kinds. Nothing you say in your post actually argues against that. But you make the mistake of assuming that means us old folks refuse to read YA, which is not the case (although try hanging around the teen section of the library when you’re a middle-aged male and see how well that goes). On the contrary, it’s the current publishing industry that assumes teens refuse to read anything but YA. I’m here to say that didn’t used to be the case, and I don’t think it would be the case now if the industry weren’t seeing dollar signs.

    Then you go on to define YA, and that’s where the contradictions begin. You say YA should feature teen protagonists, and then several other points develop that, emphasizing teen problems such as hormones, sex, drugs, etc. Again, it’s about teens and their issues. But then you say the teens should act like adults in adult stories. Okay, well, make up your mind. Are they teens with a unique perspective or not? I suppose in one way you do capture the unique part of being a teen: you want to be treated like an adult…except when you don’t. You want all the perceived excitement of adulthood, but without the responsibility and, worse, the tedium. It’s always been that way. Nothing new here.

    Ultimately you ask the rhetorical question, what was I like as a teen? The same as now. Like teens throughout time, I assumed the universe revolved around me. But I didn’t have half the bookstore filled with books reinforcing that perception, so I was able to grow out of it pretty fast. I was reading books for adults (see above). Because they had adult stories about characters who act like adults (just like you want). You say YA has “riskier” stories. Riskier than what? Old school children’s books? I’m not advocating a return to that; one of the things I don’t miss about teaching high school is all the moralizing crap in the curriculum. But there’s plenty of risky books in adult fiction. Ultimately, I didn’t need teen books. The industry does a disservice to today’s teens by assuming they do.

    Finally, you say good story is good story, no matter age range. Which undercuts your entire premise. We knew that back then, which is why we read whatever we could get, and didn’t need it to be labeled as being specifically for us. And, unfortunately, publishers may not agree with you. You say YA doesn’t follow tropes and rules because teens reject rules. Well, that’s only partly true. Teens may reject adult rules, but they sure as hell have their own rules, and they enforce them on each other more vigorously than any adults do. And YA publishing is totally driven by tropes and rules. You list a number of them yourself: first person, present tense, shorter, pacier. That’s where old folks like me get they idea they’ve been “dumbed-down.” The publishing industry assumption is that teens won’t read things with a slower pace and development. Otherwise, why would the things you identify be necessary? But they aren’t. My book is on the long side, in third person past tense with four POV characters. I’m the one breaking the rules. We’ll see whether or not that’s an impediment to publication.

    The point is, the industry has created enormous limitations because YA is so profitable, and it’s they who are underestimating teen readers, not people like me. It didn’t used to be that way. And you have offered no argument as to why that wasn’t better.

    • Your reply seemed sort of strange to me. First of all, I never perceived an “old guy straw man.” I saw some self-parody on Mr. Wendig’s part, but no straw man (assuming you’re referring to the informal logical fallacy).

      The publishing industry can’t “make you conform” to anything. They are generally not allowed to put guns to writers’ heads. You generally can write whatever you want. Not sure why you’re foisting responsibility for what you write onto other people…

      I never got the impression that Mr. Wendig assumed that I was not reading YA (I’m in my late 40s). But the fact is, those odd birds do exist who don’t read YA but think they can write AND SELL it (as anyone who’s written a novel knows, writing it is certainly a trick, but selling it is another trick altogether). That’s a little bit like saying, “I’ve never ridden a bike, but i’ll bet I can ride in the Tour de France next week because I’ve driven many cars.” Mr. Wendig would have done the delusional would-be YA writer a disservice if he didn’t say, “Hey. If you’re not reading YA but you’re trying to write it, you might want to read some.”

      However, YOU seem to contradict yourself on this topic, because you admit, “When I started my book a couple years ago, I barely knew YA existed.” And then you learned you had “better start reading up on YA. I did.” And then you say, “But you make the mistake of assuming that means us old folks refuse to read YA, which is not the case.” It looks like you’re saying, “I never refused to read YA. I just didn’t read it. Not because of a refusal, but… uh… those damned publishers put a gun to my head AGAIN and told me not to!”

      Then you say Mr. Wendig contradicts himself when he says “the teens should act like adults in adult stories.” But… uh… are you tripping on LSD? Or did you read a different article from the one I just read? Because Mr. Wendig never said that. In fact, he explicitly said that teens should always act like teens. That’s a direct quote: “15. BUT THEY SHOULD ALWAYS ACT LIKE TEENS”

      And finally, Mr. Wendig’s article didn’t seem to me to be concerned with what was better or worse…simply with what IS. You seem to suggest that he should explain to you why current marketing trends are better than the marketing trends of 1980. But I don’t think that was the purpose of this article. I’m not sure why you thought Mr.Wendig was “repeatedly contradicting himself” and “undercutting his premise.” I didn’t see that at all. What do you think his premise is, exactly? Because I thought he stated it pretty succinctly right off the bat: “As always, this is not meant to be my bold-faced proclamations about This Particular Thing, but rather, twenty-five hopefully constructive and compelling talking points and thought bullets about the topic at hand.”

      So, anyway…those were the things I found odd in your response to Mr. Wendig’s blog, Mr. Gmelin. I figure if you can take exception to Mr. Wendig’s article, I’m free to take exception to your public response to it.

      I found the blog post interesting, although I’m not sure I found anything in it which I was previously unaware of.

    • Robert Paul Gmelin, let me get this straight. You are reading a free article on the internet, written out of the goodness of Mr. Wendig’s heart yet you find it necessary to critique and find fault with it? Boy, for being a “writing” working on his first book, you sure seem to think highly of your opinion. Do us all a favor, do like what I’m sure you tell your grand-kids to do. If you have nothing nice to say, shut the fuck up. Until you have few books under your belt and someone gives a shit about your opinion, keep the snark to yourself. How is that for a dose of unwanted opinions? Freaking Douchbag. Oh, and YES, I AM an author. Got paid for it and everything. So take that in your pipe and smoke it. THANK YOU.
      BTW, Mr Wendig, thank you. Great post.

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