Saturday, June 14, 2014

My YA is My Art

For those of you who don't know, I write.
I am a writer.
I said it.
I sit at my desk. I open my computer. I open a Word doc. I type words.
That is writing.

I also happen to write YA.

I wanted to do a post on this because of an encounter I had with a person who, I will say it now, seemed to be a very overall nice person. Like, solid, averagely nice person. 
This person was also an English major at a certain Ivy League school. I'm not going to outright say what bearing I think this has on my discussion topic, because it might very well not have any. But I'll just go ahead and mention it.
Moving on.
The conversation went a little something like this.

Me: "I wanna write books for kids and teens."

Person: "Like Young Adult?"

*I try to hide my pleasant surprise that this person knew to say Young Adult instead of "Teen" or the infamous "You mean like Twilight, right?"

Me: "Yeah!"

Person: "Oh, there's a lot of money in that."

*I try to hide my immediate displeasure.

Thereafter, I wasn't really sure how to respond to such a comment. My emotions were convoluted by my initial presumption of this person and their knowledge of my favorite category of literature, as well as by this seemingly unoriginal and superficial remark.

Now, I will give this person the benefit of the doubt and mention that it's possible they just weren't into that category and didn't quite know what to say about it. But really, I get that it's not a real insult. I mean, how could anyone who calls a business profitable actually be insulting it?
It's unintentional, is what it is.
But that doesn't mean it doesn't ruffle my feathers.
Like, a lot.
It's just that this person's one teensie little remark shed a common light of which I feel is developing in society. Thank you New York Time's writer Michele Dean with your words:

"It isn't hard to see what has brought us [to the gilded age of young adult literature]. It’s money, plain and simple. I wouldn’t turn my nose up at cold, hard cash either (like Somerset Maugham, I often wonder if the people who speak contemptuously of it have ever had to do without). But let’s be clear that the chase of it guides people into all kinds of misadventures. In publishing, that means hunting down every young person with an aspiration to write a dystopian or fantasy epic. Even if they might not sell 450 million copies (as Scholastic claims Rowling has), the industry is certainly prepared to accept the consolation prize of the 65 million copies that “The Hunger Games” sold domestically."

So that's what it is. This form of literature, due to a handful of recent best-sellers, has been reduced to an alluring sum of numbers, a fat, easy check. Blood money, in Dean's eyes, because of its drowning effect on the overall name of publishing and therefore literature. Dean, a woman, sees Divergent's largely female audience as nothing more than a head count of those who are buying into some illusion of what she has deemed...
I don't really know. I guess what she defines as good literature or something?

But God forbid these teen readers turn into adults! What kinds of crazy, worthless books will hit the best-seller list then? What will become of adult literature? It's a reality Dean must think is worth it's own dystopian best-seller, in trilogy format, of course.
Is there an injustice in this thinking?
I guess I don't really think so.
All I think is that it makes Dean look pretty bad and feeds a counter culture to something that is in nature quite powerful, with an unlimited potential for goodness and progress.
Thank you, Nerdfighters and #WeNeedDiverseBooks and other various movements started in the YA world.
Thank you books, and consequentially writers, that talk about serious issues or write "fluff" and action packed best-sellers that are dang entertaining and actually get teens reading.
Thank you hit films and TV series that adapt these novels and attract all the teens who would miss out on the great books and writers to begin with without that medium in the first place.

Because really, what's the cause of all this?
There is something in these books, these pieces of literature, that attracts these millions of readers and it is what I like to call art.
And I agree that...


Not that we don't discuss it anyway.
But that doesn't make this second statement very true at the core of it all: do not think you have the answers when it comes to art, because just as much as you might, you also might not.

But back to my main point.

People need to stop seeing teens as something merely profitable and start seeing them as something worthy.
As a writer of Young Adult fiction, I have to admit I sometimes fantasize about my book hitting the big time one day: best-seller list, shiny seal of literary approval on the front cover, and, of course, movie deal. But is that really what I think of when I sit down at my computer and open up that word document? No!
I am a writer. I write words and stories and to me they are art. They represent every indelible, dynamic, imperfect piece of soul within me.
In one in a million chances, yes, there is a lot of money in YA. But just because some old folks who've read, like, one John Green book say it is the genre of the idealistic, over-dramatic modern-day teen (because teens throughout the generations have all been soooo unpredictable), doesn't mean anyone should assume that some estimated GDP is the real incentive to becoming a part of it.
Maybe. Just maybe. There is something beautiful and new and truly novel to be discovered.
I dare those people to wait and see.

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