I wish I wrote sweet books. I wish I could think of something innocent enough for middle graders. I wish my brain thought in picture books. But I am too verbose to write short tales. I do not write in rhyme. I cannot look at a cupcake or a tiara or a key or a toy and turn it into a gripping tale. I truly admire those who do, but alas, I am not that writer.
I like stories about emotionally tortured young women. Gals who love guys that sort of are and sort of aren’t good for them. Ladies whose behavior gets them the wrong kind of attention. I like to write about girls who are not exactly bad but not exactly good. I like to write about heartache and loss, as well as romance and discovery. My characters laugh and joke and cry and scream. They make good choices and terrible ones. But they are not extreme because I don’t relate to that. The life experiences upon which I draw, and my comfort level for what I’m having characters do, lies somewhere in the middle.
So is my fiction dark and edgy? Light and round? Um . . . not either, I guess.
For a while, I wondered if my work needed to be darker and edgier. When I was trying to find an agent, many represented books about suicidal teens, cutters, drug addicts, and anorexics. Now my source material, Hamlet, isn’t exactly cheery stuff, but my take on it wouldn’t be considered “edgy.” I began to think I might need to write something edgier, but my mind couldn’t go to those extremes. Neither do a lot of teen readers’, I imagine.
I teach middle school, and after fourteen years in the classroom, I know that some kids’ lives can be messed up. Like curl your toes, churn your stomach awful. I also know that some kids’ lives are happy and peaceful. And yet most kids fall somewhere in between. So does their taste.
Some of my students like stories where people are in peril. Some have begged me to find a book where no one dies. (Beginning in 5th grade, this is much harder than you might suppose.) Some like fantasy. Some like non-fiction. Some like romance. Some think kissing is gross. And you know what? There are books for all of them.
It’s easy to think that the only fiction around is what’s on the best seller’s list or what is featured in chain bookstores. [The fact that there’s a whole section called “Paranormal Romance” still amazes me.] But scratch below that surface and there is great variety in literature. Earlier, I mentioned the phrase “round and light,” and I took that from Jennifer Bertman’s blog (http://writerjenn.blogspot.com). In answer to the supposition that there was nothing but dark and edgy fiction out there, she began asking for suggestions that are not dark and edgy. The list is already large and still growing.
The original article about YA fiction certainly hit a nerve. I think it taps into our fears as writers about what we are putting out there for teens to read, and it makes us ask ourselves if we are doing right by them. At least it did for me. But the thing is: my line in the sands of morality is in a different place than another writer’s. And a parent’s line and a teen’s line will likely be in other places, as well. You cannot please everyone. But you have to be true to yourself and write what you don’t mind putting out there for teens (and tweens and adults) to consume. I cannot write all sweet and light, and I tend not to write all horrific and crushing. I write (and most kids will read) things that fall somewhere in the middle.