Why YA?

My friends and family ask me this question often. Publication has always been a distant goal of mine, but I always thought I’d write picture books. It seemed natural. I taught elementary school for several years. I have a young daughter and young nephews. I have a great appreciation for illustrated text and the gentle honest way of picture books. But, when I started writing for real, with the goal of publication forefront in my mind, I definitely wasn’t writing for young children.

I didn’t do a lot of research into genres or book “types.” In fact, I didn’t do any at all. At that time, the only YA book I’d read was Twilight, and that, we all know, is a very (very) thin slice of the pie. For whatever reason though, the story that was sitting in my head begging to be written was about teenagers. I haven’t looked back since.

There are a million reasons writing Young Adult novels appeals to me, but an innate love of high school isn’t one of them. I didn’t like high school much at all. I was shy and insecure and way too self-aware to have any fun. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a social leper or anything, I had my core group of friends, but I don’t look back at my high school days as glorious. That’s one of the reasons why I like YA so much: writing YA gives me a chance to explore high school experiences that weren’t my own, experiences that were so much more interesting and dreamy and exciting.

And let’s be honest, romance in YA is hard to beat. They’re the events we commit to memory. Holding hands, and make out sessions and first times. They’re the events we look back on and remember, the ones we compare all the others to. Here’s a personal tidbit: when I was eighteen I went to Maui (I live in a rainy Washington town, so you can imagine the joy Maui might bring to a pale, water-logged teenager) and ended up meeting a very cute boy. We hung out for a few days and ended up on the beach one night where we kissed—I kid you not—under shooting stars. Seriously, you couldn’t write a better kissing  scene. I went home the next day and never spoke to him again, but that was okay. It was one of those amazing, memory-making events that’s only cool if you’re still in high school.

It’s is such a weird, unbalanced time. You have so many responsibilities and pressures (grades, jobs, sports, family, college applications, etc), but very little freedom. You’re dying to step out on your own, to make your own decisions, but you don’t even realize how much you don’t know. It’s a time to establish yourself, to set goals, to break out of your mold, to take a stand. And the cast of characters… parents and teachers trying to tether you down, friends who encourage (or pressure) you to be your own person, siblings to fight and compete with. What with the way YA literature pushes the envelope these days, the plot and character possibilities are endless.

Those few years of high school are formative, I think, which is what makes them so much fun to write. They’re the years during which you begin to learn who you really are. Years that you’ll never, EVER want to relive, and yet years you wouldn’t trade for anything. To read Young Adult literature written by authors with enviable, ingrained talent is a privilege. To create YA stories myself is incredibly challenging and rewarding, something I don’t see myself stepping away from anytime soon.

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