Saturday, September 5, 2009

Happy Labor Day!

It's Labor Day weekend - the last weekend of summer.That's a picture of our backyard, and it already looks empty to me.

I'm never sure what to do on holidays like this. I could invite my neighbors over for a barbeque, but they tend to like to catch what they eat from the lake or the woods so I think I'll pass. We'll probably go shopping for school supplies, but none of the schools here tell us what the kids need until the first day of school, which is Wednesday. We try and guess in the middle of the store, big binders? small, vinyl ones? book socks or paper bag covers? It seems like everyone else has these neat lists...

When the kids asked me why we have Labor Day, I told them it was an extra day so they could start their summer reading.

They always remind me I don't really have a job, except a few days a week at the college. They see me writing on the computer, but they associate computer time with fun and socializing.

The weird thing about being a writer is you kind of feel that you don't really have a job, or are part of the labor force because you are usually home when you are writing. Plus, you could always be working. Always. It's kind of like having perpetual homework.

But I feel like we should all probably think about what we do during Labor Day, or something connected to what we do for a living.

In the spring, there was an article in The NY Times that I have thought about for a while now. It talks about the responsibility authors have in choosing what to write about, especially authors who write YA (and probably MG) It's sort of an old question I suppose, but do you think writing about things like cutting, anorexia, shoplifting, all those behaviors encourages it? Or just exposes it? Should those topics be avoided? When we write about drinking or drug use, does it give kids ideas? Or do they just see a reflection of what they already know?

I remember sneak-reading a book (during algebra which might explain a lot) about these two girls who ran away from home and experimented with everything I had never done - or even come close to doing. It was my favorite book for a few months, far more interesting than the Boston adventures of Johnny Tremain. Sin is far more compelling than compliance. That book was a hot topic at sleepovers, yet I still have never done any of the things those girls did.

I don't have an answer to this. I do know that we can't write for the mentally fragile. I also know there is a fine line between avoiding topics and censorship.

In the end, at least for me, I think writing has to reflect what is true. If it's not authentic, it's just not interesting. And when I write, I don't want to feel parental since it's really one of the very few things I do that doesn't involve my kids.

I also know that my answer isn't everyone's. Do you avoid topics that are controversial? or ones that go against your personal beliefs? Do you think what kids read influences them so easily?


storyqueen said...

I think we can only write what somehow inspires us, compels us to write it. Yes, there is great responsibility, but that should lie within every profession I think.

Thanks for commenting on my blog!


Mary Witzl said...

There was a discussion about this on VK's, wasn't there?

I'm of two minds about this issue. Any kid worth her salt can smell moralizing a mile off, so if you write about bulimia or cutting with a 'Don't try this yourself, kids' line, you've lost them. I tend to believe that any kid who is going to try something daft because they read about it in a YA novel would always be able to find a catalyst for dangerous behavior. I've read about kids who flew their own planes and I have no compulsion to try this;

Mary Witzl said...

Eek -- weird -- I don't know why blogger would not let me edit that comment!

I've got a bit in my MG/YA novel about hitchhiking: my protagonist wants to try it, to run away from home. I've tried to work in a subtle 'It's not safe' line, but I still think that kids who are determined to try this won't do so merely because I wrote about it.

When I talked about this with my daughters, their take on it was that only truly pathetic poseurs would try to copy dangerous behavior from books.

Anne Spollen said...

Good point, SQ -- every profession needs to be responsible. I think it's put more to writers since we are involved with kids.

Blogger is occasionally haunted, Mary. Certain blogs it won't let me comment on at all.

Probably there are discussions all over the place on this b/c it's from May...but it always seems to come up again.

I think if kids are going to hitchhike, they will whether we tell them it's safe or not. But sometimes I wonder if kids aren't learning behavior (cutting, bulimia) from reading about their characters.

The older I get, the less simple it's becoming to make a decision...

Carrie Harris said...

At my first job out of college, I ran teen risk behavior surveys. One of the saddest parts about it is that teens would tell me about their suicide attempts, drug use, and sexual experiences with pride but would refuse to tell me how much they weigh. But that's completely off topic, isn't it? I think the fact remains that there's very little left for them to learn from books. They've already seen it all, a hundred times over.

So I think that avoiding those topics is doing them a disservice. But I completely agree with Mary that trying to preach to them is a horrid idea. I sometimes wonder if those books do more harm than good.

Katie said...

I have a hard time writing about something that ends up promoting or glamorizing something that I don't want my girls to get into. That may be wrong, but I can't bring myself to do it.

They are always in the back of my mind as my potential readers...

Elizabeth Bradley said...

I was just thinking about this subject today. Do we write honestly, about life and how it really is, or do we write about life as we wish it could be? I gravitate towards realistic stories myself, so that's what I usually write. Not that I write nitty gritty stuff, but I do see people as three dimensional, flawed, and interesting because of those layers. I am not out to write about perfect people. That's just not real. In the end, we have to remain true to our own instincts.

K.C. Shaw said...

I'm not sure about the tricky-topics issue either. I read all kinds of stuff as a teen and I never tried anything I read about, so I want to give kids the benefit of the doubt. Then again, I don't want to encourage anyone.

I guess the only thing we can do is not glorify destructive behaviors but--as others have pointed out--not preach to readers, either. Kids can sniff out a preachy book from seven leagues away.

Anna said...

This is such a tricky topic and I can understand why people might want to avoid addressing certain issues for fear of inadvertently promoting them. I guess it's about writing what you're comfortable with and telling whatever story feels true to you.

It's funny because I tend to deal with dark issues like death in my books a lot, but when it comes to things like sex (and even kissing!) I have a hard time writing about it. For some reason it's just out of my comfort zone. So what's comfortable territory for one writer isn't necessarily okay for another.

Anne Spollen said...

I think everyone is right -- and that's my problem.

Some kids don't get influenced; others might. It's up to us to decide what to include and not include.

I think the game changes when you have your own kids though.