Tuesday, February 23, 2010

YA and YA Reviews

This is Mazy. She has nothing to do with this post, but she's the only one here right now, so I thought I'd honor her. She likes to watch me type because she believes that if I type enough, my computer will eventually produce a Snausage.

This is the part about YA -

When I first realized that Shape of Water was no longer a short story and was becoming a novel, I thought, "Ok, this is sort of an initiation story." At least that's what we used to call books like Catcher in the Rye. A friend of mine, a little older and a reading teacher, called them "Adolescent Literature" and said they always viewed those stories as one cut above watching tv. In other words, books, but not quite literature.

Yesterday, someone asked me what I wrote and I said, "Mostly young adult." Person nodded. "You mean like the Hardy Boys?"

I had to think a minute. This guy was maybe 35. Weren't the Hardy Boys way back?


YA is its own world now, with certain star writers and publishing houses and agents specializing in it. Sometimes I forget that most of the people around me think that writing YA is akin to playing Dungeons and Dragons, kind of a hobby that my family tolerates as long as I regularly make dinner and occasionally contribute to the light bill.

I'm pretty much used to that. I'm really used to the question, "Did you ever think of writing an actual novel?" (meaning for adults) and I even get that people who ask it don't realize how insulting that question is.

But here's what I'm wondering about - YA reviews. I just read one a woman wrote about a YA novel she finished (not one of mine - and I try never to mention titles). She said the teen voice seemed too mature for her age. I met this reviewer once, and I know she is about my age, has no kids and doesn't work with kids. Hmmm...the protagonist was 16 and I also read that book and teen seemed spot on as far as maturity goes - or at least as far as girl maturity goes. It was a good book. She didn't like it because of the maturity issue.

So maybe the actual readers of YA should write reviews then. There are lots of 14 and 15 year old reviewers. They have shiny, pimped out blogs and lots of stars and exclamation points to prove their enthusiasm. They tend to like the same book over and over (vampires or angsty books) and not like other types (say historical fiction or crime) and they get all their friends to agree with them. I think it's great that 15 year olds have blogs and are reading books, but I'm not sure if 15 is a vast enough age to form valid literary opinions on books that don't speak directly to their lives. And that's understandable.

So it's back to adult reviewers, and that's the problem: do adult reviewers respond to the writing or to the way teens are portrayed? I've never read a lot of reviews, but I have lately mostly because I've been asked to review books. I realized that I respond mostly to writing, and not the story as much, so I'm not going to review books. I think editors would probably be the best reviewers since they respond to story and writing; even better, YA editors should review YA books, MG editors, MG books, etc.

And here's my final YA question. If you don't have kids, or work with kids, or write YA, why do folks read and review it? It reminds me of the middle aged couples who walked around Disney World grumbling about the kids, how they were slow climbing onto the train seats or started crying when the lights went out on a ride. Well, Disney World really isn't for the childless middle-aged couple. There are lots of places for them, but riding the teacups isn't one of them.

I feel more and more like that about YA.

Last night, a high school student emailed me and said she read in a review, "...how you spent your childhood next to a graveyard and wrote a novel about your memories there..." I don't know who wrote that particular review, but it's not true. I lived near a graveyard in my adult life, when the kids were small. I guess the Internet has done away with fact checking.

Then again, maybe I've just had too much coffee. I don't really go by reviews. I read blurbs, and if I like the sound of it, I buy it or borrow it. I tend to go by covers, too, shallow as that is. And sometimes, weirdly enough, if I read a terrible review, I want to read it just to see if it's all that bad. But I still don't know who should review YA - it just seems everyone has an opinion on the genre.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Valentines Day and A Conspicuous Absence of Vampires

The kids are finally back in school for more than one day consecutively, the power is back on, and I just finished reading the first batch of email from readers of Light Beneath Ferns.

Valentines Day here was like something I would edit out of a YA I was writing. Since we were still snowed in pretty much (we could go on the roads, but it was scary cold and really icy), I made cupcakes and got a bunch of decorating stuff for Emma. Or so I thought.

Somehow we ended up on Valentines night with teenagers and a very, very impromptu Valentines Day party. I never thought teens would want to stay in the kitchen with me and Emma, but they proved me wrong. Not only did they make more cupcakes, they mixed icing and used all the sprinkles and hearts. They actually stayed in there and talked to me. I love what they did with the icing:

Of course, Philip had on his hat (you know how little kids like certain things, like belts or bracelets? Philip has always loved hats) Here he is with Emma and friend:

And yesterday I found out I was a paranormal romance writer. I didn't know that. But that's ok, paranormal romance is a perfectly acceptable sub genre. The only thing is, I don't write about vampires. And that seems to be a problem.

It's not that I have anything against vampires, and I'm sure there are good stories out there involving vampires, but I don't write them. In fact, I don't even read them. And if you like them, that's what you like and you should read all kinds of vampire books. Vampires just seem silly to me for the most part.

But somehow, somewhere, LBF got tagged "vampire" and a couple of people bought it and wrote to me complaining that they read the whole novel and there was no vampire. Not one.

They're right; there isn't a vampire in LBF. I'm not sure how books get tagged or who does the tagging, but just in case you are planning on reading it, be prepared for a very pronounced absence of vampires. The kids did talk me into walking in a Halloween parade in a vampire (vampress?) costume, but other than that, I live and write a completely vampire free life.

Maybe it's because I live in the New Jersey Pinelands which happens to be the tic capital of the world. According to the produce clerk at the local Acme, there are more tics here per square mile than any other place in the world. So maybe the whole idea of bloodsucking hits just a little too close to home.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Days and Scientific Inquiry

The big news here is the weather. I'm trying to type as fast as I can as the Internet keeps dropping and the power is blinking on and off. It's kind of like living in post-war London. This is our backyard:
and the view from the table where we usually eat (sort of a breakfast nook)

Of course, the kittens have never experienced winter, but I like their take on the cold and the snow:

The kids are, of course, home. I walked by Emma's room a few minutes ago and heard this conversation:

Christopher: Why do you want me to light a candle for you?
Emma: To see if gum is flammable or not.
Christopher: What would you possibly do with that information once you found out? That's an entirely useless thing to want to figure out.

I didn't worry too much about Philip because he was on Facebook, and at least he was doing something relatively normal even if it is cyber-socializing. Then he sent me this picture:
What is that? It's the Asian version of a baby I would have if my genes were mated with Cami's - one of our kittens. Apparently, there's a Facebook application that does such a thing.

I keep telling myself that spring is really just around the corner.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I don't believe writers when they say they aren't derivative: every writer had basic influences early on that left impressions on their writing style. I read a real lot when I was younger, and I tended to read European authors like Jane Austen and anything by the Brontes. I also read Frankenstein over and over. I didn't understand everything that I read, but since I wasn't required to read those books, they left a more lasting impression on me than say, Johnny Tremain which was required and achingly dull.

Literature seemed pretty tidy in those books. Emotions were veiled and even Frankenstein didn't scare me. Somewhere in my 'tween mind, I got he was a symbol.

Then I read Catcher in the Rye. It was as if I had been slouching around reading and this book made me sit up. He talked about places I recognized, like the duck pond in Central Park. He talked about having panic attacks. He talked about telling lies. He openly talked about not being happy.

I remember telling my English teacher I was reading Salinger. She snorted, "That book is like one long complaint."

Still, I read it over and over. I think I was about 12 or 13 when I read it. I read it again at about 16 and understood a lot more. I even looked up what a field of rye might look like back when you had to use an Encyclopedia Britannica. It pretty much looks like this:

All kinds of things are being said about Salinger now. I don't think he began YA as a genre as a lot of bloggers and interviewees are saying. I'm not sure if he spoke for a generation as that generation is now approaching 100. Maybe he did at the time.

What he did do was write a really, really good book that spoke to teenagers in a way that made them feel connected to someone else through literature.

Pretty much, that's the whole point.