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In Response to I'm Y.A., and I'm O.K. by Margo Rabb

July 20th, 2008 (03:26 pm)
thoughtful

Current Mood: thoughtful
Current Song: Human by Skye Sweetnam

In I'm Y.A., and I'm O.K., an article written for the New York Times, author and journalist Margo Rabb discusses the stigma of YA publishing with many other published authors, including Meg Rosoff, Sherman Alexie, and Curtis Sittenfeld, and shares her own experiences regarding the publication of her novel, Cures for Heartbreak. Margo asked me for my thoughts on the matter, so I thank her as well as Colleen from Chasing Ray for prompting this piece.

There are many adults who regularly drop by the YA shelves of bookstores and libraries, myself included. Some of these adults are booksellers, like me, while others are librarians, teachers, or parents - or simply readers who know a good book when they see one and pay more attention to good writing than age branding. While some bloggers and/or book reviewers are professionals who get paid for the time they spend reading and reviewing books, many book bloggers hold whose day jobs or dream jobs may not be related to novels or the publishing industry at all. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Readers come in all shapes, sizes, and ages.

There are many teens who visit the YA section of the bookstore, then head on over to the adult fiction/literature section. While browsing through novels, teen readers might find themselves standing next to a married couple who share a love of Tolstoy, or a single woman in her thirties who would rather read a book about shapeshifters than a romance, or a grandfatherly type who used to be a schoolteacher. Just like the books they read, adults and teens crossover in the stores, pass by each other in the aisles, and share book recommendations or smiles because they - we - appreciate good books, and whether or not they are the same age, they share that interest. At home, a mother might recommend a book to her daughter that she just read or that she read ten years ago or that she read when she was her daughter's age.

Good books are timeless. Good books are ageless.

We adults who dare to read YA and juvenile fiction often read "grown-up" fiction too. Just because we read "kidlit" doesn't mean we haven't read Austen and Dickens. I've been reading "grown-up" fiction and classics since I was a kid, when I also gladly read everything in the kids department and the teens department. I knew then, as I know now, that there were books written for kids and books written about kids, and while some had the same audience, some definitely did not. I knew that some books had "adult situations" while others were simply labeled as adult fiction because they were published before stores and libraries had so many age and genre divisions and shelving guidelines.

Then and now, I had and still have no problem reading a YA novel and a classic novel back-to-back. I have been known to polish off a new YA book, then immediately pick up The Great Gatsby and re-read that, just as I can read a horror novel one day and a story about the loss of a spouse the next (different kinds of horror, those.) I'll read a classic Victorian comedy on Monday, a futuristic sci-fi YA story on Tuesday, and three modern plays on Wednesday.

My interests are varied, so my favorite books are varied, but one thing they all have in common: goodness. Good writing, good writers, good plotting, good characters (which does not always mean "good guys," but rather well-written and believable), good stories, good storytelling. I don't care whether stories were published for kids, teens, or adults, whether they were written two hundred years ago or two years ago, whether they were bestsellers or not, just as long as they are GOOD.

I know what I like. Anything I've ever liked through-and-through, I still like today. This is not only limited to books, but as this article is specifically pertaining to books, that's what I'll discuss now. I adored Alice as soon as met her, even before she set foot in Wonderland. I thought (and still think) the world of Nick Carraway. I joyfully and (tearfully) followed the stories of Anne Shirley and of Turtle Wexler. I still think Tinker Bell is cooler than Peter Pan.

I've been a writer and storyteller since day one. I always knew I'd write novels for different ages, for all ages. I knew I wanted to write teen fiction long before I actually a teenager. I never thought teen fiction was less important than adult fiction - nor more important than juvenile fiction, for that matter. I never thought classics were more important than contemporary works, just different.

When I finally get a full-length book published, I will be proud to see it on the shelves. I'll be happy when I have published different works in adult fiction, teen fiction, and juvenile fiction, as well as plays, and maybe even non-fiction. I hope that my stories will be found, shared, and enjoyed. When an adult tells me that she or he has read my YA novel, I'll smile.

Comments

Posted by: debbi (d_michiko_f)
Posted at: July 20th, 2008 02:29 am (UTC)

*standing ovation*

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: July 20th, 2008 02:34 am (UTC)

Thank you, Debbie! :)

Posted by: mimagirl (mimagirl)
Posted at: July 20th, 2008 04:12 am (UTC)

Loved your thoughts on this. :) GO LW!

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: July 20th, 2008 04:16 am (UTC)

Gracias. :)

Posted by: Sarah Darer Littman (saraclaradara)
Posted at: July 20th, 2008 04:20 am (UTC)

AMEN Sister!! Brava! Brava!!

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: July 20th, 2008 05:10 am (UTC)

Thank you, dear saraclaradara.

Posted by: lizgallagher (lizgallagher)
Posted at: July 20th, 2008 04:23 am (UTC)

Thanks for the link. This issue is something I'm constantly thinking about, and wish was better explored in a general sense. (For instance, multiple booksellers have told me a very practical reason that they don't shelve in YA and adult -- they need to know exactly where to find the book when people ask for it! They'd have to overhaul their systems, and it seems as if the first move there just isn't getting made.)

I agree wholeheartedly that the way YA books are marketed needs some re-thinking. It's clear that lots of adults consider them simply to be kid stuff, and that makes me sad in part because it looks down on teens -- as if they're not capable of books that might inspire thought, or books that validate the roller-coaster of being a teen. It's as if adults think the YA shelves are filled with Spongebob-esque entertainment. To that I have two words: Book Thief.

When I was lucky enough to correspond with Michael Cart on the question of what makes YA, YA, I came quickly to the idea that he proposed in this article: some kind of crossover area in bookstores/libraries. Still, I'm not sure how that would work, exactly. It would have to be separate from the children's section, that much is for sure.

Interesting how nobody in this article talks about money. I'd venture to guess it's a major reason (sales-wise, and therefore, advance-wise) that a lot of writers would prefer to be published as "adult".

Here's another thing: As a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, let me just say that the world of talented, thoughtful people who are obsessed with writing for and about young people is VERY healthy. And very smart. And we're easy to find, and -- as Sherman Alexie said in this piece -- we support each other (what's a toe here or there?).

I suppose, as a writer who has long seen YA as a good fit for my work, it's hard for me to imagine what the shoes of a writer "thrust" there feel like. I just want to point out that those shoes are stylish, and worth so much -- like Rabb pointed out at the end of this piece.

And, by golly, we should send a collection of YA favorites to the MacDowell Colony!

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: July 20th, 2008 05:10 am (UTC)

Thank YOU for the lengthy response! Oh, you rock.

Logistically, it would be tricky for a large (in size and/or in name) retail establishment to cross-merchandise, placing the same item in two or more sections based on genre or age group. I worked for such places. I tried. Some were more understanding than others.

I think that independent bookstores, used bookstores, specialty shops or libraries, or any place with people who really care and carry a card catalog in their brains (not to toot my own horn, but that's me, hi, how can I help you?*) can handle having books in more than one place, and will understand why books should be in place A, place B, and place C to reach more readers.

* I had a manager who used to call me at home to ask where he could find books for customers. I'm serious. He would call me rather than checking the store's database because he knew I had inventory in my brain and could tell him not only if something was available, but where it was, what it looked like, and approximately how many copies we had in stock.

I love The Book Thief. I was just thinking about that book. (Well, not quite just - More like an hour ago, before I watched some Doctor Who. Another brilliant episode.)

I agree that part of the 'big deal' is about money and marketability - publishing rights, advertising, pre-pub pushes, so many things - not to mention the fact that there are books on the list of adult bestsellers that have teen protags and might not have been bestsellers and/or so "accepted" by adults had they been published in YA. That's another article altogether. I've talked about it before, and I'm sure to talk about it again.

Woo hoo for the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program! (Say that three times fast.) Sure, I've never been to Vermont, but with you and Micol praising it so often, I'll cheer you and them and it on too.

Hurrah for people and brains which as healthy and smart.

Can I say again, as I've told you before, that The Opposite of Invisible captures that age, that voice, HER voice - which you gave her - so well?

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: July 21st, 2008 12:08 am (UTC)

I too hope for more titles with characters in their late teens and early twenties. I have a booklist specifically for stories set in schools, and I noted titles that deal with the transitions to middle school, high school, and college.



(Deleted comment)
Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: July 21st, 2008 12:45 am (UTC)

*grin*

Posted by: jessicaburkhart (jessicaburkhart)
Posted at: July 21st, 2008 02:03 pm (UTC)

I love, love this post. I've already experienced the eye rolls when I tell people that I'm writing MG lit. Ugh. I'll just direct them to this post. :)

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: July 21st, 2008 02:49 pm (UTC)

Thank you! Don't let anyone belittle your work.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: July 21st, 2008 03:13 pm (UTC)
Seems to me...

I just posted about this at my place, but I want to say that I think there are 2 things going on.

One is the reality of the genre-ghetto. It sucks. I hate that I feel the twinge of legitimacy crap, but I do. I'm PROUD to write for kids, but I know what people sometimes think, and in my weak moments I get weird about that.

The other is the marketing issue of Margo writing a book for one audience and getting another. I don't think we can fault someone for being surprised and confused to find her book placed in another camp. Part of this relates to the literary/gnere divide, but part of this was a community issue. That Margo wanted to sit on panels with her friends at book fairs, give readings to adults, etc. I don't think we can fault someone for being confused by a shift in the plan, a shift made by someone other than themselves... I absolutely know what that feels like, and I relate. Though like me, Margo sems happy now with what she got.

Luckily I've doscovered kidlitters are better and more fun, so it all works out!!

I guess I'm saying that some of the people upset byt the essay are mad at the reality of the genre divide, and might want to see that Margo is simply indicating something they don't like. She's not an ant-YA person herself by a long shot.

I loved the intelligence and nuance of this post.

:)

xoL
http://laurelsnyder.com

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: July 22nd, 2008 03:33 am (UTC)
Re: Seems to me...

I'm proud of writing and reading YA as well.

It must be weird to have written for A and then be published in B, no matter what A and B are, adult then teen, teen then adult, juvenile then adult - Hopefully, wherever the book ends up, the story stays the author's story, that the actual pages contain the words and the tale they wanted to write, that nothing gets sacrificed in the shuffle. The play's the thing - the story's the thing.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: July 22nd, 2008 01:43 pm (UTC)

What a refreshing reminder for us to stop erecting borders.

What you write here reminds me of a Duke Ellington quote: "There are only two kinds of music - good and bad."

Jules, 7-Imp

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: July 22nd, 2008 02:49 pm (UTC)

Thank you! The only time I make borders is when doodling stationery or web graphics. :)

Oh, I've thought of another: when I was five and working with my castle Legos. Those were fun.

I hadn't heard that quote before!

Posted by: leigh_purtill (leigh_purtill)
Posted at: July 23rd, 2008 04:39 pm (UTC)

A very thoughtful post, LW. When I read the original article, I felt the same frustration that Margo and the other writers discussed: it's disheartening to hear people degrade your books as "lesser" after you've spent years writing them and struggled to get them published (and publishing YA is no easier than adult fiction). Altho I never set out to write YA either, I'm very proud of my books and the shelf on which they reside. Since entering the genre, I have discovered some absolutely amazing writers, none of whom write any less well or sophisticated than "grown-up" writers. I also completely agree with what Maggie Stiefvater says above, that she'd like to see the YA age range extended to 12-22. Characters who are 18-20 are either being "softened" down to the lower range or "edgied" up to adult fiction. There are a whole host of college age characters - and readers - being ignored.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: July 24th, 2008 12:16 am (UTC)

Always good to be proud of one's accomplishments without being boastful, to be grateful rather than feeling entitled.

There are so many missteps we all take in our late teen years and early twenties, steps and strides and breaks and falls and luck and laughter that could be stories. They are just waiting to be told!

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