I hope you had a pleasant St. Patrick’s Day. Though I’m not Irish by any stretch of the imagination, I celebrated with some friends who throw a fabulous party every year.
Jordie mistakenly believes that the wearing of the green means this.
Moving on, last week I had an eye-opening conversation with a teen. I’ll call her Sarah, though that isn’t her name. We started off talking about Veronica Roth’s announcement on Twitter concerning her new book contract. If you have no idea who Veronica Roth is, I’ll tell you. She’s the author of the Divergent trilogy, a young adult dystopian series. A movie adaptation of book 2, Insurgent, will premiere on Friday, March 20.
When Sarah asked what type of book Roth would write, I shrugged, having only read the Twitter announcement, which was understandably succinct. Here’s how part of the conversation went.
Me: What if the new series is for adults? Some YA writers go in that direction once they have a successful series under their belt.
Sarah (frowning): She’s still in her 20s, right?
Me: (shrugging; remembering back to the time when I saw Roth at Anderson’s Bookshop, an independent bookstore in Naperville): I guess.
Sarah: Well, she should write YA.
We continued talking about the issue until Sarah’s brother asked me which videogames I’m looking forward to this year. But I couldn’t help reflecting on whether or not other teens had a perceived age limit for young adult authors. I’ve written young adult fiction. While I won’t tell you how old I am, I can say that I was in my 20s when Noah got the call to build the ark. Does that mean I shouldn’t write YA novels if I’m not in my 20s or even early 30s? (And yes, I could keep going higher up the age chain.)
Perhaps the question sounds ridiculous to you in light of authors you know who are “seasoned” in age, yet write YA novels. But some teens, as Sarah proved, have definite assumptions about age. I think she would be surprised to learn that the average age of the people in my grad school program, writing for children and young adults, was well above 30.
Oddly enough, when I was in my 20s, I tried my hand at writing adult fiction—the result of being told that “real” writers wrote adult fiction. I failed miserably at it, but at least had entertained myself for a time.
A friend and I started writing YA fiction when we were 14 and 13 respectively—the result of reading a boatload of outdated books from the 1950s at our local branch library. (That library really needed some new books.) The stories involved people “going steady” while hanging out at the “soda shop” and listening to records on the “jukebox.” Never mind the fact that neither of us had seen any of those things outside of an Archie comic book. So those stories weren’t realistic. Actually, they were closer to parodies than anything else.
Since we also were heavily influenced by Harlequin romance books, we wrote novels with adult protagonists also. We made sure that we included first-kiss scenes that took place around page 106 in our handwritten novels and a betrayal three quarters of the way through the story, as per the formula.
Old Harlequin romance books
I never once thought I had to be a specific age in order to produce a story for a certain age level. I guess I’m weird that way. So when someone has a preconceived idea about the age “best suited” for a project, and I don’t fit whatever mold he or she describes, I usually feel the need to challenge that expectation. After all, sometimes you have to take a metaphorical rock and send it flying through the glass window of a preconceived notion. That’s the only way to evoke change.
Whether you’re 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, or 150, if you’ve got a story for a particular age level, write it. And don’t let anyone else—especially society’s preconceived ideas—stop you. If someone tries, feel free to give that person the look.
“I want to continue to write for my teenage readers,” [Roth] says. “I finally can announce my new project. It’s going to be a space opera. I’m still in the early stages of writing, but I’m really excited about it.”
What story are you excited about? Have you ever been told that there are certain age levels for certain audiences? How did you respond?
Veronica Roth from hollywoodchicago.com. Book covers from Goodreads. Shattered glass from jazzadvice.com. Dramatic prairie dog gif from boingboing.net. Archie comic book from pinterest.com. Harlequin books from etsy.com.