Monday, August 15, 2011

Back in June, an article in The Wall Street Journal caused a stir in the world of young adult fiction. (You can read it here.) I follow what goes on in that universe because I mainly read YA books, and I'm writing one. Most everyone with an online presence in the YA world had something to say about the article, which asserts that YA fiction is "too dark" and generalizes the genre as poison to the minds of our youth.

The article reeks of someone who has read about the books she describes, but not the books themselves. And that's why I didn't write about this whole business sooner. There is no surer way to make a fool of yourself than to take a stance on something that you don't know enough about, and honestly, I've only read a few of the books the author mentions.

Ay, there's the rub. I read around two YA books a week, and I have only read a handful of the books mentioned. Obviously there are plenty of books out there that don't fit into her poison box, because I read them all the time. In fact, the book I finished reading yesterday prompted me to write this post, but I'll get to that in a minute.

I picked up my first Stephen King when I was in sixth grade. At 12, it was a little too dark for me, and I lightened up by reading John Saul and Dean Koontz. From ages 12 to 14, I stuck to these blends of horror, mystery, sci-fi, etc., and by high school I moved back to King again, who I read alongside the Brontes and Hemingway and Hawthorne. I read these books because I was bored by the age-appropriate fluff I found back then. Anyone who thinks teenagers are reading dark stuff because it's in the YA section should peek over the rims of the rose-colored glasses. I read YA now because the books are entertaining and engaging, which is probably the same reason teens do, if they read them at all.

I recently had the good fortune to meet the talented Kristin Harmel, and yesterday I finished reading her most recent YA novel. After tells the story of 16-year-old Lacey, whose father dies in a car accident. Lacey's journey reflects real issues, with an ultimately positive, emotional resolution. I connected with the characters from the opening pages; I lost my own mother too soon. I would recommend After not only to teenagers, but to anyone who has lost a parent. (Click on the cover to find out more and read it for yourself!)

After is the antithesis of what is described in the WSJ article about YA. It is an awesome, uplifting read, and one more card stacking the deck of proof that YA is not "bulldozing coarseness or misery into children's lives." To the mother who couldn't find anything appropriate for her daughter to read, I say look harder. Ask librarians, book sellers, or other young readers for recommendations. Ask someone who knows where to find great books.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A few months ago, I was convincing my husband to take me to Lollapalooza for our anniversary. He swears I've permanently damaged his hearing dragging him to concerts, but he usually indulges me anyway. While searching for flights and hotels, somehow I stumbled upon a writing conference taking place the same weekend, in Jacksonville.

This wasn't just any writing conference, but one with a primary focus on critique groups. And the cost was equivalent to one ticket to the music festival I've dreamed of attending since I was a teenager.

Somehow life just slaps you in the face, at just the right time. What was my priority? Would I chase after my beloved Muse, and many other awesome bands, or would I focus on improving my writing?

I chose the conference. And, wow, did I make the right decision. This weekend I walked into a room full of strangers. I walked out enriched by the experiences and talent of ten unique, funny, brilliant writers. I hope to call them friends for years to come.

Writing is a solitary process. I feel so blessed to have joined a community of people who know what that solitude feels like. They have all stared at a blank screen. They've struggled for hours to find the right words. They know their characters better than they know their best friends. They all know the madness I've chosen to indulge, and they keep choosing it, too.

In honor of what I'm sure was a jaw-dropping performance by Matt and the gang this weekend, I'm listening to a Genius mix based on Muse's cover of Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want. While I do what I love. Write.

Until next time...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

It's finished.

Last night I finished the first draft of my YA novel. I haven't blogged in a while because I've spent all my writing energy on this draft, and I can't believe that I've finally done it. The feeling is not quite as sweet this time around; I know that the hardest part still lies ahead, in the revising. I also have plans for a series, so the story is nowhere near over in my head. But at least this milestone is one giant leap forward from staring at a blank page all those months ago.
Tomorrow I'm going to my second writing conference, where I will be a part of my first critique group. The thought of ten strangers ripping my words to shreds terrifies me, but I know that this is just one more leap of faith on my writing journey.

That's all for now.

Music this week: enjoying some old-school Death Cab