Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A fellow writer once asked me, "Where is your real novel?"

He meant it as a compliment. Sort of. And I took it as one. Sort of.

See, he was trying to say that he thought I had real talent. And I appreciate that. But it was one of those backhanded compliments: "You have so much talent, why are you wasting it on writing for teens?"

To be fair, I could have been him. I come from a literary background. I used to think Pulitzers and Nobels were the only achievements worth striving for.

But I also grew up in a time when YA lit didn't exist. (And I'm not even that old.) At least, it didn't exist like it does today. JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer hadn't opened the doors for YA readers and writers, hadn't made YA cool. Hadn't shown that you can have as much magic and passion when you're 14 as when you're 34. Heck, sometimes you can have more -- and that's why adults love YA too.

However, if I'm being honest, the question wasn't totally out of line. Where was my real novel?

See, at the time I was working on a paranormal YA for fun. And that's all it was: fun. It didn't have much head or heart -- and that's a problem. The real-ness of a book has nothing to do with what genre it's in or what audience it's written for. Real-ness has everything to do with head and heart.

(Fun is the icing on the cake.)

Writing that fun project was still important, though. Fun led me to heart, and heart led me to head. After 10,000 words, I put aside that paranormal YA and started my current manuscript, and I think it's the best thing I've ever written. It's my Pinocchio.

So what am I saying? I'm saying, to both readers and writers, don't judge too soon. A puppet may be made of wood, or paper, or a dirty old sock -- but not all wood or paper or dirty old socks are the same. Does the puppet have dreams? Does it tell the truth? Does it show courage and love?

And are those not the very qualities that make boys and girls real?



sonje said...

There is certainly a lot of snobbery around genre fiction. I'm like you in that I started out with literary pretensions and then came to genre sort of on a lark only to find that I really like it. For me, genre fiction is about telling a really compelling story while letting the words fade into the background. In other words, the words support the story, which is front and center. Literary fiction is the opposite. The story is just there to support the words, which are front and center.

I read quite a bit, and I have to say that I've found that you don't need a great genre book to enjoy it, but you really do need a very, very good literary fiction book for it to be anything other than a chore.

Bookish Brunette said...

I agree, it's completely real!!! My friends 'in real life' make fun of me constantly!

Mary @ BookSwarm said...

I don't quite understand those who, never having read the genre as it is today, turn their noses up at it. Really, people? Have you seen how awesome YA is nowadays?
Guess only cool people like us get it.
Mary @ BookSwarm

vaughnroycroft said...

I wish there was a 'like' button for what Sonje wrote. Spot on!

Unlike you, Kristan, I was relatively clueless about the level of snobbery involved when I started writing historical fantasy. I still get the occasional, 'So, do you think you'll someday want to write something... you know, serious?" At first I was taken aback. No I just say, "No, I just hope my work will be read and enjoyed. That's all that matters to me."

Good luck with your Pinocchio!

kaye (paper reader) said...

I really love this post. Not because of the slightly sneaky compliment and slight at YA or any sort of genre fiction, but because everything has its process. You can't get to B without having experienced A first. We aren't whole without these experiences.

Every book is a book for someone. I commute on the train to school every day and I'm always astonished by the variety of titles and genres that I see being read by such a diverse group of people. How dull would it be if we were all writing the same thing, anyhow? I'm thankful for this sense of individuality and unique realness that we all have.

We Heart YA said...

That's a great way of putting it. I mean, I think the *best* books in both genre and literary fiction try to strike a balance, but it doesn't always work out that way.

I agree, a lot of people who don't have good things to say about YA haven't actually given it a fair chance.

Me too!

I'm glad you were oblivious to the snobbery. Makes it easier to ignore later. :)

Yes! Exactly. That was an underlying message of the post -- glad you caught it. ;) We are all entitled to like or dislike whatever books or genres, but to summarily dismiss or degrade them? It accomplishes nothing, and really does a disservice to ALL literature.

Sarah Wedgbrow said...

Kristan, you're so stinking good at what you do. Thanks for this post! It wasn't until I let myself entertain the idea of a "fun" novel that I started writing novel-length stuff...and then discovering YA.
I really enjoy those fun leaps of imagination with story and with crafting words--right now, I'm finding that in YA. It's real, yo.

Nikki - Notes of Life said...

Teen readers are the future though... what they read now may help decide what they go on to read in the future. YA writers have a difficult job... teens don't always have the best of concentration, but a TA book must hold their attention for the duration.

We Heart YA said...

Aww, thanks.

You make a great point. That's another reason we love writing for teens.

Small Review said...

I started enjoying reading a lot more when I realized that I'm reading for my own enjoyment and not another person's approval.

We Heart YA said...

@Small Review-
I need a Like button for your comment!

Christy @ TheReaderBee said...

I love YA! It's really my fave genre at the moment, and I just can't get enough.

Wonderfully written post! I couldn't agree more. :)

Heather Reid said...

I love this post!! YA is real! :) As a writer of YA and fantasy/sci fi for adults, sometimes I feel like I'm at the bottom of the food chain. I'm a victim of snobbery no matter which book I'm working on. :) I don't care anything about being the next great literary genius. I want to write stories that people love, that entertain and make you think in the process. If that means some people think my work is “Pinocchio” so be it. :D

We Heart YA said...

"I want to write stories that people love, that entertain and make you think in the process."

Those are the best kind. :)

Kimberly Kosydor said...

I couldn't agree more!! awesome post<3

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Stephanie, Ingrid, Sarah & Kristan — we read, write, discuss and celebrate Young Adult lit.



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The Bitter Kingdom
Wild Awake
The Raven Boys
Mind Games
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The Shattered Mountain
The Shadow Cats
Froi of the Exiles
Days of Blood & Starlight
Every Day
Jellicoe Road
Finnikin of the Rock
Guitar Notes
The Dead-Tossed Waves
The Crown of Embers
New House 5: How A Dorm Becomes A Home
The Fault in Our Stars

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