When I tell people I write YA and middle grade, I usually get one of those polite nods and a “Well…that’s cool.”
I’m not sure what they really think (I’ve long since given up trying to understand what others think). But if they’re like me at another point in my life, they probably believe that some writers write for kids because it’s easier. Those of us who’ve actually engaged in writing novels for both adults and children know the opposite is true. It’s hard. Amazingly hard. I know my fellow writers, of any genre, applaud and encourage my efforts. Because they’ve learned the same truth: the younger the reader, the more difficult it is to connect and engage them in a story.
But the difficulty of the writing doesn’t answer the the question: why do I write for teens and tweens?
There are really two answers to that question. The first is that I enjoy the freedom allowed with a teenage character. Teens aren’t restricted by all the doubts and societal restraints placed on us “advanced” teens. When I write an adult character, I can’t have him hop up on a cafeteria table and sing Oh, Canada on a dare. Not without a lot of alcohol involved. Nor can I have him hop in a car and take off across the country in search of his crush.
Adults have jobs and responsibilities. Even in fiction.
So there’s that. I love how I used to think as a teen. My ideas were endless. My imagination ran amok (which was problematic when sitting behind the cute girl who owned at least ten pair of those wrap-around shorts). I would say what I thought without worrying about what the rest of the world thought of me. Okay, that’s a lie. I always worried what my peers–especially the attractive females–thought of me. I thought freely. I just didn’t speak it.
Which brings me to the second answer.
I know that I won’t change the behavior of teens and tweens based on what I say. Not all of them anyway. Probably not even a significant percentage of those who read my books. But maybe I’ll reach one or two. And the ones I don’t reach will come away knowing that they’re not alone. If there’s one “worst thing” about being a teenager, it’s the belief that you alone are the only one who feels this way. “This way” is a feeling that has been passed down from generation to generation, and we’ve all suffered from it. Maybe I can’t convince you in one blog post that you are most definitely not alone, but perhaps, through the magic of electronically generated fiction, I can give you just a little bit of hope. And maybe even some courage.
Because there is one thing you must learn eventually to survive: you will need to speak out from time to time. Find that bit of courage. Let your heart beat madly and body sweat as you do the unthinkable. You’ll need it to get the girl or guy. To land a job. To stand up for what’s right.
To write a novel.
I don’t try to send a message through my fiction. It’s easier to tweet that to you. What I want is for you to see the possibilities. To think. To maybe take a risk I wasn’t brave enough to take as a somewhat overweight, undertall high school guy. If I can’t convince you to take a chance today, then maybe tomorrow, or next year. For God’s sake, do it before you’re forty.
Because this I can speak from experience: some of us do wait far too long. Maybe, if one person had looked at me when I was sixteen and said, “You know, you should write novels,” maybe I’d have published my first before my own kids were teenagers. Of course, it doesn’t have to be novel writing. Like I said, it may be something as simple as asking someone out for ice-cream (hint: NO ONE can say no to free ice-cream).
If you have read my books, you know I love the downtrodden. The underdogs. The nerds (before it was cool to be a nerd). I love who most of you are. Or were. And I pray that something I say will touch your heart and infuse you with that bit of magic that will make you do something incredibly stupid. It’s probably still incredibly stupid, but I promise it will pay off (eventually).
That, my friends, is why this old guy writes for “children.” Because you’re not really children at all. You’re young adults who haven’t quite realized the remarkable person who lives inside you. Let him or her out. It’s dark in there. And she’s tired of the drama.
See you between the pages.
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