John Green. Suzanne Collins. J.K.Rowling. Judy Blume. Athena Hernandez.
What do all of us authors have in common? We’re all White, wealthy, and have NY Times Bestsellers. Haha. Just kidding. I’m Black.
No, what we, and most Young Adult authors, really have in common is that we’re creepily old (I own a wrist guard so I don’t INJURE myself TYPING) and yet we spend hours pouring over pubescent characters. Our stories are filled with teenage angst, High School, prom, tests, college, wild adventures, and epic first loves. All things that most of us are far removed from.
I struggled with whether to write Young Adult fiction and honestly, I still do. But I keep coming back to it like good crack. What draws me to the genre is the sheer expanse of possibility. During that period in our lives, we’re on the precipice of everything that could go horribly wrong or blissfully right. Experiences are still fresh, new, and bewildering. What career do I want to pursue? What does heartbreak feel like? What are taxes? I still don’t know my young Kings and Queens. I still don’t know.
I find myself trying to stop my characters from making the wrong decision. Or to save them from experiencing sex, drugs, and violence. In the beginning, I found myself having to go back and edit out the parenting and adult BS that I wrote.
“Drugs are B.A.D. Bad!”
“Sex before marriage means you’re going to hell!”
“You’ll never become President watching all that TV!”
Oh, how wrong we were on all fronts. Some drugs are good and necessary. Jesus saves and still loves you even if you got some premarital ass. Literally, anyone can be President.
Now, when I write, I try to follow three simples rules:
- I’m not the Mama – This is not Sesame Street. I’m not going to wrap of all these issues in a cute little bow for the youth to learn from in the end. I want them to experience all the mess and pull from it what they will.
- What did you do? (WDYD bracelets are coming) – If I’ve dealt with any of the situations that my characters are dealing with, I try to draw from what I did, not what I would have done.
- Shades of gray- I love complicated characters, especially in young people. No one is all one thing. So yes, my protagonist will be super smart but have terrible instincts in love. Or be really popular and also awkward. Or be a criminal mastermind and a beautiful artist (see my first novel “Say When”).
Now older, I can look back on those formative years with one shocking revelation– I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. And it was amazing. Not knowing the consequences of an action before I did it. Or knowing and doing it anyway. Then being shocked when it all went to crap.
It was wonderful but I was too absorbed and terrified at the time to realize it. So now, I write characters who navigate their circumstances with the same brew of fear and reckless abandon that I did. All the while appreciating how beautiful the mess is…from the comfort of my wrist guarded cocoon. Ahh, YA author bliss.