Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My Inner Child: Angst Enough For All of Us

by Sophie



FAVORITE YA NOVEL


Umm...did I mention that I write Young Adult fiction in addition to the Stella books? No? Well, I do. The first of two, titled BANISHED, will be out from Delacorte in October. UNFORSAKEN will follow a year later.

Since deciding to write YA (and I can pinpoint the day, because I was driving home from LA in the summer of 2008 when my agent called and I pulled over in a Burger King parking lot to discuss the idea) I have read quite a lot of very good young adult fiction and a few titles that basically sucked enough that I wanted to drive the minivan over them repeatedly. Good YA fiction engages the reader; bad YA fiction patronizes, or makes assumptions, or knows only round pegs and writes round holes, forgetting entirely that the teen years are all about square pegs.

When Barbara and I started talking YA, my initial response was a visceral and heartfelt "no." That's because I didn't want anyone imposing limits on where I could go, storywise or sentence-level, with my books. I'm pretty clear that I write 90% emotion and 10% plot - and I am trying, hard, to become a better plotter - and the places that my emotions go, even those from 30 years ago, tend to skirt the edges of polite company.

If you have read any YA at all in the last year or so, you know that I was making some very wrong assumptions about teen fiction. Transcendent YA books reveal a youthful outlook that is not based on any trope fashioned by those who came before. No one (no successful author, anyway) is re-engineering Nancy Drew for the younger set, or updating the Six Million Dollar Man (or Woman) for the new millennium. Instead, they are taking brave and deep swipes at the things kids care about now.

Kids are a hell of a lot smarter than we think. (If it's any consolation, you were a hell of a lot smarter than your parents thought you were, all those years ago.) They are also sensitive and intuitive. Issues that you and I care about in a vote-your-conscience, send-thirty-bucks-to-the-nonprofit way - these are pivotal and consuming for our kids.

I will admit this took some realigning of my personal axis. I thought I'd be great at YA because I have two Y(oung) A(dults) living in the house. Turns out I was already calcifying and aging out - and making some incorrect assumptions about what they were thinking.

Take just one of many subjects for consideration: gay identity. We've always been a progressive household, and we have tried to include gay friends into family life without comment to show our kids that for us, it isn't an issue. Ahem. Turns out that when I treat it in my adult fiction, it's still very much an *Issue* - discovering a loved one is gay sends Stella through some soul-searching in the third book in the series.

But for my kids, it's barely a blip. When I was telling Junior about that Stella plot, I received a lot of eye-rolling and condemnation for my insensitivity - or perhaps it was oversensitivity - I'm not really sure at this point. (Teens are still prickly, after all.) I'd need a notepad to keep track of which of Junior's girlfriends are dating boys and which are dating girls.

What is on the teen mind? Ahh, that. I actually can't tell you, because it would be betraying a confidence that Junior has made clear is significant. And no, I don't immediately try to turn Junior's inner dialog into synopses - tempting though that might be - because I've learned that they really are like snowflakes, the little scuppers, each with a unique and beautiful inner landscape. One girl's British boarding school is another's blood-froth-mouthed zombie. One kid's fanfic is another's world war two historo-fiction.

Moments ago, Junior's friends - all dozen of them - went home after a spaghetti-and-games night. Yeah, I eavesdropped. Yeah, I peeked around the corner a few times. But I'm not trying to appropriate their childhoods for fiction, believe it or not. Mostly, I'm trying to cherish every moment I get to have them around. Soon enough I'll be an empty nester, relying strictly on memories to fuel my YAs.

It's a privilege to write for kids - and a responsibility. While I'm not sure my books would pass with those parental censorship covens wreaking so much havoc on public school libraries - too dark, too much cursing, too many adult themes - I'm very proud to say I'm writing the best I can for the newest adults.

my very own young adults, and a few of their friends

16 comments:

Joshua Corin said...

Sophie, I love the cover for BANISHED! What is its premise?

Also, fyi, I *wish* I was as smart as a YA as my parents thought I was...

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Can't wait to read 'em, Sophie!

I know my days of spying on my own YA are coming soon. And then it'll be the quiet house. Don't know how I'll stand that. Will still have to go to coffee shops to write...

Gabi said...

They are scary smart, aren't they? I'm not sure I was as smart as I thought I was at that age but I'm in awe of your ability to transcribe that horrible-hormone-induced psychotic stage at all.

Bill Cameron said...

I think some of the best writing today is happen in the YA area. You'll rise right to the top, I've no doubt!

Terry Stonecrop said...

I like your attitude on writing YA. They're not babies to be sheltered and coddled. They're at an age, where if you clip their wings, most will revolt.

Sophie Littlefield said...

hey Joshua - so nice of you to ask :)

I was really lucky with that cover. I wish it was going to be all embossy-foily - don't you think some glitter would be good on that? barring that, I guess I just have to hope the story appeals.

It's about a 16YO girl who lives with her drug-dealing mean gramma in rural MO. Then a strange woman shows up, says she's the girl's aunt, and tells her she has secret powers. Then there's all this running around and danger and stuff. and zombies.

(my agent says I'm the world's second worst pitch-er - after Graham :)

Sophie Littlefield said...

Becky it's crazy....I still remember the days of wishing I could hit the pause button on my kids, just for an hour, just for a *half* hour. Now it's me wandering into their rooms, where they are doing homework, going "I'm borrrrreeeed" and expecting them to do something about it :)

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh Gabi...I think that writing my angsty self into the YA was more useful than three solid years of therapy. I'm amazed how therapeutic it is to revisit past traumas but put it in the context of zombies. Kidding. Kinda.

Sophie Littlefield said...

aww bill...you always say the nicest things :)

can't wait to see what you do tomorrow!

Sophie Littlefield said...

Terry, I say with great humility, that is a lesson I have to learn over and over and over. I keep trying to clip my older child's wings to keep him safe. I just can't stand the thought of anything bad ever happening to him, and he is so reckless. But it's true: he needs to do and experience and make mistakes and learn. Writing scenarios in fiction is soothing, sometimes...

Terry Stonecrop said...

I know how you feel on that one, Sophie. I'm talking about your writing attitude. Parenting is much more difficult. I forgot to mention that. ;)

Shane Gericke said...

That is a wonderful cover, Sophie. Reminds me a lot of that famous National Geographic cover photo of a woman with those same arresting eyes. Only one quibble with it: your name should be much bigger. Get Barbara on that, would you? :-)

Your (Y)oung (A)dults sound cool. I love that gayness is not even a tiny blip on their radars. But you made the right call on your Stella plot: for someone Stella's age, gayness can still be a significant emotional issue.

Has anyone done gay YA zombies? Now THAT you could bring to the bank ...

Shane Gericke said...

Cool thing about writing fiction is you can destroy the bastards who hurt children, in the most evilly delicious ways ...

Pop Culture Nerd said...

I didn't read YA when I was a YA, but I'm looking forward to yours because of all that inappropriate cussing you mentioned. Plus, you said the two magic words that will get me every time: "secret powers."

Pop Culture Nerd said...

Shane, I think GAY YA ZOMBIES should be a title. Who wouldn't want to read that? The sequels would be LESBIAN YA VAMPIRES & BISEXUAL YA WARLORDS.

Kelli Stanley said...

Soph, you are a brilliant writer for PEOPLE. Of all ages, and all types and all minds, and I can't wait to read your YA. It'll rock--because you do. :)

xoxo