Friday, August 13, 2010

Why YA

One of the highlights of my summer was getting to spend several days with Stephanie Perkins, my delightful friend and critique partner. We attended the LA SCBWI conference together and got very little sleep. On the drive home we were talking about Carolyn Mackler's wonderful keynote speech, in which she said, "I cannot purge this adolescent voice from my head," and another author (I believe it was Paul Fleischman, but do not hold me to that and I'm very, very sorry if I'm quoting someone else) who said, "If you had a happy childhood, write for adults."

Honestly, I had a happy childhood. (Really, Mom and Dad--ideal! Very, very happy!) Adolescence...not so much. Steph and I were talking about high school (mostly about boys--the ones we dated, the ones we didn't, the ones we did and wished we didn't) and laughing about ourselves, something along the lines of why on earth we WRITE teenagers when we were both so miserable as them.

But here's what we discovered: We don't write YA because we can't get over our teenage years. We're over them. Really. Thank heavens. We write YA because we remember so clearly what it felt like to be there. We remember how confusing it was, how exciting it was, how bad it hurt, how much we wanted things we couldn't and probably shouldn't have had, how much we thought we knew and how hard it was when we learned the things we didn't.

Interestingly enough, Steph and I both met our husbands when we were teenagers, and both made decisions then that would set the course for our entire futures. So we definitely don't talk down to teenagers--you MATTER. What you are choosing right now, how you are living right now? It matters. And that is what is so compelling, so wonderful. Everything is huge and new and important, but you still get to be silly, you still get to screw up, you still get to goof off. I love the raw emotions of adolescence, the slipperiness of self, the angst of trying to figure out where you fit and where you want to fit.

In short, I'm glad I am who and where I am, and I'm glad I don't have to go through what I did to get here ever, ever again. But I didn't forget that process, and I don't want to. Being a teenager sucks, but it's also a beautiful, confusing, wonderful, exciting, heartbreaking thing.

And THAT is what I want to write about, and who I want to write for. And that's why the voices in my head that tell me stories are teenage voices. I wouldn't have it any other way.

25 comments:

Patty Blount said...

Ah! You're peering into my head right now!

It was a deep and dark time, my teenage years. There was no middle ground; everything was LIFE THREATENING or so it seemed at the time. That's how I write Dan, the teenage voice in my head.

He is exactly how you described yours: beautiful, confused, heartbreaking and heartbroken. That whole 'slipperiness of self' thing is just confounding this kid. Dan's dealing with the aftermath of sexting gone horribly wrong.

I hope others will find it as compelling as I do!

Great post. (Seventeen days left!)

Ivy Hawthorn said...

In a nutshell, that covers ABSOLUTELY everything! And it's the best reason to want to write YA novels. I AM a YA right now, writing about them helps me figure things out sometimes, and also lets me be in a place I want to be, not in the world i'm living in right now. That's why I LOVE fantasy books! Once again...can't wait to read your book! :)

Kiersten White said...

Ivy, I love that: "...lets me be in a place I want to be, not the world I'm living in right now."

YES. Exactly. You can take all of that stuff, but put it in an arena that helps you make sense of things without having to survive them : ) That's why I write paranormal!

Kiersten White said...

Patty--Good luck! I'm sure it's compelling, and it sounds very timely.

Jo Treggiari said...

Great post Kiersten! It's been far too long since I was a teenager but you're right. It's a time I remember clearly- everything feels so big at that age- emotions, set-backs, love, difficulty- everything!
And although my first book was MG, I feel more comfortable writing in the YA genre now. I may eventually write adult fiction but I don't really see why I would need to.

Kiersten White said...

Jo-- "I don't really see why I would need to." Exactly. I don't have stories to tell in adult voices. Adults are boring.

Yes, adults, WE ARE BORING.

Mary Campbell said...

Nicely put and I so agree. Hey come check out the drawing Candice Kennington did of me getting your book in the mail from amazon - hee hee - I think you'll enjoy it.

Erin said...

love this post. i don't write it but i guess that's why i read it!

i guess it's just lawyer voices speaking in my head. maybe that's why it hurts so much.

Steph Sinkhorn said...

Absolutely :) I feel the same way. I definitely do NOT act like a teenager anymore - teenage me never would have been able to go to a huge conference by herself and actually TALK to people - but I still vividly remember my teen years.

I also kind of suffer from adult imposter syndrome. Even though I'm now a confident, strong woman with a career and my own apartment and everything, I still occasionally feel like I'm faking it. I think a lot of us do :)

Heather Rae said...

"Being a teenager sucks, but it's also a beautiful, confusing, wonderful, exciting, heartbreaking thing." That sums it up perfectly. LOVE this. :)

exploringeliza said...

Very well put, Kiesten. I'm just getting into writing more YA, after struggling through years of adult fiction, and a bout of lit-fic to boot. (Talk about painful...and boring.) I've found that it is so much more FUN to write about that time of life. Like you said, discovery. It's all about discovery for me. Teens go through so much change and turmoil, full of false starts and real starts, and sometimes it's almost impossible to tell the two apart. Makes thins crazy exciting.

Suze said...

Just like to say - I'm very glad you write YA too :)

Can't wait until the 31st!

Stephanie McGee said...

Beautifully put.

Kait Nolan said...

And that is absolutely all the reasons why I love to read YA. Keep writing!

Marsha Sigman said...

I totally agree. I met my husband and married at 19 so I know that the choices you make as a teenager effect your entire life. It was the best of times...it was the worst of times...I so get that now.lol

Tere Kirkland said...

My husband and I met at age nineteen, and we've been happily married since 2002. Teenagers might look younger and younger to me every year, but I think I still get what it feels like to be one, which is why I write YA.

Great post!

ali said...

Great, great post Kiersten!

Unfortunately, I kept almost nothing of myself from my teenage years--I even changed my name! So I think I write YA because I want to help that inner child in me, and girls are still ARE teenagers, discover where their truths lie earlier than I did.

Jade said...

I met my husband when I was teenager too!

Sometimes when I reminisce about my teenage days, I feel like I'm only remembering the good stuff. Thankfully I kept a journal which highlights ALL the bad moments!!

The thing I like about writing YA is that teenagers feel so intensely. Things often seemed like life and death even when they're not.

Nova Lovette said...

I think you hit the nail on the head. YA is so interesting and diverse to write. There is so many conflicts going on in their little (meaning age not tiny minds) heads that it makes for great entertainment. The world of being and adult IS boring to most but for me, being an adult has been stranger path than most.

I got engaged when I was 18 and we were together a yr before that but last yr we called things off. I spent most of my HS yrs, and yrs after, already being an adult, but since calling things off, I feel like I'm getting that kid side of me back that I never had. In some ways, yes, it sucks but it has proven to aid me a lot in my writing of having that experience. I can now truly write YA since going through the things I have as of late. Sorry for the writerly novella but I will leave with a quote.

"Childhood is what you spend the rest of your life trying to over come." --Birdee from Hope Floats

Michelle said...

yes! love your post - you've said it all so well. Love writing YA

Zachary Grimm said...

Brilliant, Kiersten! Wonderful. Amazing. Awesome. Fantastic. I could go on...

Thank you for this boost of inspiration and confidence! =)

Bethany Mason said...

I am still finding my writing 'voice' and best genre to write in though it's becoming more and more likely to be YA and for all the reasons you mentioned - I can remember it.

I'm also really appreciative of this post because so many writers and actors seem to have a terrible childhood and often that's what people draw on. As someone who had a great childhood I've often worried that I don't have any stories to tell because of that so thank you for reminding me that I'm being ridiculous.

ForeignObsession said...

I love YA, I am way past my teenage years.

Cat said...

That's the same reason I like to write YA. It was a very memorable, emotional time in my life...I mean, I'm a girl, so what girl ISN'T emotional during that time? :-)

Dayana Stockdale said...

I really love this post. One of the reasons I write YA is the ability to mix genres.