YA, Why Me?
When I started writing fiction, I didn’t wake up one morning and decide to write for teens. I had a story in my head that had been kicking around for years about a race of shapeshifters and a war between them and the humans who thought they were simply the stuff of myth and legend. My characters were young—probably teens to early twenties, and although I had no idea about genre when I started, I can look back at that story and see how it had coming-of-age and first, peak experience narrative written all over it.
I wrote that story essentially on a dare from my husband who, frustrated by the books he was reading, challenged me to write something he’d like better. That was the year I turned 40 and was working as a very busy physical therapist in private practice, balancing my clinic with raising 2 boys. Writing is what I did for fun that year and I thought “The Wings of Winter” was the greatest thing since sliced bread.
It wasn’t. Trust me. I have the form letter rejections to prove it.
But I discovered (or more properly, rediscovered) my love of creating and writing. I knew I’d have to work hard and learn a whole lot more before I could get a story on paper that someone else might want to read.
I set aside the fantasy manuscript and tried my hand at a futuristic thriller. That, too, ended up ‘in the trunk.’ The following year, I got the idea for a haunted house story with a young teen boy protagonist. I wanted to write the kind of books my sons were hungry for. When I started “The House of Many Doors,” they were 11 and 13. Voracious readers, they became my alpha readers and story problem-solvers. Seeing the excitement in their eyes when we would discuss the story sparked something: I wanted to be worthy of their faith in me. I also discovered that while I am neither a teen nor a boy, I found Parker’s voice (my protagonist) a comfortable fit.
That was the book that landed me my agent and is currently out on submission.
Since that time, while I have flirted with other kinds of story ideas, the ones that resonate most with me seem to be young adult stories. There is something compelling in writing about peak experiences with the passion only a teen discovering something for the first time can show.
It was also crucial to me to capture the reality of what is important to teens, even if what I wrote tended toward fantasy and magical realism. I spend a lot of time around my sons and their friends—being their “chauffeur” gives me a window on how teens talk and what they talk about. (Somehow when grown-ups are behind the wheel, we are essentially invisible.) Their struggles are the struggles for identity and belonging, of learning to trust in themselves, in making mistakes and recovering from them. In reality, these are struggles common to all of us, regardless of age, but our teen years are when we first experience them.
I wanted to show authentic teens who were resilient, who faced challenges and overcame them by dint of their own power and agency, even in dangerous and difficult situations. This is not to say that I write ‘message’ fiction of any kind. Kids dislike being moralized to in the same way they loathe parental lectures.
So why YA? Why me?
Perhaps because I have my own teens. Perhaps because I remember how important stories were to me when I was a teen and struggling to figure it all out.
Perhaps it doesn’t really matter.
What I write are stories. Just stories. Stories that I want people to read and enjoy. Stories that teens and adults seem to respond equally to. That they involve older teen protagonists means that some marketing department somewhere has deemed them to be ‘young adult.’
From her website – ljcohen.net ”My completed novels represent several different genres and styles. I consider myself a reading and writing ‘omnivore.’ My favorite genres are fantasy, scifi, speculative fiction, thrillers, and mysteries. I read and write both YA and adult novels.”
L.J. has graciously donated an eBook copy of her novel The Between AND a paperback copy to be awarded to two lucky commentors on this post. The winners (one for the eBook, one for the paperback) will be chosen by Randomizer and will be notified on July 30th.