Writing young-adult fiction: Better than going to the prom.

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June 22 2011 11:07 AM

Writing Young-Adult Fiction

It's better than going to the prom.

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What neither of us was prepared for was the insane pace. There's a reason that so many Y.A. series are written by collaborators: The timetable is crazy. Katie, having come out of an M.F.A. background where the rule was that good writing requires rumination, pain, and the slow loss of your best years, fought the craziness at first. But readers in Y.A. don't care about rumination. They don't want you to pore over your sentences trying to find the perfect turn of phrase that evokes the exact color of the shag carpeting in your living room when your dad walked out on your mom one autumn afternoon in 1973. They want you to tell a story. In Y.A. you write two or three drafts of a chapter, not eight. When kids like one book, they want the next one. Now. You need to deliver.

But even with two old people typing like crazy, the deadlines are insane. We're literally rewriting the second draft of the second book in the series in four weeks. The average length of time you get to write a Y.A. book is six months. Compared with "literary" fiction, that's warp speed.

In many ways, Y.A. is the lookingglass world to literary fiction, where everyone's jockeying over who got the biggest advance,the ultimate dream is to be anointed by the New Yorker, and you're expected to take two years or more to turn in your next novel that very few people are waiting to buy. The direct relationship with teen readers actually comes as a relief since the literary fiction crowd can get a little full of itself. (No offense, New Yorker "Under Forty" judges. You guys are great! And so good-looking!) It's fun to have kids coming up to you and saying: "Hey, that was cool. When's the next book?"

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It's hard to find the same reader gratification as a writer of literary fiction. You have to be thankful to get reviewed at all, even if they pan you. And literary fiction readers are tough. We've both had some really appreciative fans, and when they tell us nice things, we want to make out with them. But readers of literary fiction are also very excited to judge you. Like the woman who turned to Katie at a reading and said: "Your writing is really coming along! Your voice is not really developed yet, but keep at it!"

Y.A. is fast and loose, the readers will write excited messages about you on Facebook, the marketing is amazing, and it's a lot easier to communicate with fans. And, unlike a lot of literary fiction writers, we love teenagers. No one's forced them to sit through college lit courses yet, so they're still fresh and unjaded. Of course, we know that eventually they'll turn on us. But right now Y.A. is hot hot hot, and it's like the older you are, the cooler it is to watch teen movies and read Y.A. books.

The two of us were ahead of the curve in that respect. In college we were both dedicated viewers of 90210 (which dates us horribly), and in our late 20s we went to see Varsity Blues together on opening nightin the theater. At the time, people thought we were just old pedophiles, but who's smart and hip now?

Alas, we both know this cultural moment is much too good to last. Soon people will just be calling us creepers again. But for now, we're spending way too much time stealing the best lines from our old high-school diaries, both of us just a couple of years shy of 40, writing about first love, unrequited crushes, and Southern debutantes slathering their faces with rejuvenating wasp semen. It's way better than prom.

Katie Crouch and Grady Hendrix are the authors of The Magnolia League, out now in finer bookstores.