Writing Young-Adult Fiction
It's better than going to the prom.
Posted Wednesday, June 22, 2011, at 11:07 AM
Young-adult books are being sold to an audience that can't vote, yet they're being written by people commonly referred to on the Internet as "the olds." We should know. We're two of them. Both of us have made our living writing. One of us in journalism (Grady) and the other in literary fiction (Katie). But then Katie's publisher pitched her on doing a Y.A. series, mostly because she's somewhat immature and teenager-ish anyway, so why not turn that weakness into a strength?
And, besides, there's no shame in Y.A. these days. Since 1999, the market has grown by 25 percent, and all the big authors are doing it: Patterson, Grisham, Bushnell. At this point, the next likely candidate is a Y.A. book from Jonathan Franzen. It would be very meta: The Corruptions. By the time the kid finished it, he'd be 35.
Writing Y.A. as an adult is a chance to rewrite being a teenager. Our series, The Magnolia League, is, in some ways, the high-school experience we never had, where everyone is witty and good-looking and their problems are more like, "My evil grandmother is torturing my dead mom's soul!" rather than, "I have a lot of zits." It's an opportunity to relive high school in a more perfect manner. Who doesn't want to be 16 and living in a mansion? And hooking up with the hot guy? And having super hoodoo powers? It's totally normal.
It would be creepy if we included explicit sex scenes with glistening young skin and heaving young bosoms, but we keep it on the clean side. This isn't Twilight. No slutty werewolves here. Mostly we pass the rare sex scenes in outline form back and forth between us like a ticking time bomb until one of us bites the bullet and puts it on paper. When it's completed, the other one innocently asks to make a pass "for editing" and then reads it aloud in a mocking voice and turns the most embarrassing lines into an email signature.
It's sort of weird how, at a time when a reliable scare story is, "Are internet predators coming for your children?" that we are being paid good money to be literary predators and come for people's children. Only we do it with a nice marketing campaign and books about Southern debutantes with occult powers, rather than an old van with the windows blacked out. At least we're locked up in our rooms with our laptops and not out there on the streets teaching creative writing or something.
Working in the Y.A. trenches has been eye-opening. First off, although Katie started out the series alone, toward the end of book one she was tired and pregnant, and so she reached out to Grady and dragged him in.
(Grady: Full disclosure, Katie and I went to high school together, and she was my first girlfriend. I actually regard her choosing to write these books together as a tacit admission that she made a huge mistake when she dumped me after six weeks.)
(Katie: Full disclosure, I do not regret my decision in the slightest.)
Grady Hendrix is one of the founders of the New York Asian Film Festival and he writes about pop culture on his blog.
Still of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson in Twilight © Summit Distribution. All rights reserved. Photograph of Katie Crouch courtesy Katie Crouch.