So YA author Shannon Hale posted a blog questioning whether authors who write for teens are expected to lace their stories with a bunch of moral lessons. A few other YA authors weighed in on the subject, and I’m taking the opportunity now to say that I think the idea of expecting an after-school special from a teen novel is absolutely bogus. But that doesn’t mean the morals aren’t there.
You see, when you write, you’re writing from your own view of the world. And even if you try to bust out of your zone and write about a super spy who kicks butt and takes names (I have a WIP like that), it doesn’t mean that spy still isn’t inadvertently given some of the author’s own morals and values.
For example, back when everyone was dissecting the Twilight books (not the movies), one of the debates that reigned supreme was whether Stephenie Meyer was pushing her Mormon values onto her characters (no sex before marriage, etc.) and thus onto her readers. And the truth is, she probably was, but she probably didn’t mean it.
She was raised Mormon, she’s still practicing, it’s a big part of her life, and how she sees the world. So I’d imagine some of the morals she feels strongly about are going to leak onto the page.
I can’t blame her for that because it happened to me too.
After I first read the Twilight debate, I looked back on my own work and realized that Mariana, the main character of my Amor and Summer Secrets series, comes from a church-going Catholic family. There’s a Quinceanera in a church, and there’s controversy over a wedding not being in a church.
My work-in-progress, Four Days Left of Normal, has a main character, Deirdre, who lost her mom when she was sixth grade, and since then her father has stopped going to church while her grandmother still forces her to go on Easter. In a spy-oriented WIP, Anastasia Phoenix, there are (sadly) several funerals, one specifically held in a Catholic church, while there’s another critical scene held later on during a Catholic mass in a cathedral in Rome.
My point is, I was raised Catholic. And while my characters aren’t going around spewing gospels or adhering to the Ten Commandments, they did inadvertently get a little of my upbringing rubbed off on them.
But they didn’t get a bunch of moral lessons. In fact, I gave a workshop at a Catholic school that complained about Mariana drinking alcohol in the first novel. (Really?) So even with all those references to churches, I still couldn’t make the Catholics happy. I guess my morals only go so far.
So in the end, teen novels are going to have drinking, and sex, and drugs, and lots of other things that many parents probably forget they did at that age, but that authors thankfully haven’t. It doesn’t mean we’re amoral, it just means we’re writing about the teen experience the way we see it. So you’re gonna have to take the good morals with the bad.
POP CULTURE RANT: Borders.com Okay, Borders, I used your coupon, I pre-ordered my copy of Mockingjay using your massive website, and you don’t have the courtesy to send it to me the day it’s released? What, you’re too busy trying to avoid bankruptcy and losing top personnel to remember to mail the books out? See, this is why brick-and-mortar stores are going survive. Mockingjay, the third in the Hunger Games trilogy, has been out for two days now and still, I wait for the mailman. #internetshoppingfail
One of the great things about being a YA author is that we’re kind of a close-knit bunch. We don’t see each other as competition for readers/reviews/sales, because at the end of the day we’re all after the same mission: getting teens to love reading. This is why we blog about each other’s books, we send tweets about other authors' book launches, and we rally around one of us when undo controversy rears its ugly head.
This week, a very popular (NYT best-selling) YA author, Ellen Hopkins, was disinvited to a Teen Lit Festival in Humble, TX (a suburb of Houston). One middle school librarian and couple of parents learned that Hopkins would be speaking and decided to complain to the Superintendant that her books were inappropriate for teens. (Her YA novels, written in poetic verse, deal with drug abuse, rape, teen pregnancy. You know, all those things that couldn’t possibly happen to our teens!)
So the Superintendant had another librarian renege her invitation. As a result, four other YA authors (Pete Hautman, Melissa de la Cruz, Tera Lynn Childs and Matt de la Pena), who were scheduled to attend the event, pulled out in a show of solidarity and a stand against censorship.
Since then, the debate has been: Is what happened to Hopkins censorship?
After all, she was only disinvited from a festival. No one has the “right” to be paid to speak. That’s not in the First Amendment, so this can’t be censorship. The festival people can do what they please.
Um, you would be right, if the festival organizers had simply elected not to invite Hopkins in the first place. That is their right. They get to pick their speakers and they could have chosen a less controversial YA author, there are plenty out there. But all the district librarians, teachers, and everyone else involved with the planning chose this award-winning author (whose books are considered the modern day Go Ask Alice!) because they thought her themes were appropriate for their audience, they thought her discussions would bring something valuable to their teens, and so they invited her. She accepted.
However, a few parents and one librarian do not have the right, after the fact, to disinvite her due to their personal morality issues. That small group decided that they knew what was best for everyone's children. And that’s when this became a censorship issue.
Did they consult other parents before disinviting her? Did they send a letter home discussing all of the books that would be presented to better inform parents to make their own decisions? Did the superintendent even read the books in question before making a decision? No.
This small group unilaterally censored Hopkins and her books from the festival AFTER they were already deemed appropriate by the festival organizers (and the YA community in general). No one has the right to determine for you or your family what’s appropriate. That’s up to individual parents and the teens themselves, and it’s a shame they were denied that opportunity.
I feel for the teens who won’t get to hear these authors speak, but I commend my colleagues for taking a stand. You go after one of us, you go after all of us. Censorship is wrong.
POP CULTURE RANT: Magazines Anyone else getting random magazine subscriptions sent to them lately? At some point last year, Town & Country just started sending me issues. I have no idea how they got my address, and I’m not paying for the subscription. And this would be cool if the content of this magazine were hitting its intended audience, but I don’t believe I’m it. They had an entire issue this summer that was a giant advertorial for various nonprofits, name dropping all the celeb’s involved with each charity. And as someone who used to work at a magazine (and a nonprofit), I understand the “themed” issue. But this read like a paid advertisement (not to mention, snoozefest). Why can’t someone send me free People instead?
So anyone who reads the blog knows that I’m a big soap fan. I grew up on them like other kids grew up on Sesame Street. (Thanks, Grandmom!) Young & the Restless, ATWT, Days, AMC—at one point I’ve dabbled in them all, but lately I’m exclusively a GH fan. And anyone who’s been following the happenings in Port Chuck knows that…Brenda is back! So I’ve decided to take this opportunity to examine the similarities between soaps and YA to uncover why they’re both awesome. And trust me, they have more in common than you think.
Now, first off, most of you assume that all soap fans are stay-at-home moms or bored lonely women. Believe me, such is not the case. Maybe at one time the genre was limited to those home in the afternoons, but that is why God gave us DVRs. You might also assume that soap fans are old (like my grandma), but hey, she started babysitting me when I was in kindergarten—not the stereotypical age of a soap fan, but the five-year-old demo is definitely out there.
This means that I was watching soaps while I was reading young adult (mostly Christopher Pike and Sweet Valley), and I know I can’t be the only one with this story. There are correlations here, which is why I’ve compiled the following list:
Soap Operas & YA: Why They’re BFF 1. Romance. The heart of any good story is a little lovin’. This is obvious for soaps, but even look at some of the most action-oriented YA novels (Hunger Games, anyone?). A doomed romance keeps you turning the page.
2. Unusual age progression. In the soap world, there is a far-too-common condition known as SORAS (Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome). This is when a six-year-old character comes back from summer break as a 17-year-old in high school student with an abusive boyfriend. They have to move the story along, folks. In YA, the problem is in reverse. Seriously, how long were those Sweet Valley twins in high school? And Nancy Drew, shouldn’t she own her own detective agency by this point?
3. Tent Poles. Soaps tend to revolve around one or two core characters (Sonny Corinthos? Gag me now). YA does as well. You’re not going to find many young adult novels told in the omniscient point of view. You’ve got your main first-person narrative holding up the rest of the tent.
4. Crazy Storylines. So Bella might not have gotten caught in a collapsed cave, was presumed dead, and slept with her best friend’s boyfriend while trapped, but that doesn’t make her story any more realistic. You’ll find teenage spy cheerleaders, cursed 18th Century mystical sisters, revolution-leading teen warriors, etc. in YA. Now is that really much different than 17-year-old boy waking up from a coma after a year without brain damage only to land in prison a few months later for killing his step mother?
5. Soap characters come back from the dead, YA characters are un-dead. Same difference. Point made.
So you see, they really have a lot in common. So get set your DVR’s for Brenda’s return on GH this week. And pray that after all these years of absence the execs didn’t lure Vanessa Marcil (of Las Vegas fame) back to the soap world only to destroy her character (like they did with Emily’s return or the original-Carly). I’m warning you, writers—make this good, or I will march over to L.A. and write the story myself. Don’t think I won’t…
Snakes, Snails & Puppy Dogs Tails: That's What Boy Books Are Made of…
Okay, I’m just joking. I don’t really think boy books are snail-like. (And you know what I never got about that offensive little rhyme? What’s wrong with puppy dog tails?) Anyway, there’s been a lot of debate in the blogosphere this week about boy main characters in young adult fiction.
Specifically, two YA authors made excellent contrasting points: Hannah Moskovitz and Tamora Pierce. And while their blogs don’t directly respond to one another (just a warning, the comments get wonky), the gist is whether female characters are more fully developed, three-dimensional, in YA lit than boy characters? And is that the reason boys often skip the YA genre and go straight from Middle Grade to Adult?
Personally, I agree with Hannah. I do find boy characters are often stereotypical in YA novels, but that may be because I don’t read fantasy/action books (which Tamara writes, and which often cater more to boys).
I do, however, have an idea for an MG novel that features a boy protagonist, and while this concept is not next in line for take-off writing-wise, the whole boy-book debate brought it forward in my mind. I thought that if I was going to write a “boy book” then I’d better flesh out the character, and what better way to do that than to interview my twelve-year-old nephew.
(See, I knew there was a reason I agreed to babysit my brother’s kids this summer!)
So against child-labor laws, I put him (and his 10-year-old sister) to work for me, giving me insight into the tween boy mind.
Here’s what I learned about Seventh Grade Boys:
1. A boy must tell a girl directly (to her face!) that he likes her otherwise he will be called “a chicken.”
2. He must hate all sixth graders (because they’re younger, duh).
3. Boy fights typically include one boy telling the other he can “beat him up,” and the other claiming, “No, you can’t.” Rarely do said arguments actually lead to punches.
4. Boys get detention more than girls, often for “being fresh to the teacher.” Though girls still get detention, but most likely for “talking too much.” 5. Boys think it’s stupid when girls fight. Girls have “a lot more drama,” and after fights “girls hold grudges” while boys “get over it.” 6. If a boy had a friend who recently lost a loved one, he would go to the funeral, say “he’s sorry,” and then try to make him laugh the next time he saw him, so he would “feel better and not think about it.”
7. Boys get mad when other boys try to “show off” at sports. Being good at sports, or just mean and scary, tends to lead boys to popularity.
8. The boy who mixes crackers, pudding, hot dogs and yogurt together, then eats it, is considered “brave.”
9. Boys think it’s funny when it’s really quiet and someone farts. 10. If a boy had a female friend who lived next door, they would hang out together, most likely “on the computer,” playing games. But his boy friends would tease him that “he likes her.”
So, there’s a taste! I asked a bunch more specific questions relating directly the plot of my proposed book, but I’m not ready to reveal those yet. You know how it is, the idea needs to cook a little longer.
POP CULTURE RANT: General Hospital
So this summer has brought us soap fans the return of James Franco, and once again I’m disappointed. I liked the on-location art show, and I like that they’re even trying to associate the word “art” with soap operas, but other than stunt-casting, there really is no point to this story. Jason isn’t learning from his mistakes, or trying to differentiate himself from Franco by, you know, not killing people. The police aren’t getting any smarter. (Let’s release a mind-bogglingly rich hit man out of maximum-security prison to help us catch some other dude. Sure! He’ll just go right back to Gen Pop when the case is closed!) And the baby kidnapping? Really? Why wouldn’t Franco take Jake if he wanted to provoke Jason? Are you telling me this stalker is the only person in Port Chuck who doesn’t know Jake’s paternity? And while I’m a Sam fan, I have to admit it’s ridiculously bizarre that Jason isn’t more concerned about Liz’s baby. It’s like they won’t even mention the name “Liz” around Jason, to the point I’m not even sure if he realizes it’s her kid. Character growth, writers. Google the term before your next stunt casting. I'm already worried about the return of Brenda...
Diana Rodriguez Wallach’s debut young adult novel, Amor and Summer Secrets, is the first in a three-book series published by Kensington Publishing in 2008 and 2009. In addition to writing, Diana is a pop-culture junkie: everything from primetime to soaps, ew.com to The Soup, The Hangover to Slumdog, and Gossip Girl to Jane Austen. She’s loves it all and loves to rant. Enjoy!