Saturday, February 20, 2016

The YA Stigma

I hesitate to write this because I don't want to come across as whining or like I think of myself as a victim. I mean, I've experienced true sexism and lots of ill or patronizing treatment from people because of my religion (lemming!), my military service (baby killer!), my current status as a military spouse (leech!), the fact that I'm from Indiana (hick!), my large family (breeder!), my body (baby got back!), my opinions, et cetera, so this is really just one more twig in the bonfire of things I don't really care about. I guess I'm writing this to share my experience.

Truly, though, I have a wonderful support network or friends and family who are cheering me on through this process. The only opinions I really care about are theirs, and they're all positive. (You guys rock!) This topic doesn't bring me down at all, so I'm not fishing for affirmation.

But I've recently started putting myself out to strangers as a writer. Hopefully by the end of next year I'll be able to use the A-word. In the meantime if I say I write, people often get a spark of interest in their eyes, and they ask what kind of things I write. So I say "Young Adult" or "Fantasy." Or both, if I'm feeling talkative.

And a lot of times that spark goes right out.

Maybe it's because that's just not their choice of reading material. That's cool. Did the 70 year old guy really expect I wrote the bass fishing articles he loves? Once my book is a REAL THING, will I be surprised if that guy has never heard of, let alone never read, my story? No. Nor will it bother me.

What's slightly annoying is when disappointment or contempt replaces that spark. Well, I guess that's what everyone's writing these days. Maybe what bugs me here (other than the fact it's not true) is I've never really been trendy, so that goes against my every instinct. That and the silent Oh, I thought you were a real writer.

That response isn't even a fly in the ointment, though, because most people have no idea what it takes to write a book and get it published or what the trends really are. Their opinions are simply ignorant, and not maliciously so.

No, what annoys me more is when I get it from other writers- because they know better. Some of it's envy. I went to a writers conference last year where within five minutes of telling someone, I became widely known as "the lady who has an agent." No joke, I heard myself talked about and pointed out. I'd sit at an empty table and boom, suddenly five people were plunking down their buffet plates or dropping their coats on chairs near mine. Over and over I told my story of getting representation and passed around a copy of the "magical query letter."

And quite often, the grapes would turn sour.

Oh, I wish I could write with the trends. (Really? Can you name one fantasy book that has no magic in it? I can't.)

I'm so over my teen years, there's no way I could go back to that angst and drama. I guess I'm just too grown up for that mindset. (Just because my character is 17 doesn't mean she can't face matters of life and death. Also, as Heinlein said "Old age is not an accomplishment, and youth is not a sin.")

They didn't have those kinds of books when I was young enough to write them. (1. Yes, they did, because I read them when I was a teen. 2. I'm no spring chicken; I have kids old enough to read my book.)

Writing for teens is easy. You just need a love triangle and some sex. And a vampire. (My book has none of those things.)

Fantasy is easy. You get to make up everything. (Yeah, making up geography, climate, two religions, and the history and military structures of four nations by researching dozens of cultures, plus the usual names and physical characteristics of characters is a piece of cake.)

Agents just don't want real stuff anymore. (Well, quite a few weren't interested in my fake stuff, so I don't know what to tell you there.)

That doesn't sound like anything I'd read. (That's fine with me; there's lots of books and authors I don't like. But that doesn't mean you can't learn from my experience.)

Really, though, most reactions are positive, so those are the ones I care about. I had to think really hard to remember those comments I listed. As I said above, I've experienced the same belittling of other achievements and aspects of my life, so it rolls off my back. It's just human nature to degrade what we don't or can't have, whether or not we want it for ourselves. I try to be charitable, because there's a lot of discouragement and jealousy in writing (and life)- I've experienced heavy doses of it myself. It's hard to get published, and I'm very aware of how quick everything has gone for me, so I try to be sensitive to those who have been trying for years.

I do have a wide background, though, and a pretty broad range of knowledge and experience. I get asked a lot why I chose to write a YA fantasy instead of, say, a historical or military or sci-fi novel.

It's a fair question, but the answer is the same as why I have a kid with red hair: That's what I made with what I had at the time. The next one could be very different or similar, though, as it's a part of me, you'll probably be able to tell it's mine.

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