Season turning & question about taking risks

This morning’s sunrise felt like it had the angle of springtime. I haven’t been down the road for a few days, but I bet they’re getting ready to tap the maple trees on the farm.

Thank you, everyone for the kind and wonderful comments about the magic window and the cottage. BH spent all day yesterday sanding the window and we promise we’ll be updating regularly on the progress. The anticipated completion date is late summer/early fall.

WINTERGIRLS is #3 on Indiebound’s Kid’s Indie Next List for Spring. This is a list of exciting new titles compiled by the independent booksellers. Be sure to check out the whole thing.

Let’s go to the mailbag!

You wrote: How do you know if people accept or condemn like your book? …. What I mean is, how do you know if, because your book might have a few aspects that will undoubtably raise some conservative eyebrows, that it won’t just be deemed inappropriate and nobody will want to read it?

Speak is one of my favorite books, and one of the things I love about is that you don’t try to shove the subject of rape under the ring, or use lavender words to merely allude to it. You tackled it straight-on, which a lot of writers won’t do because–heaven forbid–it’s a difficult topic.

This excellent question goes to the heart of YA literature. When we write for teens, we are writing for millions of readers with vast differences in maturity level, experiences, and background. They come from diverse families. Some kids will be ready for books that are gritty and realistic, others won’t be. This is why parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers, and reviewers are all part of the YA literature universe.

Someone will always pop up to object to or complain about your book, no matter what you write. That’s a given. There is no way you can please everyone. Neither can you write a book that will appeal to everyone’s tastes. First and foremost, you need to write the book that is in your heart.

When I am towards the end of my revision process, I give serious thought to my intended reader. If I had written any of my books for an adult audience, I am sure I would have made some different choices. I wanted SPEAK to be appropriate for younger as well as older teens because so many young teens are sexually assaulted; they are easy targets because they are young and naive. I deliberately toned down Melinda’s memory of the rape scene, made it less graphic, for that reason. The less-graphic description works organically within the story because when she was raped, she’d had a couple beers, so the memory is a little blurred around the edges. In part because I made the decision not to give a sexually graphic description of the rape, most people feel comfortable handing the book to 8th graders, and some to 7th graders.

And then there are the folks who feel it is a book that should only be given to a senior in high school, at the end of senior year, because that’s when they are old enough to discuss these issues and read stories that reflect the realities of sexual assault.

We cannot control how people react to our books. Our job is to write; write honestly, write with passion and compassion, write the true. Does that help?

WINTERGIRLS goes on sale in 15 days!!

14 Replies to “Season turning & question about taking risks”

  1. Now you’ve made me stop and consider (again)–the intended reader comes in “toward the end of the revision process.” I would have guessed earlier, but I can see the advantages of doing it at this point. I’ll see what happens the next time I reach the revision stage.

  2. I read Speak in eighth grade, and soon afterward read Catalyst. They are seriously so fantastic, and deal with hard issues in a way that isn’t trite. I’m now “too old” for YA books, but I have kept those two around since they offered me so much comfort.

    Seniors in high school?! One in 10 students grades 9-12 report being assaulted. It doesn’t wait until you’re mature enough.

  3. We cannot control how people react to our books. So true. Even with an awareness of the ‘market’ (and I include teachers/librarians in that, though more often than not it seems to be a handful of parents who are the problem when it comes to being terrifyingly pro-censorship), there will always be people who feel that a book is ‘inappropriate’ no matter what.

    Re: considering the intended reader quite late in the revision process – do you feel this might be something can be left until that point because you go into something with a fairly clear idea that it is young adult fiction? Or when writing do you allow for the possibility that it might turn into an ‘adult’ or ‘middle-grade’ novel?

  4. Someone will always pop up to object to or complain about your book, no matter what you write. That’s a given. There is no way you can please everyone. Neither can you write a book that will appeal to everyone’s tastes. First and foremost, you need to write the book that is in your heart.

    That. Yes.

    We cannot control how people react to our books. Our job is to write; write honestly, write with passion and compassion, write the true.

    And also this.

  5. I’ve got Wintergirls pre-ordered and am much looking forward to it!

    I have a writing question for you. I know you’ve mentioned that you keep an idea notebook and that not all ideas will really end up working… I’m wondering when one has a lot of ideas for stories and/or characters, how do you go about picking the right one to really invest yourself in? Is it just instinct or is there any criteria you use or just some general thoughts or advice for deciding?

    Thank you.

  6. We had a long, and very fruitful, discussion in my college YA Lit class about what age people would feel comfortable giving SPEAK to a class to read.

    The men tended older, the women younger, as I recall. Younger class members tended younger, older class members older, as well.

  7. i love the way you answered the question
    people shouldn’t sensor books because of age, but because of their MENTAL age
    i don’t know if i make my point
    but you are such a great author, i love how you talk about all of these controversial topics the way you do

  8. YOU ARE NEVER TO OLD TO READ YA BOOKS.

    I know several women thirty and older that only read YA books. The adventure is usually better, especially in fiction. I don’t know, maybe it makes us feel young again. Anyway,Ya books are the ones I enjoy the most.

    I gave SPEAK and CATALYST to my 14yr young daughter and my 12yr young niece. They loved them as did I, and they got the message. We had a discussion after each one of their own accord.

  9. I’m a freshman in college, and I only just had the pleasure of reading Speak over winter break. I had no problem that it’s been labeled as “YA” or “Chick Lit.” I have since read Catalyst and Twisted. I really wish they had had us read novels like yours in middle/high school English- they would have provoked much more stimulating discussion than some of the nonsense they made us plow through.

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