Showing Fangs, Seeding Ideas & WFMAD 22

Our wood for the winter should arrive this week. Whatever day it gets here is guaranteed to be 90 degrees and humid. It’s a law of physics. Wood needs to be stacked in garage = unseasonably hot weather + new hatching of mosquitoes and deerflies. But it’s comforting in a weird, sweaty way, to know the wood is coming, because it means I can start thinking of cool fall nights with a fire crackling in the fireplace.

Since I have starting fires on the mind, I might as well share my curmudgeonly opinion about whether YA books get enough respect in the field of literature. (Chasing Ray is doing a great job gathering opinions about this.)

This is a generalized opinion, not specifically tied to any one article or blog post. It comes after nearly a decade of being introduced as “the lady who wrote SPEAK.” If you are easily offended or irritated, you should probably change the channel now.

They don’t respect us for writing YA? Who gives a damn what they think? People who don’t understand the significance of YA literature to our culture are either ignorant or they are idiots.

Ignorance I can deal with. Lots of folks have been busy for the last fifteen years. They missed the revolution and are just now beginning to hear about this thing called YA. They lack information. Without information they are not in a position to judge. So if they look down on me for writing books for teenagers, it’s easy to shrug off their opinions because they are grounded in nothing.

Idiots don’t deserve my time or energy. They are the ones who make grand pronouncements on literature, who believe that the best way to educate a 14-year-old who reads below grade level is to shove Great Expectations down his throat. Then, when the kid says that the book sucks and that all books suck, and he reaches for his game controller, they are shocked and appalled at this horrifying, illiterate generation.

Idiots sometimes write dense short stories in which nothing happens that cause a sub-section of erudite inhabitants of Brooklyn to twitter and fawn, but leave the rest of the reading world scratching their heads.

When idiots look down their oh-so-refined noses at the raucous world of children’s and YA literature, it says oodles about the condition of their own spirits without contributing to the discussion at all. So I guess instead of flipping them the bird, I should try and be a little more understanding.

Or maybe not.

Are you sensing something defensive about this rant? Something snarly, cranky, maybe a little over-the-top? Yeah, I’m feeling my adolescent oats. I suspect I always will. That’s part of what makes me an enthusiastically happy YA author. I adore teenagers and I have a lot of empathy for what the culture puts them through. They are disdained, disrespected, patronized, criticized and scorned.

Gee, that’s the same attitude YA authors often run into.

So maybe the ignorant and the idiots are good for us. Maybe we need them to keep snubbing our work and dismissing our dreams because it reminds us what our readers are facing every day.

Any thoughts?

WFMAD Day 22

Today’s goal: Hasn’t changed. Write for 15 minutes. Don’t stress about the number of words you produce. Your brain is not a factory making word-widgets.

Today’s mindset: hopeful

Today’s prompt: I’m thinking ahead to what seeds I want to order for the garden next year. (BTW, if anyone has had success with using nematodes to control Japanese beetles, please tell me about it.)

I keep a gardening journal. As ideas come up for long-terms gardening adventures, I write them down. I need to ponder some ideas for years before I can really see the best way to execute them.

The same thing goes for books. There is a Future Projects file on my computer that is huge, and notebooks stuffed with ideas. These are the seed packets for my writing for the next decade.

Use your fifteen minutes today to write down seed-ideas for your writing for the next ten years. Let your imagination go wild.


27 Replies to “Showing Fangs, Seeding Ideas & WFMAD 22”

  1. Your comment about giving Great Expectations to reluctant readers made me laugh. I give a talk about YA literature on open house night every year when some parent asks which “classics” their 7th grader will be reading this year and seems surprised when Dickens isn’t on the list.

  2. _Great Expectations_ is exactly the book that cost an English teacher BD’s respect. Good thing we’d read some other Dickens together at bedtime earlier, or she’d still loathe him.

    It almost seems like the way you know whether something truly matters is how much respect it doesn’t get from the culture at large. YA literature, teachers, nurses, plumbers. Even if I didn’t write YA, I’d still read it, because YA authors seem to write about things that matter. That’s not so much the case with many writers for the adult market.

    Japanese beetles–nematodes didn’t do much the couple years I tried them. I keep a covered jar by their favorite targets and drop in any beetles I see, leaving the jar in the sun. It’s rough, but so is what they do to my beans.

  3. Teenagers, it seems to me, get bored because they don’t get challenged enough. I bet this is true because they don’t get challenged well, as your Great Expectations example demonstrates.

  4. YA Literature

    I constantly have people ask me why I am reading a teenage book or in the teen section of the Barnes and Noble. Often times I tell them it is because I teach teenagers and then comes the standard reply- “they have the classics to read, these are just glorified romance novels.” I usually have to resist the temptation to instantly demean this person in public and force myself to explain what YA Literature is and how it helps kids. I taught a class for two years where half of the students had some sort of learning disability. They would not read Mark Twain in class and it was like pulling teeth to get what I did out of them, I had to teach Twain being the new teacher and department rules to follow. But I also taught Speak to my 8th grade girls and guess what four of the 15 girls asked for their parent/guardian to buy them the book for Christmas. One grandma wanted to know what I had done because the granddaughter had never asked to own a book before in her life. I had boys lining up to read Miracle’s Boys and First Part Last because they found themselves in the pages. People have no idea that teens are looking for someone they can relate to and they don’t often get that in the real world. Finding a character in a book that thinks like them is a huge release and they don’t feel so all alone anymore. I could get the students who hated to read to talk about books in their journal writings and I actually knew they were reading. I feel sorry for students sitting in classrooms today with teachers who only teach the classics and nothing more. As you can see I totally agree with your rant and it is something that I am passionate about as well. Sorry to take up so much space on your comments.

  5. (warning: read the whole post) I’ve published in literary magazines, my stories sharing a piece of page with the prize-winning giants of the literary fiction world. I’ve written stories so precious that everyone who read them swooned with delight. Never mind that only three people actually read the stories, and one of them was my wife, who didn’t ever swoon. Never mind that the circulation of those magazines was only about one thousand copies, most of them owned by libraries and other writers who never read them. Never mind that I gave my work away for a couple of contributor copies. Never mind that I waited for years to receive form rejections. It was all terribly, terribly worth it because everyone knows that only a select few can decide what good literature is, and for a few brief and shining moments I was one of them.

    And then I woke up.

    A writer is nothing without an audience of readers. A story that is never read is no story at all. The purpose of a book is to find its reader wherever that reader is. All forms of literature can do that. All genres of fiction can do that (literary fiction *is* a genre, with the same type of rigid, non-negotiable rules that defines, say, romance novels). It is not which literature or which genre of literature is best, but which is best for the reader.

    Personally, I want to be read, so I’ll repeat what I posted on Justine Larbalestier’s blog. Writers for adults, please remain in your market category. You can keep the highly competitive, non-paying literary magazine market, the MFA programs, the great ambition of being published by a small or university press. You can be the king of the prestige hill or walk about with a dab of snot on your noses looking down on other writers. Be my guest.

    Here’s a box of tissues. Please go away.

  6. I totally understand your statement about being comforted about the anticipation of your winter wood supply being delivered. I was in a craft store this week and they have all of their fall and Halloween decorations out. I have a confession to make, I was happy to see it all. I just love fall! It’s my absolute favorite season.

    With regards to YA literature I have the following to share. When look back at the books that made an impression on me they were not the ones that were assigned in class. If anything those were the books turned me away from reading. I can see this happening with my own child today but it is much better than when I was growing up. My teen daughter was selected to partake in a reading program this summer for gifted students. The books assigned are clearly for adults and there is not one that a teen could identify with. Guess what? She hates it, big surprise. Getting her to read these books has been like pulling teeth. With all the great YA books out there why adult reading material is assigned is baffling to me.

  7. Know exactly what you mean about that “I should be more understanding, but” feeling.

    It puzzles me over and over again that adults get to read for fun, but kids and teens are expected to read only books that are actively “good” for them. Even aside from the question of what makes us think only certain books are good for us–why do we think kids and teens don’t have the same right adults too, to read a book purely for fun?

  8. Fabulous post. There’s a thread on the Verla Kay Blue Boards discussing an article about the lack of respect for YA authors. Some people thought it was horrible that YA authors are so looked down upon, that they needed to be more respectful of their fellow writers. Me? I say we should smile and walk away. I write YA and love it. I don’t want to write for another age group (except maybe MG), certainly not for adults. So it was really refreshing to hear you say “Who gives a damn what they think?” 🙂

    I got in a full day of work yesterday, again. 😀 Only a couple hours today, but that’s okay. Got other things that need doing, and I’ll be back tomorrow. 🙂

    Question for you: what do you do after you finish one of your projects? Do you jump right into the next? Or do you take some time to wind down first?

  9. Idiots sometimes write dense short stories in which nothing happens that cause a sub-section of erudite inhabitants of Brooklyn to twitter and fawn, but leave the rest of the reading world scratching their heads.


    I have no plans to stop reading YA, although I’m technically not the age the genre is aimed at, so I’m glad YA authors have no plans to stop writing it.

    This quote from the New Yorker made me grin.
    At the time, you had to be fourteen, and a boy, to get into the Astor Library, which opened in 1854, the same year as the Boston Public Library, the country’s first publicly funded city library, where you had to be sixteen. Even if you got inside, the librarians would shush you, carping about how the “young fry” read nothing but “the trashy”: Scott, Cooper, and Dickens (one century’s garbage being, as ever, another century’s Great Books).

  10. The bills keep coming, the stories keep coming, I keep writing.

    I am already deep into the next book by the time I finish the previous one. I have no desire to take a break. Maybe someday, but not now.

  11. Some English classes here in NYC are beginning to integrate books that kids actually like to read (e.g. recently published YA novels) among the musty hoo-ha of those books that have been on the required reading list since 1841. As a result, lots of kids are now liking (or even loving!) books for the first time ever. Some of these kids are actually reading their first entire book (the usual required suspects for English class just get skimmed before quizzes, if that) because they’re finally reading something interesting. I wish more English curriculum planners would understand that kids can become lifetime dedicated readers if they were just given books that move them.

  12. AMEN!!!! AMEN!!!! AMEN!!!!!!!!!

    My fourteen-year-old son, not an avid reader to begin with, has to read SNOW IN AUGUST before he goes to high school this fall. I actually read the book several years ago in my adult book club. I enjoyed it, but I thought it was a pretty tough read, as did most of the folks in my book club. We are all avid readers and all women.

    I’m reading most of the book out loud to him. My son enjoys about every fourth chapter. For the most part, there is way too much description, and way too little action to satisfy him. He’s also struggling with a lack of background knowledge- the main character is Catholic, we’re Protestant. There is also lots of Jewish culture and mythology. The book switches back and forth between Brooklyn in the 1940’s and Prague in the 1500’s.

    My son has decided:A) reading is definitely boring and B) high school is going to be too hard for him. Every day, I wonder why they couldn’t have handed us a calendar, and told him to read thirty minutes a day. I’m longing for a good YA novel for him right now!

  13. Why can’t they read both? I’m a teacher, and I love YA literature, but I also see the merit in classic literature. I have students who are ready and eager for classic literature, and I have students who just aren’t there yet. Either way it’s okay. Students should have some choice in what they read–they introduce me to so much fun stuff every year. But there will never be one book or even one genre that attracts every student, no matter how fun or relevant it is.

  14. My thoughts: Rant on with your bad self. Also: word.

    I’m off to write down seed-ideas. And some small part of my brain wants to know whether your gardening journal is on the computer or in a journal/notebook.

  15. Unless your son is mentally challenged, you are not doing him any favours by reading aloud to him. He is 14 years old – if he’s going to high school next year, he’s got to be able to find the motivation, or to hone the skills he will need, to read a book.

    If your son is mentally challenged in some way, I deeply apologise, but it seems odd to me that such a child would be given a difficult book to read over the Summer.

    Here is a link you may find useful.

  16. P.S.

    “High school is going to be too goddamn hard – mummy’s not going to be able to read to me when I’m in class – how am I going to get through this?”

  17. I agree with you %100.

    Children need to be exposed to literature such as Great Expectations. I am living proof that some will not only enjoy it, but would hate to be underestimated.

    If worse comes to worst, separate the classes: don’t compromise a child’s education, simply because some brat is perpetuating a myth about teenagers and reading.

  18. I wish your books were around when I was in high school. I remember reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Flowers For Algernon, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and a few others. Nothing much for people my age, though. The most hard hitting book I read at the time was Johnny Got His Gun which stuck with me for years and years. It’s still a powerful book but doesn’t exactly reflect most teens’ experiences.

  19. Why do children need to be exposed to Great Expectations? Is there something about that book that no other book can offer?

    There are some highly proficient readers whose decoding skills will allow them to enjoy the story, no doubt. And they should be given that book and many others so they can keep meeting new levels of understanding and growth.

    But the label of “classic” is meaningless if it means a book inappropriate to the reader is force-fed to a student who is not prepared for it.

    I think the goal of English classes is first and foremost to create literate Americans. We are not succeeding. We’re not even close. The average American reads on an eighth grade level.

    Great Expectations will be there when today’s high school student – who is struggling to read on grade and who is in danger of becoming a book hater – is an adult. If he is lucky enough to live in an enlightened school district, or have parents who understand how to foster reading for fun, he’ll be given books that hold his attention, while challenging him enough to increase his reading skills.

  20. One more thing – based on my experience putting four kids through high school in the last decade, the “minority” of high-level readers who are capable of the old-school classics and really enjoy them are not in any way neglected. Not at all!

    They take AP English. Most of them adore it and succeed wildly.

  21. Hmmm. 15 years? That kind of sucks. I’m sorry to hear that.

    But mostly i am commenting because i have a question.

    Idiots sometimes write dense short stories in which nothing happens that cause a sub-section of erudite inhabitants of Brooklyn to twitter and fawn, but leave the rest of the reading world scratching their heads.

    Can you clarify this part? I’m guessing you’re saying that these stories shouldnt be written, or that there is something wrong with them, because you’re calling their authors idiots. But i’m not understanding why a story is necessarily bad because it was only written for a small audience. (My only guess is you’re saying kids have to read this stuff in school…but if that’s the case, i would say that’s the school’s faults for choosing the wrong lit for their students, not the author’s fault for writing it.)

  22. read alouds

    Most schools of education at major universities all around are advocating reading aloud to students at any age. This is not the sole type of reading done in a classroom but is an additional form. You can look up numerous articles on the internet that discuss the benefits. Here is just a quick link that I found . I am sure that you can find many more. If read alouds are intended solely for the young and mental challenged then why do authors do readings of their works? I love to hear an authors voice tell the story that they wrote and I am not a person with a mental challenge. I can tell you based on test scores in my classrooms that reading aloud every now and then improves test scores. Don’t be so quick to look down your nose as something that is working.

  23. *appluase*

    So. So. True.

    As a reader of YA literature, people often look down their noses at me because I “should” be reading Shakespeare and Dickens and all manner of more challenging words, or that I “should move up” to adult books. I do read the classics, but I also read YA books because at some point I realized that YA books tackle some of the same VERY difficult issues without the inclusion of gratuitous violence or sex added in simply because at the “adult” level, the authors can.

    And on the subject of the dense short stories, I have read them and refuse to “twitter and fawn” unless something actually happens. If it’s all florid prose and no substance, it’s not a story but a jumble of fancy words strung together like pretty beads with weak thread to bind them and no throat to wear them. There isn’t a point to the sparkle.

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