Saturday, December 14, 2013

Misconceptions about young adult fiction

The other day, the leader of my writing group updated her Facebook status to say she was looking for a new writing adventure. One commenter suggested she write a YA novel that didn't have vampires or werewolves in it.

It was one of those things that wasn't meant to be overanalyzed, only said in passing on a Facebook post. But it made me think. As a writer who primarily writes young adult horror and fantasy, I know a lot more about publishing than the average person, even more than most readers. I know that in the publishing world, paranormal novels are metaphorically dead, being replaced with contemporary, coming of age novels (ex: John Green) as the next big thing. But if I were an outsider looking in -- especially if I was a casual reader who didn't write or pay much attention to publishing trends -- I might associate YA fiction with vampires and werewolves.

And they have been pretty popular lately. I don't write stories with vampires or werewolves, and I very rarely read any of them (though I did just start reading SHIVER). And I'm even getting burned out on paranormal and dystopian, two of my favorite genres, just because there are so many of them out there. So I get that people might  be getting tired of the vampire and werewolf trends. But for some reason, it bothers me that people seem to think so many YA novels are about vampires. It's not because I feel the need to defend them (come on, who needs to defend vampires? They can take care of themselves). It's because people have the wrong idea about just what YA is. Because when they think of YA fiction, their minds immediately go to sparkly vampires and shirtless werewolves. And that's not what it's about at all.

People on the outside of a trend, who aren't fans and don't really care much about the trend, tend to simplify it. After all, you can't love everything, so when you see something you're not interested in and don't understand, you don't want to take the time to learn about it. So you don't. For example, when I think about Thor, the first thing that comes to mind is Chris Hemsworth. Never mind that Thor has been around since long before the recent movies. I just tend to think of Chris Hemsworth because my primary experience with Thor is the movies, which he stars in. But if I ever told that to a hardcore comic book geek, they'd probably think I was a complete idiot.

People have thought for years that YA fiction was shallow and simplistic. Fortunately, that seems to be slowly changing, but the majority of non-writers I encounter (and even a lot of writers) still only have a vague idea of the thing that takes up most of my free time and that I want to turn into a career.

I don't expect people to know the ins and outs of everything that's important to me. I'm not that self-centered. But I'm hoping that as the popularity of YA fiction continues to grow, that people will get a different picture of it in their minds. That they'll stop calling every new YA book-to-movie adaptation "the next TWILIGHT." (I cringed every time they said that about The Hunger Games or The Mortal Instruments.) That they'll hear the phrase "young adult fiction" or "writing" and instead of thinking of sparkly vampires, they'll think about the complex themes and characters in YA fiction.

Or at least not look down on the people who do like these things.

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