Tagged: YA novels

The Importance of Blogs

It seems everyone has a blog these days. (Hell – I even have two.) But I don’t think it needs much argument that some blogs are infinitely more useful than others.

The problem, though, is that there are so many blogs out there. I mean, seriously. There are about a thousand blogs for every topic you can think! Mind, I haven’t found one for bass fishing while wearing a tutu, but (a) I honestly haven’t looked for one, and (b) that’s probably a bit more specialized than the casual fisherman/reader would want. (But you never know.)

Now, as a writer who is [ahem] several years a couple of decades older than the characters she writes, it’s important for me to know what is going on in the YA world, especially trends that YA readers are getting tired of seeing and themes YA readers would like to see explored.

And by “YA readers,” I mean “YA Book Bloggers.”

The blogs I’ve come across and chose to follow are truly valuable. Seriously. I specifically took out all traces of profanity (though I left “Oh my God” because, well, I had to draw the line somewhere) based on my niece’s advice and after contemplating a rather interesting post I read. I rewrote an entire scene in which a character originally commented that another character was dressed as “a slutty Dorothy” for Halloween when I realized, after reading another post, that wasn’t the kind of thing I would want this character to say because he wouldn’t be so degrading – and nor should the hero of any story refer to any girls in that way. I took out the phrase “girly-girl” after reading yet another post that discussed the subliminal misogynist messages in YA literature because I agreed that I used that phrase as a kind of shorthand to describe a character.

And as minor as these tweaks may seem, to an impressionable 10-year-old who might pick up my book, these details are so important because words have the ability to shape what people think of themselves and how they feel about others around them.

I will be honest: I don’t go in search of these blogs. As much as I would like to, I can’t. I work, I’m raising a precocious 5-year-old, and I’m writing my next novel. But I do the next best thing: I follow a bunch of YA folks (authors, agents, bloggers) on Twitter, and I can glean information that way.

You can imagine my delight, then, when Nicole of WORD for Teens announced she was creating a Reader Report and sending it out via email. As soon as she posted the link to sign up on Twitter, I signed up straight away. You see, WORD for Teens is so much more than just a book review site (though she does review books on occasion). Nicole discusses all kinds of topics, insightful things that someone my age (who has been out of high school longer for more years than she was in age when she graduated but is still a few years from having a child in the pre- or teen years) hasn’t considered or given much thought to in recent years. Important things that are just as relevant now as they were *coughs* years ago but carry different weights because of technology or the pervasive media or [insert way things are different now than they were back then here].

So, I got the very first Reader Review in my In Box yesterday. I wasn’t able to get to it straightaway because I was in my writing group and trying to work out the end of Chapter 3 so that I could move the story along, but I opened it and carefully read it from the comfort of my reading/writing chair once The Boy had been safely tucked into bed.

In a nutshell, for someone like me who doesn’t have the time (or, let’s face it, the energy) to devote to looking up current trends in YA literature that readers would like to (a) make disappear or (b) see more of, the Reader Report is a godsend.

The issue I received yesterday included some of the following topics:

  • Does sex have a place in YA?
  • The new New Adult genre
  • The controversy over ‘sick lit’
  • Are retellings fanfiction?
  • Clichés

See? Really handy!

There are giveaways, too, and, as the newsletter is in its infancy, includes information about advertising. But I love it because I can quickly see recommended posts from (what I have found to be) a reputable source that discuss topics of interest in the YA Book Blogging community.

While I may have my own opinions and disagree with some of the blog posts mentioned in the Reader Report (blogs are, after all, opinion platforms at the end of the day), I often finish reading them with a new or updated perspective on the subject.

And as a writer, having this readily available is, in itself, an incredibly valuable tool.

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Cursing in YA Fiction

I am really torn.

I’ve been furiously editing my first novel, Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up?, and I’ve passed around the second draft to a few friends to get their feedback. My sister asked if it would be okay to let my nieces (aged 9 and 11) read it, and since I ultimately wrote it with them in mind, I responded with an enthusiastic “yes!”

Miss M (my 9-year-old niece) finished the book in a single day (she was home from school because she was sick) and emailed me with the following feedback:

I read your book and it was a nice book and was very realistic. A thing I think you may want to change if you want my age group to read this is the curse words.(do we really need to read the b word and the a word not to mention the h e double hockey sticks one?)

Okay, maybe nine years old is a bit young for my novel. After all, my protagonist is a 15-year-old girl who has her first boyfriend – whom we later learn is rather abusive. Should a 9-year-old be reading about an abusive boyfriend? Well, I guess I did when I was that age; Sweet Valley High addressed that very issue early in the series. But SVH didn’t have any cursing in it, from what I can remember.

But the topic at hand is the cursing, not the content. So here is my curse-word count as it stands at the end of the second draft:

  • Hell – 5 times
  • Ass – 4 times
  • Damn – 2 times
  • Bitch – 1 time

The “F-bomb” and the “S-word” aren’t in the book at all. I used the list of unacceptable words for Prime Time TV as my guide.

Now, I’m certain I can get around “hell”. I’m also pretty sure I can eliminate “ass” and “damn”. But “bitch” is where I have a degree of difficulty because I really struggled with finding the right word for that scene. It’s kind of like when Rhett is leaving Scarlett at the end of Gone with the Wind and the movie community wanted David O. Selznick to remove “damn” from the scene. Sometimes, there really is no other word.

(And, as I tried very hard to be cognizant of my nieces as my audience, “bitch” is only used that one time.)

Okay, I suppose I can substitute another word. I guess I could use “whore”. And since the character exclaiming this epithet is a bad guy, anyway, I wouldn’t feel so bad about it. But to me, “whore” feels like a much stronger word, something laden with much more malice and venom. I mean, by definition a “whore” is a woman who is promiscuous in her sexual activities; a “bitch” is just an unpleasant woman. I’m not saying that I’d like to be called either, but I’d be less offended if someone called me a “bitch” than a “whore”.

I guess I’m just irked that a much more loaded word would pass through the censors.

Last spring, ABC News reported that foul language is popping up more and more in YA books. I don’t think it’s necessary to have a few hundred instances of cursing, but one or two epithets are certainly forgivable. I don’t want to sound like one of those authors that says, “Well, my character is 15 and all teenagers curse.” I’m definitely not saying that. But I’m of the believe that a well-considered, appropriately placed curse is not just acceptable, it’s also necessary.

I may be wrong.

So then I checked out Mary Kole’s blog, since she’s the author of Writing Irresistible KidLit, which is a great resource in terms of making sure I’m addressing issues correctly and with the right voice. (And it’s also helped me overcome areas where I get “stuck” trying to craft a believable response to something.)

And here’s what she said:

If you absolutely have to use a swear word in your manuscript, if there’s no other word it could be, then use it. You won’t get a squeamish look from me…. You might also alienate yourself from certain libraries, school administrators, booksellers and editors who work for more clean-cut imprints and don’t publish content. There will be parents who are too scared of their kids growing up, who are in denial of the words and ideas that fly around every middle and high school in every town in every country, too.

[sigh]

My niece is just one of about 10 people I’ve asked to read my second draft, so I’m taking her suggestions to heart and will address them in my third draft. And I may very well just decide that nine is too young for my book. I’ve written a Young Adult novel, after all. I never intended for it to be a Middle Grade book.

But I also don’t want my word choices to alienate someone that I kind of wrote this book for.

Thoughts?