Writing Young Adult Fiction

Firstly, I realize that I failed to deliver Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times Festival of Books panel recap, so you get two panels for the price of one today! Starting with words on writing Young Adult fiction from the delightful risk-taker Libba Bray and this year’s L.A. Times Book Prize winner for YA Literature Pete Hautman.

Bray, author of A Great and Terrible Beauty, and Hautman, author of The Big Crunch, talked characters, community, challenges and social media as they relate to the genre.

Most Young Adult fiction authors have long left young adulthood behind. When asked about writing characters that appeal to all readers and keeping the inner adult out, both authors agreed that while they do write for a younger audience they also write for themselves. It’s almost a necessity when writing about a teen protagonist to write for both young Pete and old Pete, Hautman said. “An adult reading the book isn’t reading the same book a teen’s reading.”

After all the recent drama about adults reading YA Fic (stemming from that trolling article I won’t even link to here), I had to smile at that statement. I think it rung true for much of the panel’s audience, enthusiasts ranging from senior to infant.

On keeping the inner adult out of stories, Bray said she maintains the little details about her own young adult experience that allow her to write relatable young characters and stories. “You never stop coming of age,” she said.

I called Bray a risk-taker earlier in this post because she called herself a “leaper” during the panel, and also because she went from writing a series of fantasy novels occurring in the late 19th century with the Gemma Doyle trilogy to writing about the experiences of a high school kid suffering from mad cow disease in Going Bovine.

“I always want to go where the story is,” Bray said on taking risks. She then shared the origins of her truth-seeking compulsions with the audience. At fourteen, Bray’s dad came out to her family. In her mind, it created a schism between what was presented and what was actually happening. “[The event] made me prize honesty and authenticity,” she said. It also helped her develop a closer relationship with her father.

It seems the topic of social media comes up when discussing anything these days and Hautman admitted to committing a crime of which many social media savvy writers are guilty (including myself): losing precious writing time to the many meta folds of the web. “One minute I’m writing a chapter,” Hautman said, “and the next thing I know, I’ve been on Facebook for half an hour.”

Bray, on the other hand, said she tends to go underground when writing. I wish I had that kind of discipline.

Hautman and Bray discussed the evolution of the genre and the publishing industry, and Bray brought up a big issue in both worlds: diversity. Bray said the community needs to make more strides in diversifying the genre. Hautman added that in order to get from here to there in diversity, the change must be driven by the educational system. Bray noted that there aren’t a lot of people of color in publishing and is hopeful that this generation will blow diversity wide open.

A Judy Blume panel recap will follow later today!