Teenagerhood and YA books

I came across this blog post a few days ago by Shaun Duke I believe: Young Adult Fiction Can’t Win.

I can’t really respond to Shaun because I’m not really sure what he’s saying.  The post mainly made me want to go off on a tangent… what is YA fiction?  Why is it needed?  I think it’s a stupid idea in the first place!

There might be plenty of definitions, but the one that makes the most immediate sense to me is: YA fiction is fiction in which the main character is a YA, a teenager.

Some might argue that the nature of a story’s conflict also makes YA fiction what it is; the plot must deal with teenager issues.  But such a definition makes me cringe.  What in the world is a “teenage issue”?  (To be perfectly honest, I hate the notion of there being a “teenager” stage in the course of human development at all.)

My own teenagerhood

Maybe I just had a very fortunate adolescence, but in high school and college I was more of an introvert (am and always will be really), and tended to hang out with people who shared my interests and were right around as “nerdy” as me.  I never wanted to be popular or look cool or attractive, and that never made me feel lonely.  I never had any peer pressure to do any drugs or drink any alcohol or do anything risky or stupid.  The world of relationship woes is still another world to me.

That said, I still hated adolescence.  But it wasn’t because of drugs or relationships.  It was because of SCHOOL.  School was a lot of hard work that I still believe was mostly absolutely meaningless.  Society just thrusted upon us because that’s the tradition.  It gave me a lot of unnecessary worry and stress, and took away a lot of time that I would have loved using in more useful ways.  I was not and could not be in control of my life, and that’s what made me angry and moody and depressed.  It had nothing to do with “coming of age” or dealing with drugs or relationships or a “changing brain” that people are now claiming teenagers have.  It was just plain old not being in control.

And the only way out of it was to just get through school.

(I still get extremely angry just thinking about how the generations before me could allow something as dismal and pointless (and harmful and depressing) as the current high school educational system to emerge and sustain!  What complete buffoons!)

Still, I’m 23 years old now, and I don’t think anything magically changed within me from when I was 15 or 16 or 17.  Of course, I have learned more about certain things… I can drive a car much better now, I think I can write music and literature better, I can program in Java better, blah blah blah, but nothing has drastically changed inside.  I never “came of age” or learned some mystical truth that made me pass from “teen” to “adult” … I just got through school.

So maybe I didn’t have the normal “teen” experience?  Did I miss something?  What do teenagers really want?  For me, it was just control and freedom.  For others, is it popularity?  Wanting to feel loved?  Wanting this-or-that person to be your boyfriend/girlfriend?  If so, then yeah, I did (and hopefully always will) miss out on suffering over those things, but I don’t think those are just “teenage” issues, those are life issues that all must learn to deal with; there are plenty of adults who still struggle with those things.

Even “being in control” is really a life issue, but getting older and out of school tends to solve it.  (Though never completely!)

Some confirmation bias

I came across this article about an adolescent Bill Gates which stated:

The battles reached a climax at dinner one night when Bill Gates was around 12. Over the table, he shouted at his mother, in what today he describes as “utter, total sarcastic, smart-ass kid rudeness.”

That’s when Mr. Gates Sr., in a rare blast of temper, threw the glass of water in his son’s face.

He and Mary brought their son to a therapist. “I’m at war with my parents over who is in control,” Bill Gates recalls telling the counselor. Reporting back, the counselor told his parents that their son would ultimately win the battle for independence, and their best course of action was to ease up on him.

Aha!  See?!  Told you so.  It’s about control.  This Bill Gates anecdote proves it!


When I was a teenager, I didn’t care about the age of the protagonist, and I didn’t read fiction to commiserate with a fictional character.  (Not entirely, at least; I guess it’s more about trying to understand your own struggles in different ways, so I don’t mean to say that fictional characters shouldn’t deal with real-world issues.  They should.)  Nor did I much care for the notion of being “written down to” … the notion that there was some adult who could “understand me” and impart wisdom.  One of the first things you learn when you’re a teenager is that adults actually aren’t always all that wise.  (The wise ones will be the first to admit that.)

So I think the whole idea of YA fiction is just a stupid emergent property from this whole “teen culture” that’s been created by a society that infantilizes and seeks control over their youth for far too long, and it’s really not needed at all.  (Or at least the need has been artificially created.)  Teenagers can enjoy any book they want, and I wouldn’t mind it if the YA market vanished completely.  Books with adolescent main characters could of course still be written, and it’s probably only natural that younger folks would be more attracted to those stories, but those books don’t have to be an entirely different subset.  We don’t have “twenty-ish fiction” … fiction about adults in their twenties for adults in their twenties.  Likewise with “thirty-ish fiction” or “senior fiction” … but those stories are still out there.  Every main character has an age.

Eh… so there’s my rant.

By the way, check out Robert Epstein’s book The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen.  Not sure he’d necessarily agree with my opinions, but it was some more confirmation bias for me when I first came across it.

Also, here’s a Wikipedia article on what confirmation bias is, in case you’re curious!

Self publishing is stupid

I was reading the following article on CNN.com: More authors turn to Web and print-on-demand publishing.  The article stated:

When she was turned down by several traditional publishing houses, Genova decided to follow a different route: self-publishing via Web-based companies

Turning to the Author Solutions self-publishing brand, iUniverse, Genova published her book for $450, a cost that included an ISBN — the International Standard Book Number that uniquely identifies books — and the ability to sell on Amazon.com.

Months later, after receiving positive reviews … and a favorable review in the Boston Globe, Genova’s book was picked up by Simon & Schuster and is in its 12th week on The New York Times Bestsellers List.

There are probably a few other success stories like these, where an author self-publishes a book, then it gets really published, and the authors sells a lot more.  But I’m sure it’s rare, probably more rare than just having your manuscript accepted by a traditional publisher in the first place.

So, no, self-publishing isn’t really stupid… what can be stupid is what people might expect it to do for them.  Despite the allure of the success stories, you’re probably not going to sell very many books to strangers.  (I imagine it’s much easier to sell to friends and family, who’s interest in reading your fiction would come more from knowing you.)  You’re not going to get it picked up by a traditional publishing house.  It’s not going to get a slew of good reviews from strangers.  It’s not going to make you rich.  (In fact, even getting a book published the old-fashioned way probably won’t make you rich either.)  Don’t expect these things.  And don’t say you don’t expect them while secretly expecting them.

I think it’s wonderful that print-on-demand gives everyone the opportunity to at least try getting their rejected material out there.  It’s nice to have that back door and to not have to completely depend on some editors’ or agents’ opinions.  But it’s stupid when writers put all their eggs in one basket, when they put all their dreams in one book.  Don’t expect your first novel to get traditionally published.  Or your second.  Or your third.  While you’re trying to sell one, get started on another and just keep going.

Another thing that bothers me is how some people market themselves (like following me on Twitter).  In general, here’s what books I buy:

  • books that are already famous
  • books by already famous authors
  • books by authors I’ve read and enjoyed before
  • recommended books from people or podcasts I trust
  • books with really interesting covers and a really interesting blurb on the back (very rare!)

Books by people I know is not on the list (people I know really well should give me a copy for free).  Books by people who are following me on Twitter is not on the list.  Books by former English teachers is not on the list.  Books with extremely bad covers, as if they are drawn by middle-schoolers, which they sometimes are, only encourage me to laugh at the book and open it with the expectation that it will be stupid and worthy of mocking.

So, if you’re self-publishing, be careful marketing yourself.  I hate it when authors use adjectives to describe their own work, like “A heartwarming humurous tale of a brave knight…” or “A magnificent surprising story of a poor girl…” or “An eye-opening philosophical mind-bender that will change your religion…” STOP IT!  Just tell me what the story is about and I’ll think of my own adjectives for it.  Why in the world do some writers think that for a moment I’ll believe their self-promotional adjectives?!  Leave that to reviewers.

Don’t directly invite anyone to read your text.  Only hint at it, and let interested potential readers explore it themselves if they want to.  That way they won’t feel like they’re doing you a favor, or some social chore.  And don’t take it as a personal insult if someone you know well isn’t interested.  No one should have to be interested in your work just because you know them well.

Lastly, consider giving your story away for free online.  Podcast it and put up the text.  Then, when (or if) people get into the story and they want a physical copy to keep, they’ll pay for your self-published book.  That way they know what to expect (and, again, they won’t feel like it was forced upon them).

DO look into a pro-artist for the creating a cover; don’t just get your niece who draws with colored pencils to do it or your friend who’s done some fiddling with PhotoShop… invest in someone who can really make it catchy and professional.  Also get someone to edit it, and be sure to ask strangers for critiques; there are some services online in which you can get free critiques.  Family and friends probably won’t be as objective when reading your bad writing.  I’m guessing the biggest reason first novels are hardly ever published is because the writing just stinks; writers need practice like in any other art.  (Another reason is the subject is probably stupid… if you’re not a celebrity, no one wants to read your memoirs.  I don’t know why so many writers want to write about their lives.  Of course things that happened to you will influence your plotting and writing, but use some imagination!!)

Anyway, I probably shouldn’t be talking because I’ve never even finished writing a novel in the first place, and I certainly haven’t been published!

I think I just get tired of dippy self-promotional marketing.

Random stuff

I thought David Lubar’s Guide to Literary Fiction was hilarious.

I agree with this article on how to recognize bad writing advice.

Reading and writing and blah blah blah

Been a while again, eh?  I submitted my short story, Oberon’s Paradise, to yet another publisher, this time online magazine Strange Horizons.  They publish stories about once a week on their site free for anyone to read.  The story’s been rejected three times so far, but it never hurts to keep trying.  I’m also trying to get back into the habit of critiquing other people’s work through Critters, a free online writing workshop, and I’m hoping to put my newer short story, No One Was Abendsen, through the critique line.

I also finished another orchestral piece for my album which I call On the Edge of a Dream.  So far my album is up to a bit over 20 minutes, so I’m about a third of the way there.  One song that will be on the album, White Castle Waltz, is already available on iTunes and CD Baby.  I must say, it’s pretty cool seeing one’s work on iTunes, even if they’re not really a selective distributor.

I finished reading Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, and I have a few quotes from it to put up on my Book Quotes blog.  It was a very good book, definitely worth a read if you’re interested in non-fiction.

I also finished reading a fantasy book by Kage Baker called The Anvil of the World.  It was a short book that came out in 2004, and I think it’s out of print now.  I wanted to read a book by Kage Baker because I had read a few of her short stories and enjoyed her style.  It was pretty light reading; the plot never got extremely thick or dark and the world never seemed very complex, but it was still engaging and believable and very humorous.  Not a bad read at all.

I’m still reading The Lord of the Rings (50th Anniversary Edition), a nice all-in-one volume I got for Christmas, but now I’m also reading T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, the book of the legend of King Arthur, which has definitely been enjoyable so far, especially since I already know how parts of the story go, and this book kind of fleshes things out.

And… I think that’s really all I have to blather about for now.  Kinda boring, eh?