Two blog posts in a week. Wow.
This one is actually at the suggestion of my agent, who, among several others in my Twitter feed, tweeted a link to an article in The Atlantic that went up a few days ago. I read it and promptly messaged him to say exactly why I have a problem with it.
The article, titled “Why Do Female Authors Dominate Young Adult Fiction?” tries to answer that question, and it makes some valid, well-written points. In fact, I don’t so much argue with the largely-supportive-of-women content of the article (I do a little, but more on that in a minute) as I object to it as the latest in a long line of opinions on YA authors, whether adults should read their work, and whether “good” should be a relative term when applied to books written for anyone not old enough to vote.
It’s undeniably true that there are more female authors writing for young adults than there are male ones, no arguments there. My issue is that the very existence of articles like this, especially the ones with slightly combative titles, seems to blame women for being women and wanting to write at the same time. Any given author who has a book (or many) in a bookstore, is on the road to publication, or is in the bizarre heaven-hell mix of the first draft stage decided only one thing: that they had a story to tell. That’s it. I didn’t decide to be a female writer, I’m a chick who wrote a YA book. It’s not my fault – or that of any of my peers – that almost everyone else who made the same choice is a woman, too.
We didn’t all get together in a big convention room and decide to stage a mass takeover, is what I’m saying. I guarantee the first steps of our respective journeys were, in the majority of cases, decidedly lonelier. A late night, a glowing computer screen, a character who wouldn’t shut up. Maybe a few perplexed but supportive friends.
Gender equality, or lack thereof, and its many ramifications is an important discussion in any field, and as a rule I support that dialogue, but are mentions of “dominance” really fitting here? Is referencing another article, in which the writer theorizes that YA is popular because the plots are simplistic – a point so insulting to both authors and readers I hardly know where to start – the best way to (ostensibly) support female writers? Is continuing to somehow try to justify the explosion of the YA market actually helping anyone? Or does it just serve to make YA the Lady Gaga of literature: Undeniably talented, wildly successful, but divisive and excused as merely a fascinating freak show by detractors? Pick any genre you want, there are terrible adult books that slot neatly into it, and yet those markets are being picked apart for scraps far less. Is this where I make the point that those are mostly written by men? Because I don’t really want to. To me, a good book is a good book, a bad one is a bad one.
Even if the above does illustrate the best way to have the gender debate, I still think the article’s author missed, in opting for nostalgia over science (a split which itself feels very feminine/masculine), what is perhaps a crucial point: that women remember more than men. Faces, emotions, everyday events…we remember more, both differently and more specifically. And so, 10, 15, 20 years later, we are more likely to recall our teen years in a vivid way than men, rendering clearer on the page what is clearer in our heads. It’s worth noting that neither The Atlantic nor any of the other many articles on the subject give statistics on attempts at writing YA fiction, only stats on the ones who did it well enough to be picked up by a traditional publisher. Maybe we’re not doing it more, we’re just doing it better. I really don’t know.
Articles like the one in The Atlantic also almost universally discount that YA authors are, at least in my experience of knowing a bunch of them, just trying to do what any other writer is: trying to write the best book they can. Age is one of many factors to consider. Harry Potter (the first few of which I dispute are YA at all) wouldn’t have worked as books with an adult protagonist. Twilight probably couldn’t have made quite as many people believe that an upper-college-age Bella was still a virgin, though obviously some in that age group still are. The Hunger Games works precisely because of the figurative and literal death of childhood, right on the cusp of adulthood. Don’t write to trends, they say, and I don’t think we are. Since the first day I jumped into the YA author pool, I haven’t met a single published-or-nearly author who is just trying to cash in on publishing’s biggest market. I’m sure there are some, but they are the minority.
Finally, I’ll say what I said to Brooks: That it’s hard to reconcile the pervasive idea that we should be inspired to write books by reading them with being endlessly discussed and scrutinized because we got the damn hint already. The women who came before us did it well and captured our imaginations and were successful, paving the way – or almost single-handedly creating – the market we have now apparently cornered. I, for one, would just like to say thanks.