Confessions of an Edgy YA writer: Part 2

Here’s where I ended my last postSo yes, I write edgy YA. Because I think teens want to look over the edge but they don’t necessarily want to jump.

Here is where I am beginning this post: I write edgy YA because I think teens live on the edge all the time.

I went to see the film BOYHOOD (trailer below) last night. It is a masterwork by Rick Linklater. Filmed over a twelve-year period, it follows a boy Mason and his sister as they grow up in a family, which is not a very unusual family by today’s standards. The kids are the product of young love, two people who fit well together in bed but had a harder time growing up and being parents together. So they split up and the kids watch as their loving mother careens from school to jobs to bad marriages trying to make a life for them. Their father tries to be meaningful in their lives but it’s hard to get meaning out of two overnights a month. Nothing horrible happens. No one gets murdered, raped or beaten but here’s the deal, Linklater takes us so close to what it’s like to be a kid witnessing the vagaries of the adults in his life that every scene has a sense of danger. The little betrayals, vicissitudes, and inattention of adults jerk kids around. Adults don’t mean to do it. They just do. They are human.

In a bit of a cultural zeitgeist, I saw a very similar film a few weeks earlier: HELLION by Kat Candler (trailer below). Again, two siblings are left to fend for themselves as their father goes off on a three-week bender following the tragic and unexpected death of his wife/their mom. Nothing horrific happens but the audience has the sense that life could go terribly off the rails at any moment. As the father careens, so do the boys. As others adults try to help, they inadvertently pull the rug out from under the boys. It is all well meaning and full of love but oh so painful to watch.

Edgy books give teens a glimpse of protagonists figuring the uncertainty of life. Because that’s what the edge is: uncertainty. As far as I know, no one has been able to predict the future so we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Not knowing is exciting and scary. For a teen, that uncertainty is even more extreme because they’ve already fallen off the cliff of childhood. Now they are climbing up some weird precipice called adulthood. In a way, teens live on the razor’s edge between childhood and adulthood.

So yes, I write edgy YA because it tells a truth about what life is like for a teen.

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Confessions of an Edgy YA Writer-Part 1

I write edgy young adult novels. There I’ve said it. On September 16, 2014, when Evidence of Things Not Seen is published, I will join peers like Ellen Hopkins, Laurie Halse Anderson, David Levithan and Coe Booth to name but a few who push the envelope in contemporary realistic fiction.

My goal is not to write edgy YA. My goal is not to titillate readers or incite controversy. My goal is to write honest and true characters.  My goal is to show how those characters grapple with tough moments. My goal is to write a book for teens that is cleared eyed and doesn’t wrap life up in a bow.  My goal is to write books that hold grit and dirt right next to faith and mystery.

Recently at the Texas Library Association, I got to hear Laurie Halse Anderson. She noted that it has been 15 years since SPEAK was published and she continues to write challenging books. Why? Because she learned from her minister father that Jesus was a storyteller and the reason he was a storyteller was because stories helped people learn, understand and prepare them for the world. She thinks that it’s important for kids to read books that allow them to tackle tough subjects safely. She thinks we do a disservice to kids if we protect them so much they are vulnerable when they go out in the world.

I agree.

In a May 6 Publisher Weekly article about the 2014 PEN World Voices Festival, Krystyna Poray Goddu reported about the panel, On the Edge. Moderated by Viking editor Sharyn November, panelists British novelist Sarwat Chadda, Canadian writer Niki Walker, author and photographer Susan Kuklin, and writer Robie Harris discussed sex and violence in children’s literature

While all the panelists were against censorship, they respected parents who chose not to buy their books. Robie Harris said, “There’s a difference between saying ‘I don’t want my child to read this,’ and saying ‘I don’t want any child to read this.’ I have had librarians tell me they would never have my books in their home, but that it’s their job to have them in the library. Those librarians are heroes, in my view.”

Panelists agreed that the concern about children reading inappropriate material for their age can be unjustified because young readers self-censor. “Kids who can’t handle something in a book don’t read it,” said Harris. “November added, “Often you read so you don’t have to experience. Parents need to trust their own child-raising skills and their own children more.”

In my view, what’s lovely about books is the time readers can take to reflect and reread. As much as I love movies, they can be a bit of a barrage. Books, though, give the reader time to revel, contemplate, even think about what they might have done in a similar situation.

So yes, I write edgy YA. Because I think teens want to look over the edge but they don’t necessarily want to jump.

Getting Unquiet

Okay…so I didn’t mean to go quiet for nearly two years. Certainly my life wasn’t quiet during that whole time. In fact, some very loud things happened to me during my absence from this blog: I got an agent who sold my manuscript, which is going to be published on September 16, 2014. That’s some pretty holy crap, shout out loud news, right? I did some pretty significant shouting over on Facebook, Twitter and Emu’s Debuts. But not here.

For one thing, I had to tuck in and write, revise, repeat on for the novel and for another, well, this blog and this site was feeling a little out of date. I thought, “Well, I’ll keep quiet just a little longer while I redo my website and blog and, you know, prepare for the new baby’s arrival.” Only painting the baby’s room and is taking way longer than I thought so I’m not going keep quiet any longer. I’ve got things to say.

Stayed tuned.


Such cool news. Over 12,000 people downloaded Snuggle Mountain thanks to AppFriday and Apps Gone Free. I hope all those folks love the story as much as Leonard Ashcraft and his daughter Ina did: “We really love the subtle animations and the voice over. AND the story. I think we may have more pancakes in our future weekends too!”

Snuggle Mountain is neck and neck with Snow White

Snuggle Mountain is neck and neck with Snow White