When my editor decided to take on my first book, one of the first things we discussed was what my target demographic is.
For the longest time, I was one of those “I write for me” writers, but – especially as a new author – marketing myself to a specific group would be more effective. Given that my main characters range from 15-25 years old, and the story’s high energy, paranormal action atmosphere, my editor and I came to agree on shaping it to be a Young Adult novel. I’ll admit, I was irrationally butthurt at first about having to filter out most swear words, feeling limited by my restrictions – though to be fair, it’s not like I had any extreme violence or raunchy sex scenes in there to begin with. But as we continued on with the editing process, not only did the YA label feel more fitting, it created an overarching theme that, in the end, made me really excited to share with my future young readers.
As a recent college graduate beginning her new career as a therapist, I feel about as young adult as people get. I’m not so far detached from my youth that I need to ask on writer forums, “What do the young hip kidsters say and do these days?” If anything, I can craft a believable teen far more easily than a believable 50 year old. My emotional, confusing, and admittedly angsty teenage years are still close enough behind me to be freshly memorable, but my few years of “adulting” through college and the “real world,” offer me much advice to go back to give to young Maria. While I can’t do just that, I’m sure there are plenty of other teens out there currently arguing with their mothers about why they should go to that late-night warehouse party with that older boy who totally won’t manipulate her.
It’s funny seeing my novel evolve over the years. I created the characters and original plot when I was 13, younger than all my characters. There was something really exciting about pairing 17 year olds, writing about their love lives and whatnot. Despite the small age gap, I perceived them as much older than me, almost romanticizing what I believed the future could hold for me. As I got older, it hit me hard: being an older teenager sucks. It’s not just about getting that popular girl’s attention, or wearing the coolest clothes in school. Even now, I don’t think I could have effectively prepared Young Maria for the heartbreak, loneliness, misunderstandings, and struggles of finding her place in the world. I remember how petty it all seemed to my parents. My mom would always say stuff like, “It’ll be okay, someday this won’t matter, you’re young, I know what’s best.” And yeah, maybe some of it was true – heck, I can hardly remember the name of the first boy that made me cry in high school – but it was the last thing my brain was able to process. It wasn’t what I needed to hear.
I needed someone to listen to my feelings. I needed someone to acknowledge that, yeah, things suck right now. They probably will suck for a while. Life isn’t always going to be a happy fairy tale, and that’s okay. Everyone feels sad, upset, and angry at times, and that’s a totally normal thing to express.
But I think what was even harder than getting through my crazy high school years was accepting adulthood. Moving away from the protection of my home to the big city for college was brutal. I’m suddenly making big life decisions for myself with very little time to think. No adults are around to help or do things for me – I am the adult. Worst of all, that older boy my mom warned me not to be around? Yeah, I learned the hard way she was right about him. For the first few months after moving out, life really sucked. But it was okay. While all this sounds so gloomy, the most important lesson I learned was keeping my chin up and finding hope despite it all. I had an amazing group of friends to help me through the ugly parts, and once that was over, so many awesome memories were made. No matter how awful things would get, my friends always helped me stay optimistic and filled me with hope.
While I’m no expert on the teen brain, I’d like to think I can at least share what I think I personally needed at the time in my book, and I hope it will be at least somewhat meaningful for my readers. Coming-of-age, accepting the hard times that comes along with it, and optimism are all important aspects from my life that I believe are important to share with my readers. My wacky urban dark fantasy shenanigans aside, I don’t think I’d be able to portray my hopeful messages the same way if I wasn’t a YA writer.
Do you write YA fiction? What are your favorite things about writing YA fiction? Feel free to drop a comment! Thanks for reading! 🙂