Readers Read Stories
Confession: I don’t understand when I hear people say, “I don’t read that genre.”
I’ve been ridiculously addicted to reading basically my whole entire life. (Hello, this blog used to be “Reading Makes Me Happy”, and my dusty Blogspot blog still claims the domain name: “readingmakesmehappy .blogspot. com”.) I was THAT girl. You know, the girl whose parents checked on to see that she was sleeping, and, after they left, she would promptly break out the flashlight and read throughout the night, Never Ending Story style. Seriously. Addicted. Still am.
So, I’ve basically confided some time ago, that I have read and loved stories in every genre. EVERY genre. Why? Because I thoroughly enjoy stories. Anyone’s stories. Heck, I will hire anyone who has great stories during an interview. Why? Because the person who can entertain me during an interview can entertain future strangers when selling products. Just sayin’.
Plainly speaking, readers (at least THIS reader) read stories, not genres. And, a good story is a good story, no matter the genre (end of story). I do understand that people have a need to label and categorize things into neat, marketable units. Hence, genres. But, just because books are organized in a certain way for selling and navigational purposes, doesn’t mean that consumers need to “read” that way.
Genre, What is it Good For?
I appreciate branding for what it is, but the one drawback to it is a misperception of what that brand could be. Same can be said with genres.
Take the Young Adult genre nowadays: whether paranormal, sci fi, or contemporary, 90% of it revolves around high school: classes, relationship dramas, etc. Because of that, I never thought to seriously write a YA story, because I quite frankly didn’t want to stay in high school when I was there, and so why relive that as an adult? My high school wasn’t hard, but I always felt like it was an annoying four years holding me back from my real life (I much preferred college. If I could stay there forever…)
I was more of an observer of high school rather than a true participator. Sure, I played the game, and was president or officer of at least three different clubs (depending on the year), active in electives, etc, but that’s all it was to me. A game. That I played very well. However, I knew it was just a phase and not Real Life, and so I never really invested much in it. (Sorry, but I got A’s without even trying.)
I don’t want to say that I was “serious” but I definitely wasn’t the typical 16 year-old I currently see on TV, chasing boys and defying my parents. In my household, my siblings and I often seamlessly wove theology, art history, and the latest Star Trek episode into an argument about who should get the last bit of sausage and eggs. That’s just how we rolled. THAT to me was Real Life. The way I viewed my high school experience then is pretty much how I view my paythebills job now: a great diversion, but just a stepping stone to get me to the next phase of my Life.
Another misperception that I had about YA Lit stemmed from the fact that the characters tend to be right around 16. From there, I assumed the stories must be flighty and without substance. (Take a look at what the CW has been playing for the last 5 years, and tell me that I was off base to come to that conclusion.) But, then I thought to myself, “Dude, I wasn’t flighty and irresponsible at 16.” That thought led to a series of facepalm moments where I realized that I didn’t have to write about teenagers as portrayed by the CW. I can write for the young adults that never quite fit in with the other young adults (which, evidently, is EVERY young adult’s story, no matter who you are).
I want to write for the one who unapologetically loves hammy sci-fi, kung fu, action movies; who is addicted to comic books and anime; who secretly reads torrid romance novels, and cries at sad movies; who wears a three-piece business suit for a class presentation one day, and a ballerina tutu with combat boots and Sailor Moon hair the next.
Basically, I want to write for my 16-year-old self.
And, thinking about my 16 year-old self brought me to the real principle of YA Lit. It’s not the high school or the agonizing over boys. Not quite about fitting in or pleasing the parents. It’s about identity. The rest of it (high school settings and boy drama) are just (replaceable) back drops and props in the protagonist’s journey of self-discovery.
Young Adult? Really?
The value of YA Lit, then, that I admire and am attracted to, and one that I always tried to write in my non-YA stories that never fit, is the idea of self-discovery with a sense of wonder.
I have felt that sense of wonder at 16. I still feel it at 30. I want to continue believing in and embracing that sense of wonder.
And, that is why, in the (hopefully near) future, I will be proud to bear the title, “Young Adult Author.”
Yes. Young Adult. Really.