Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Addicted to Angst

This post could be subtitled, Why Write YA? I think every young adult author is asked that question in an interview and we usually stumble and mumble something about being connected to our inner teen or never outgrowing the high school years or whatever gem tumbles out of our collective mouths.

Honestly? It's the angst. We're obsessed with it. We revel in it. We wrap ourselves up in it and spin it around and around until we are cocooned in trials and tribulations: will he or won't he? will she or won't she? will I or won't I?

I came to this conclusion last week when I was on a panel of authors and illustrators at my friend Paula Yoo's writing class at UCLA. Here's her blog post with pictures and everything. Paula, by the way, who's the author of the fab novel GOOD ENOUGH, takes pictures everywhere! I love that about her!

Back to the panel.

Alongside me were 2 illustrators, Dan Santat and Erin Eitter Kono, who write and illustrate kids' picture books, and middle grade author Michael Reisman whose SIMON BLOOM series is both imaginative and educational. First of all, let me say this about the three of them: they brought toys! Dan and Erin each brought mock-ups of books they'd illustrated plus Dan showed us a very awesome trailer he did for his book, ALWAYS LOTS OF HEINIES AT THE ZOO, which is just about the greatest title ever! And Michael brought his Air-Zooka which blasts a cannon of air at people across the room. That was frickin' cool!

Now, more seriously, though, when each of us talked about how we got into the business, how we sold our first books, I noticed that the 2 kids book writers and the MG writer all seemed a LOT more upbeat than me. Granted I've had my share of setbacks very recently but hey, we all do. Every writer has good days and bad; it's a never-ending roller coaster ride on this thing called Book Publishing. But it's the way you deal with things that makes a difference. Dan and Erin and Michael were far more positive and "oh well, things will work out" than me. I, on the other hand, was (as Paula so aptly titled her post and remember, she's a YA writer too although she also writes picture books so her angst is balanced out by her happy-good-times attitude) doom-n'-gloom.

It was all about the angst for me.

Woe is me.

Alas, poor Yorick I knew him well.

Life sucks/stinks/blows.

Writers of kids books don't usually have to deal with heavy issues in their books (although exceptions to this abound). They entertain their readers and sometimes educate them in an underhanded way. YA writers, though, take on BIG stuff, PERSONAL stuff, INTIMATE stuff, and we also try to entertain when we can. But entertainment is secondary, usually, to dealing with problems and helping our characters experience growth.

So I guess what I'm driving at is the center of whole nature v. nurture controversy which sociologists have studied forever. Does our angst-y nature make us YA writers or does writing YA makes us angst-y?

And the answer: it's in our genes. We angst, therefore, we write YA.