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14 February 2007 @ 07:55 am
Q & A - #11 - "Why, how and when did you get into YA literature, and ..."  
Q & A - #11 - "Why, how and when did you get into YA literature, and how has that affected your work as an MFA student?" ~ robbiewriter


This is actually a funny story. To me and Lisa, anyway.

I started out wanting to write quality short stories. I read the likes of Raymond Carver, The Best American Short Stories, and The O'Henry Awards trying to glean what I could from the greatest that slept within that writing. A whole summer filled itself up with short story writing, and then the next spring I submitted my applications to MFA program or, actually, just one, at CSULB. Once I got the letter saying I'd been accepted, I knew I would have to quit my job.

During that time, my wife had found her way to young adult books. I'd come home from a long day of teaching to find her taking another break from her college schoolwork to read young adult books. The giddy spirit that flooded her face when she'd finish a book every other day, enjoying every moment of her reading experience, made it too easy to humorously mock her reading material as easy, simple, childish. I remember my wife bringing home Kevin Brooks' KISSING THE RAIN, Markus Zusak's GETTING THE GIRL (ironically, she never actually read this book and he's now one of my favorite authors), and others. I didn't really mean it, but I had to say something to make myself feel better about taking a week to get through one of my classics.

By the following summer, the one before my leap into MFA darkness, I'd recanted and found my way to the Newbery Award winning novels -- A SINGLE SHARD, THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX, HOLES, KIRA KIRA, and BUD NOT BUDDY, among others. If I stick to the award books, I'm still sophisticated, right? So when I sat down that summer during my three months of paid vacation to write a practice novel before I entered the MFA program, the novel that came out of me was an attempt at the Newbery Award. For serious. I guess I figured I'd read enough of them to know what sort of plot, tone, and voice is necessary to tell a tale like that. I'LL SHOW YOU EVERYTHING, my novel that will never again see the light of day, was the result.


Now, I love Y.A. literature. For its depth. For its skilled writing. For the enjoyment. For its heritage. At the stage in my writing career and having taught kids for 5 years, young adult is all I want to write. So when I began assembling my thesis committee for my MFA program, I ran into trouble. I couldn't believe what they were saying! "Children's (Can you believe they used this term) Literature isn't complex or literary enough to be used as your thesis." "Juvenile literature isn't quite what we're looking for around here." "We're wanting something a little more serious." The reality is, I can't blame them. They're just holding the castle's keep.

Luckily, the department hired 3 new full-time creative writing profs, one whose husband has a 2-book deal with young adult novels. I was in. And am still in. I was able to get the Adolescent Literature prof onto my thesis committee. They've all read my novel, NORMAL FOR ONCE, and have given it (and me) great comments, thoughts, and respect. And just yesterday, one of my MFA compadres brought in the first chapter of her chick-lit novel to workshop, something she wouldn't have fathomed doing last year. Amen for broken-down walls!


I'll be answering one of these questions a day for as many questions as I have, so if you've got anything you wish you could know about me,

d i a N aflicker2reflect on February 14th, 2007 08:35 pm (UTC)
have you read and/or heard of Sarah Dessen novels??
The Blog of Author Jonathan Stephensjonstephens on February 14th, 2007 10:20 pm (UTC)
Not yet, though newport2newport has raved about her on occasion. I will definitely give her a shot after graduation.
ryan_fieldryan_field on February 15th, 2007 03:10 pm (UTC)
Sticking to genre
I think you've answered another question I asked with this post. And, in a comment you made about another recent post invovling genre. I think I get what you're saying when you state you don't believe YA is a genre (right? did I get it wrong?) so you won't be sticking to a genre (you dicussed this before, right?...by comparing JD Salinger and other cross overs?). But doesn't it seem like everyone wants to "box" us in? I recently submitted a 40k word historical romance to Kensington (they had a submission call that was very detailed, so I decided to give it a shot to see if I could actually do it...oddly enough I kind of liked it)but I didn't list all my publishing credits in the query because once they see you've been published in other areas an invisible red flag goes off (at least that's what I've found).
The Blog of Author Jonathan Stephensjonstephens on February 16th, 2007 04:09 pm (UTC)
Re: Sticking to genre
I'm pretty sure you're going to be Q & A #14 tomorrow. I'll get to this in more detail. :)
ryan_fieldryan_field on February 16th, 2007 05:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Sticking to genre
Cool...This is something I really get into.