I think everyone from my publisher to my mom raised their eyebrows when, after four and a half (more on the half later) ‘grownup’ novels, I dropped everything to write a YA paranormal romance. But the truth is, each of those four and a half novels could have been – was even trying to be – a YA novel. They all have teenage heroines, aside from one who’s just turned twenty-one and is still very much a girl. The heroines all have unusual, sometimes supernatural abilities or talents which lead them to unusual, sometimes epic, destinies. And they all find true love in the process.
But these books are also pretty heavy on politics and religion and history and a lot of other things that don’t really cut it in the YA market. So I guess the obvious question is why I chose to turn what could have been relatively simple teen fiction into much more complicated – and possibly less saleable – adult stuff. The answer is partly that my publisher didn’t do children’s books before I talked them into printing ‘Bound’. But mostly it’s because, up until quite recently, I was too much of a literary snob to write YA. And the reason for that goes way back to my childhood.
Teen paranormal romance has been my favorite guilty pleasure since I was far too young to be reading it, and I’ve been writing it since I exhausted the local library’s collection, circa age twelve. I finished my first novel, a YA paranormal romance, at age sixteen, and very nearly had it published. The ‘very nearly’, however, was my downfall. If it had seen print then, I probably would have embraced the genre as legitimate and continued down that road.
Instead, I went to an Ivy League university to study English literature, and spent the next four years reading and analyzing literary heavyweights. There was no time to read outside the curriculum, and there was certainly no Teen Literature 101 on the menu. Likewise, the creative writing masters’ program I attended afterward would have laughed me out the door if I’d put the first chapter of ‘Bound’ in front of them.
By the time I got my MLitt, I was fully convinced that I’d never be taken seriously as a writer unless I wrote about weighty ‘grownup’ things like politics and religion and history. So that’s what I did…except, somehow, my books kept being about teenage girls. And there were always ghosts and dreams, monsters and prophecies and inexplicable hands of fate somewhere in the mix. I was half way through novel number five, another weighty historical that happened to feature a teenage girl with paranormal tendencies, when I picked up ‘Twilight’.
I admit, I was blown away – but not in a fangirl kind of a way. In fact, while the story was a good, solid Gothic, I couldn’t love it because I didn’t much like either Bella (insipid and spineless) or Edward (controlling and paternalistic). What really fired me up was the book’s runaway popularity, not just with its intended audience, but with their mums and older sisters and grandmothers and, no doubt, a few boyfriends who would never admit to it. At last, it seemed, the rest of the world had figured out what I’d known all along: if you want a fast, well-plotted escape from reality, look no further than the local library’s YA section. So maybe it was time for me to write one.
I already had pages of notes for a book about a fallen angel which had never quite panned out, plus more material from a stalled web-based project on the same topic. Both had misfired, I think, because I was trying to frame them for an adult audience. Filtered through the perception of an innocent teenage girl, though, these germs of a story suddenly leapt into 3D Technicolor reality. Hot, angsty fallen angel = adolescent girl’s dream guy. But where to begin?
At first I toyed around with a historical setting, since that was what I’ve always written. Immediately I got bogged down in the details, and my husband-cum-chief-editor said, “Don’t you think kids would relate to it better if it’s set in the present?” That was maybe his best advice ever. As soon as I set it in the present day, in a place I knew very well, ‘Bound’ basically wrote itself. Four months after that conversation – compare to two years for most of my others – I had a finished book, and a brand new view of what it takes to make a good one.
That doesn’t mean that I’ll write nothing but YA ever again. In fact, when I finish the ‘Bound’ trilogy I plan to go back to grownup book 4.5, and hopefully make a go of it. But I’m also glad to have come out of my YA closet at last. True love, after all, is a rare gift, and should never be denied.