How old?

I am still really, really divided over whether my characters should be teenaged (16-19) or young adults (20-30). I’m a little over 30 pages in, and still can’t decide.

There’s just so many different aspects you have to deal with with both sets of ages. If they’re teens, I have to grapple with parental/family relationships. If they’re in their twenties, I have to deal with jobs and rent. Sigh.

I’m probably just overthinking it. But I think I am going to print out what I have so far and tweak it so they’re teens and see how it feels to me. Maybe that will help me feel more confident one way or another. I just can’t get so caught up in the tweaking and the small stuff that I never finish. I’ll allow myself a little bit of time to dwell on it, but not a lot.

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Riled and ranty.

Tonight someone made fun of me for enjoying young adult fiction, and that really gets my goat.

It’s not even the fact that he made fun of me (I can enjoy a good-natured jest, or I’d like to think I can). It’s the fact that when I tried to convince him that the young adult genre could have merit, should maybe deserve a little more respect than it does, he just laughed a small laugh and nodded his head at me like, “Are you joking? You have to be. That’s really funny.”

He’s a lit major, like I was, and I know his type, because they were threaded throughout the English department of my school.  They were big and loud with their opinions and their disdain, and were good at making ideas they disagreed with seem small and embarrassing to believe in.

They made me angry then, and he made me angry tonight.

Yes, there is a lot of bad young adult fiction out there, but there’s a lot of bad adult fiction out there, too. Don’t throw Twilight in my face and pat me on the head like I’m a simpleton when I say YA has some merit. When you belittle me like that, you make yourself smaller in my eyes.

Adult fiction is not just one genre, and as YA is becoming bigger, it’s becoming increasingly clear that it shouldn’t be lumped together as such, either. There is ‘popular’ adult fiction and ‘literary’ adult fiction – and I believe the same could be argued for YA, too.

YA is becoming a more widely recognized genre that is being read by adults and youth alike, and there are a lot of opinions out there right now about what that means. People are talking about it. Slowly but surely, YA is nudging its way into view alongside ‘mainstream’ fiction.

So don’t laugh it off so easily, Mr. Pretentious Guy I Ran Into At A Party.

Pretentiousness in general makes me angry, because I think it’s an easy way to silence people who might have something valuable to share. And maybe it’s also a sensitive spot for me because I’m often afraid of what I might be unknowingly pretentious about. I know I used to be pretentious about a lot of things and didn’t even realize it. When I met my husband, that’s when I began to become aware of the fact that I scoffed and belittled a lot of things in the world I didn’t even understand. So seeing that pretentiousness in others – well, I recognize what I’m capable of myself in that behavior. And it frightens and upsets me.

I used to laugh at YA too, and then I learned to love it again. It can be a powerful, moving genre that does so much for youth and adults alike. I’m not saying we all have to be on the same page, here – but his laugh and quick dismissal tonight just made me want to kick over a bowl of guacamole, stomp over to Barnes & Nobles to buy a stack of ‘literary’ YA, and leave it on his doorstep.

Don’t shred it til you’ve read it, man. And after you’re done reading, maybe you could actually give me a real response rather than a throaty scoff.

Divided.

I’ve always loved the young adult genre, since before I was even a, well, young adult.

I began reading YA in the third grade and was captivated. For years I burned through YA books quickly, picking one up as soon as I finished another. YA fantasy, sci-fi, drama – I loved them all.

There were dry spells when I avoided the genre because I thought I was too old for it, or too sophisticated (most of my high school years, a good amount of  time at university). But somewhere along the way I fell in love with it again. I don’t feel as embarrassed anymore to read it in public. I think YA is becoming more acceptable as a genre, and I think it is also reaching out to people beyond young adults, as well.

So why am I trying to write a book for people in their twenties?

I feel like I’m trying to force it. I feel like I’m faking it, like I’m making it up, and someone will read it and call me out. “Liar!” they’ll say, “You don’t go to parties! You don’t have friends like this! You’re making this all up!”

I started this novel a while ago as a young adult book. The protagonist was 16 at the time. But she was too sassy, too jaded, too mature. And it was hard, trying to bring myself back into a teenage mindset. Those weren’t good years for me. It was difficult moving back into that headspace.

I look around at people my age now, people I know in their mid-to-late twenties. I know I’m not the only one who feels a little lost. A lot of people my age have this cloudy look of wandering in their eyes, like we’re walking around but don’t really know what we’re doing. Like we can’t think about it, or it could paralyze us. We embrace the present with a fevered fervor, clinging to parties and rays of sunlight and flashes of the analog camera and the way the wind whispers through the trees, because if we focus on all these little things happening in the moment we don’t have to think about the bigger picture.

We focus on the minute details so we don’t have to step back and try to focus on anything more. We can’t focus on anything larger than the present – it’s out of focus, fuzzy, undefined. And it’s terrifying.

And I know I’m not the only person my age to feel this, because I’ve seen it in others as well. In the slouch of the mustachio’d guy’s shoulders, talking about the latest record he bought. In the too-wide smile of the girl with the bangs and fringed vest, laughing with her friends. Beneath it all, a hum, a buzz – an undercurrent of being lost.

And so I wanted to write a book for us that could do the things that YA did for me when I was younger – it helped me understand things, made me feel less alone, gave me courage and confidence when I had none.

I changed my protagonist to the middle-twenties because I feel like there’s not really a genre for us, not yet, even though I think we are a separate genre of an age. We don’t feel like adults, but we know we’re not kids. We’re in between.

I want a book that can convey that sense of feeling lost, that someone my age could read and connect with and understand. Maybe it could make them feel a little better about feeling the way they feel, because they would know they’re not the only one.

But I feel like I’m faking it, like I’m lying. I can’t get it to write naturally. I can’t feel natural as I’m writing it. Maybe I’m reaching too high.

A part of me is tempted to move it back into YA, to transition it back into teenage mode because that is something I’ve gone through, something I’ve read for years, something that would be more comfortable to slip into like a big, slouchy sweater. But instead, I’m trying to wrangle this age group that I haven’t even fully figured out yet myself – don’t know what I’m doing yet as a mid-to-late-twenty, so how on earth am I supposed to help my characters figure it out?

And so this is what I’m struggling with right now. I’m going to keep writing through it, but I’m afraid that it will end up feeling artificial, fake. I’m not sure how to inject how feel as a mid-to-late-20 without making the protagonist too much of me. I’m trying to make it different than my own life, but then I worry that I’m making too much up. I keep wavering back and forth. But I’ll keep writing for now, and try not to let the anxiety stop me.