Boys Will Be Boys: Guys Talk YA

What makes a book for boys? How do we get boys to read more? These questions and more were discussed at the LA Times Festival of Books YA panel this past weekend. Authors Ben Esch (Sophomore Undercover), Blake Nelson (Paranoid Park, Gender Bender, Girl), Andrew  Smith (Ghost Medicine), and Allen Zadoff  (Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have) share their insight as to what makes boy books kick so much butt!

What determines a book as a boy book?

  • Attitude!
  • Boys are looking to get out into the world. They want to be aggressive.
  • Boys want to read book with realistic male protagonists. They want someone they can associate with on the day-to-day experience.
  • Usually boys like funny books.
  • Boys and girls want to read the same things. They want good stories.

Why don’t boys read more books?

  • Once a boy turns ten or eleven he begins to associate with things that are masculine. And in his world he sees people who read (teacher, librarians, etc.) as women. They begin to associate books with a feminine pursuit. This is why these four male authors did this panel to show young men that reading and writing can be masculine.

What issues do boys deal with and want to read about?

  • Boys are dealing with hormones, they want things like beer and porn. We need more books that address the real male experience.
  • For boys there is a lot of pressure to be macho, to be a dude who has adventures and isn’t sensitive. But in reality guys are sensitive, shy, and often make a fool out of themselves. They are often uncomfortable. We need more books that relate to these experiences.
  • Body issues are also as important to guys as they can be for girls. Guys are also very self-conscious.

Humor and the gross-out factor is often associated with boy books. How do you bring humor into your books?

  • Lots of penis jokes!
  • Find your voice. The voice and tone will be different for each writer. You don’t want the humor to be forced, you want it to come from the character. You want to write it authentically from your voice.
  • Humor has heart to it, and often boys are sensitive. Humor is often a socially acceptable way for boys to express themselves.

Do you think there is a lack of contemporary guy literature? There’s a lot of fantasy and comics for boys, but what about contemporary lit?

  • There is a lot of great contemporary guy literature out there. It will find its way into the hands of the guys who want to read it, from friends, sharing, etc. But it’s a hard market. You have a lot to compete with when trying to get a young man’s attention. He has computers, video games, sports, etc.
  • You’ve got to grab the guy’s attention right away, right out of the gate. They have a short attention span.
  • Guys are funny and if you can capture the coolness and the hilarity of being a teen boy and relate it back to them – then they will respond.
  • Cool is a mystique. It is not the clothes, it’s the dismissive attitude. There is a fundamental hierarchy that is always the same.

What advice do you have for women who are trying to write in a male point of view?

  • Write about yourself. Those feelings are authentic.
  • What does your hero want? This is what matters whether or not the protagonist is male or female.
  • Go for it, even if it feels weird you’ll learn how to wear it, and you will find it very rewarding.

How do you deal with romance in a novel for guys?

  • Put in as little as possible (joke).
  • Men are introspective, and they express themselves differently than girls.
  • Never kill a dog in a book!

Again, the authors of this panel were Ben Esch (Sophomore Undercover), Blake Nelson (Paranoid Park, Gender Bender, Girl), Andrew  Smith (Ghost Medicine), and Allen Zadoff (Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have).

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One thought on “Boys Will Be Boys: Guys Talk YA

  1. Thank you, this was thought-provoking. I’ve been struggling with writing about a 17-year-old boy for months now. I found this sentence ‘For boys there is a lot of pressure to be macho, to be a dude who has adventures and isn’t sensitive. But in reality guys are sensitive, shy, and often make a fool out of themselves. They are often uncomfortable. We need more books that relate to these experiences.’ particularly useful.

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