Not all teen novels are about popularity and dating, some novels delve into darker themes like death, suicide, and war. In fact, darker issues have become more an more popular in recently published books. Death was on the forefront of the Teens in Turmoil panel at the LA Times Festival of Books where three daring young adult authors Gayle Forman, Jandy Nelson, and Cynthia Kadohata all discussed how they handled such delicate subjects. The following anecdotes where shared:
- It is a misconception that writing a difficult or heavy book will not be a pleasant experience. Even if a book revolves around a difficult theme the process of writing the book is often very joyous. Some even felt a sense of joy and transcendence in the process.
- Writing is about re-writing. Jandy Nelson went through 10 drafts of her novel The Sky is Everywhere before she even submitted it to agents. Cynthia Kadohata has gone through at least 7 drafts on all of her novels except Kira Kira. Gayle Forman wrote 12 drafts of the current book she’s writing before showing it to her editor. Write! Write! Write!
- “I don’t believe in writer’s block!” – Forman. Writing is about momentum. Writers block doesn’t exist. Just write something, the energy of writing will transfer. The more you write the more the momentum builds. Momentum breeds momentum. Inertia breeds inertia.
- “This is the golden age of young adult editors right now!” – Nelson. Young adult novels are getting a lot of attention right now, and there are amazing editors in the field!
- “I didn’t know how the book would end, or what decision she would make.” – Forman. Sometimes characters have to make gut-wrenching decisions in books that deal with death. In Forman’s, If I Stay, her protagonist must decide if she wants to live or die after she’s lost all of her family. Indeed, the author herself didn’t know how the story would end. Sometimes the characters have to make those decisions for the author.
- When writing for teens be careful of your adult voice. Often times authors can’t make the jump from adult literature to young adult (or vice versa) because their voice for one genre is so strong. Some of the authors present felt like they actually couldn’t write an authentic adult voice.
- The difference between an adult book and a young adult book (other than the age of the characters) is a sense of hope and redemption in the end of the novel. Young adult books often have that hopeful quality, where adult literature can have a dismal or dark outcome.
Gayle Forman is the author of the young adult novels If I Stay, and Sisters in Sanity.
Jandy Nelson has just published her debut novel The Sky is Everywhere.
Cynthia Kadohata is the Newberry Award winning author of Kira Kira, as well as other novels for young adults including A Million Shades of Grey, and Weedflower.