Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Writing YA When You're Old

 Here's a blast from Julie's past! Actually, I was thinking about a recent factoid that almost half of YA readers are... old! Seriously! Us cougars like to read YA (well, I'm not a cougar but all the young'ins at work call me that now and again simply because I am not 23). But what about older writers who write YA? Take a look at my perspective while I gather up more great interviews with all sorts of YA writers, young and old! Cheers!


She's old. She's tired. She writes YA!
Looking at the headline of this post, I know that the girls at work would have me put a dollar in the jar we keep in our department – the one where I put cash each and every time I say that I am “old.” Really, I am not afraid to say that I’m turning 42 in December. However, it got me thinking about what it means to write young adult fiction now that I am more than “just a little adult.”

Being young-at-heart is a quality I embrace, while also accepting the old soul that resides in this body. I’ve been there, done that, and many of the experiences I had as a teenager go into what I write. My adolescence, while benign by some standards, was colorful and wrought with characters of all sorts. Punks, goths, rockers, nerds, geeks… drunks, drug addicts, good girls, bad boys and fraidy-cats. I played into each and every one of these people, becoming chameleon-like to better fit in and, more importantly, understand where they were coming from. I was the friend of every teenager.

With this in mind, I was also the careful observer. Watching, waiting and hoping to see something that would clarify why someone snorted coke, stole from the locker room, or do every other football player. While I did not want to do those things myself, I wanted to know what the other person felt like before, during and after. What was the result? How did they feel? What did they look like? The traumas and tribulations of teenhood are as blood-gutting and life-changing as anything, and I wanted to feel all of it. This is what I bring to my writing.

Another thing is that I connect with the teenager. Today, when I stand in line at the store sandwiched between a group of giggling 15-year-olds and a pack of 17-year-old skater guys, I feel a part of their world – even though I could be their mother. The understanding of what it means to be a young adult never went away, and I don’t want it to because there’s too much lead weight involved in adulthood. I need the release of writing my characters and speaking their words. Their world is mine.

Oftentimes, the world of my teenagers is gritty, real and now. There are no fantasies, no fairies, no paranormal happenings. The only imagination lies in the heads of the main character, whose life offers enough drama to fill volumes without having been bitten once by something with sharp teeth. I’ve thought about writing from a ghostly perspective, because this is a field I understand, but I haven’t reached the point where I feel the need to. Real life is hard enough – and when you find someone (or a book) that identifies with that, you cling to it. Identification is a must and a need in young adulthood.

As I round the bend of my 40s, I don’t feel any different about the dark complexities and elated highs of adolescence. It is a magical time. There are many firsts and not all of them the celebrated fodder you might find in a lighter novel. Your world is amazing. Experience it now and hold it deep for eternity. Besides you never know what you might do with what you’ve gone through – write a book, perhaps?


  1. Great post, Julie. I turned 42 in June (my 14-year-old Douglas Adams fan daughter informed me that I'm now the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything) but I still identify with and relate to my teen side. I don't draw on the experiences I had as a teen to write my books; I draw on the experiences and friendships I *wish* I'd had. And I have my daughters and their friends to keep me in line if my teen characters don't quite come out like teens.

  2. Thanks for sharing this great post. Just turned 40 this year and published my first YA novel last month. I also pass my chapters with teenaged readers. And I also teach for my day job, so my students keep me in line :)

  3. You hit the nail on the head, Julie! Relating to my teen side is often easier than dealing with the ‘adult’ things in life.

  4. This is a question with a simple answer; the one the author provided. If you observe today's teens along with your own experiences from that period of your life what one considers an "old" person can write YA literature. It's the same question I hear often in differing forms: Can a woman write a believable male character? A man write believable female characters? Whites write black characters? Blacks write white characters? Can a woman who has never been raped write a character who has been raped? Can a man or woman get into the mind of a rapist? The answer to all of these questions is yes.

  5. Well I'm 61 and still inclined to write YA. Currently I'm actually writing a novel for adults and finding it very hard.The next one will be another YA.
    I taught high school for 26 years and now teach in a university - so teaching New Adults - hopefully teaching some of them to be great YA writers.
    I've edited a YA author who turned out to be sixteen - and she wrote the book when she was fourteen.
    The age of the author doesn't matter. Getting the voice right in the novel does.