Writers' Chat: YA Literature

YA Author Suzy Turner
YA Literature, Why it sells and Where it is Going
YA literature made headlines in 2011 when the children's books critic for the Wall Street Journal, Ms. Gurdon, accused some YA novels for being too violent and inappropriate for a teen market. 

More recently an article in the New York Times suggested that modern YA literature had lost the freshness of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland and moved into dark areas. The Harry Potter series was mentioned, referring in particular to Rowling’s “demonders” and her acknowledging that  inspiration for them came from a bout of depression she had suffered.

On the other side of the barrier, the Historian Amanda Foreman, author of  “Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire,” told a reporter from the NYT (Pamela Paul, August 6, 2010) : “good YA is like good television. There’s a freshness there; it’s engaging. YA authors aren’t writing about middle-aged anomie or disappointed people.”  

Claude Nougat
I met with YA author Suzy Turner to discuss this, and we both felt that the resulting chat could be of interest to both YA readers and authors. The conversation is both here and on her blog

Suzy has just come out with DECEMBER MOON, the second book in her Raven series, and I came out with RECLAIM THE PRESENT, the second book in my Fear of the Past Trilogy.

Our points of views, as you will see, are somewhat divergent because, while we are both into YA literature, we come to it from widely different angles. Suzy is into a fantasy world filled with vampires, changelings and witches, I am into a paranormal world filled with historical characters who are the forebears of my protagonist. My books can be found on the upper right corner of this blog, while Suzy's books are about a young girl who discovers she possesses a unique ability inherited from her unusual family and you’ll find them on her site: http://suzyturner.com 

Claude: What’s your take in this controversy? Do you think YA authors have moved into forbidden territory for young adults – too dark, too forbidding, too violent? I don’t think everyone has, I know I haven’t but then I’m not into Peter Pan/Alice-in-Wonderland stuff either! 

Suzy:  Not at all. if you look back to the kinds of stories that were read to us as children, you'll see that they were just as dark and forbidding if not more so than in many of today's YA books. The Grimms Brothers' stories, for instance, were full of dark, terrifying tales! 

Claude: What I love about YA literature is that it is such a flexible genre: it contains everything from fantasy to paranormal - like both our books - to all sorts of other things, like dystopian fantasy, science fiction, thrillers. Just about anything goes, all genres are mixed and can even be found within a single novel - like mine which combines paranormal with historical elements. Mind you, I spent a lot of time doing historical research and travelling to the places I describe to ensure accuracy! Do you see that as an attractive feature of YA literature? Is that why - or at least one of the reasons - you wrote your book?   

Suzy: Absolutely and I think this is one of the reasons why it is such a popular genre not only for young adults but for older ones too. One of the reasons I wrote my book is because I felt the place in which it was set, had a story to tell. Powell River in British Columbia, Canada, bewitched me into creating a tale of fantasy!  Both of our books have one thing in common though and that is the "search for self" element within. Both of our main characters are trying to discover who they really are, albeit in very different guises. 

Claude: Yes, that’s what I liked about the YA classification: it gave me a chance to explore in depth the "search for self". When you are young, there's so much to learn about the world around you, but particularly about yourself. Tony, my protagonist – a computer whiz kid - is learning about himself in a very peculiar way: through his forebears who come back to him as ghosts, explaining to him what their life was like, what work and love meant to them. Normally that is something you learn from your parents and friends - I thought this was a different way of exploring one's roots. Going deep into the past. Your protagonist learns about herself by travelling abroad, from London to British Columbia and meeting family she didn’t even know she had! Isn’t that right? 

Suzy: Yes, Lilly actually grew up in London stuck in the confines of a tiny apartment, not allowed to go out and have friends, other than the one she secretly had at school. When her parents disappear and she moves to Canada, it is there that she begins to learn more about herself - through the family she never knew existed. In the beginning, she is so naive because she never had the chance to grow. 

Claude: Actually, searching for self is something that concerns us as adults too! We never stop discovering things about ourselves and trying to adjust to new challenges in our lives…Which I suspect is why YA literature has an enduring appeal to all ages! My Fear of the Past Trilogy focuses on the fundamental question: how much of ourselves do we inherit from our family and how much can we call our own? Are we born a virgin slate or do we inherit our character traits from our forebears? Bottom line, is there such a thing as free will?  Is this something your books are also concerned with, and in what way? 

Suzy: That is an interesting question, Claude, and one that is quite difficult to answer. In the beginning, Lilly is quite obviously born a 'virgin slate' until she discovers the truth about herself and then her true self - and her inherited ability - comes out. She really does discover that she is a different person after that moment. The same can be said of December Moon (Lilly's best friend). 

Claude: Overcoming the inheritance from the family can be hard, particularly if it’s a heavy one – like my protagonist who has a family extending back 900 years! But it can happen to anybody who meets the ghosts of his forebears the way he does!  This is why the title of the first book in the trilogy suggests the answer: Forget the Past! Go ahead and live freely, without harking back to it! In the second book, Reclaim the Present, the protagonist has another living-in-the past experience that teaches him that whatever he has inherited from his forebears – even if he’s been dealt the same cards in terms of inherited looks and character – it is up to him how he plays his cards! His life is in his own hands! To sum up, in my opinion, what distinguishes YA novels from other genres are coming-of-age experiences.   

Suzy: Absolutely, but there are also those YA books filled with violence in them, the kind that shocked Ms. Gurdon and probably turns off quite a few parents.   

Claude: Yes, but this is to be expected in a search-for-self kind of literature: not all kids are born with a golden spoon in their mouth! How do you feel about the role of violence in YA novels? Do you think violence should be avoided? Or is there a way to "integrate" it without making it "inappropriate" for teens? 

Suzy: I don't like to read violence just for the sake of it. If it is necessary to push the story forward then that's fine or if the main character needs to learn something through violent elements then okay. I just hate violence for violence sake. Raven, for instance, has little violence. There is talk of death but no gruesome scenes. Its sequel, December Moon, however, focusses more on the vampire characters in the story, some of which are evil, and the only way for them to be stopped is to be killed... so it does contain some pretty frightening scenes! 

Claude: Don’t scare me! Say, like what? Can you give me an idea of what happens in December Moon? I remember that was the name of your protagonist’s best friend back in London, before she moved out to British Columbia… 

Suzy: lol Yes that's right, December is Lilly's best friend and she discovers a family secret too... one which takes her to America, away from her not-so-nice aunt, and back with her mother, not far away from Lilly. That's all I can give away though! 

Claude: Thanks Suzy, I enjoyed the chat! Just to sum up: YA literature’s success seems to be due to its versatility. It’s not stuck in a genre, it’s open to all of them! And that means it’s open to innovation and new themes. And it’s focused on themes that are of continuing interest and relevance to all age groups, not just Young Adults! Those two reasons largely explain its enduring success. Would you say that’s right? 

Suzy: Oh yes absolutely, Claude. Its versatility is one of the defining facts about YA literature that makes it so appealing, not just to read but to write too. I love writing in this genre and I hope to continue to do so for years to come! Thanks for chatting with me Claude... it’s been a blast!

Q4U: Do you agree that "versatility" explains to a large extent the enduring success of fiction for young adults? In your view are other factors at work?

Do you believe that "quest for self" is a defining feature of YA literature? Are there other features that you see as more important? Do you think the trend towards violence and more extremist themes can hurt YA literature's popularity? 

Logo Amazon 
                                       SUZY TURNER     DECEMBER MOON
                                  CLAUDE NOUGAT    RECLAIM THE PRESENT

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