Purple Prose + YA

Why Do You . . . ?

I’ve seen this question a lot on the internet lately: Why do you write [fill in the blank] novels? Good question. What is it that calls to you to write a certain genre?

I could answer this like many YA writers do by saying I love writing about the Firsts. First kiss. First boyfriend. First taste of freedom. But this is the real reason I write it . . . .

You go to the hiding place in your room where you’ve stashed the knife, its blade seductively sharp. No one will notice, it reminds you. You’re perfectly safe.

You pull up the sleeve of your long-sleeved t-shirt, and find an empty spot. Or maybe, like a diabetic readying herself for her insulin shot, you search for another site. One less used. Maybe your thigh.

With pressure, you draw the blade across your skin, relishing the stinging bite. The physical pain is welcomed. Wanted. Craved. Anything to numb the other pain. The one you’ve cleverly hidden from your friends and family. They don’t know. So easily fooled.

Your heart sinks. There’s nothing more than a deep impression. Not enough to draw blood. You try again, this time a little harder. By the time you’ve finished, pinprick-sized drops of blood peak from the first attempt. Oh, well, guess you didn’t have to do it twice after all. Now you have two cuts to deal with.

Deep down you know what you’re doing is wrong, but you can’t help yourself. The release you feel afterwards is worth it. And sure, writing GUYS ARE ASSHOLES in permanent ink might be a more effective reminder. But that would be harder to explain than the cuts. At least with the cuts you can lie. You can tell people a branch scratched you. The thicker ones you can explain happened while canoeing. But better yet, you don’t let people see them in the first place. Especially while they’re healing.

I wasn’t a teen when this became a bitter part of my reality, but I was pretty close to it. I was in university at the time. I thought I was the only person who did this. I had no idea until a few years ago that there was even a name for it. No one talked about it. It was never mentioned in any of the books I read. Sure, there were books that talked about suicide, but these were adult novels. And cutting is NOT the same as entertaining suicidal thoughts and acting on them. Not even close.

Back when I was a teen, there were no YA stories about cutting, rape, suicide, depression, eating disorders, drugs. There were no novels that reached out to give hope to those going through these realities, to show them that there was help available, that they weren’t alone. That there were other teens dealing with the same issues.

Some people think these topics (including sex) should be excluded from YA novels. If we don’t talk about them, teens won’t do them. But that’s not true. When I was a teen, books didn’t talk about these things, but teens still did them. To me, the role of a YA writer is to reach out to a teen who’s struggling with an issue in her life (or knows someone who is going through the same thing). Maybe not necessarily these big issues. There are many smaller ones that most teens face that are no less important to them and that make great stories, including the first kiss, first boyfriend, betrayal by the best friend.

So, why do I write and read YA? For the firsts. For the raw honesty and emotion. And let’s face it, for the hot guys (the ones who are sweet and endearing).


Why do you write the genre(s) that you’re writing?


How do you feel about these tougher issues being deal with in YA novels?

(Notes: 1. Okay, before you all freak out on me. That dark point in my life is over. Fortunately, I was eventually able to heal, and have since learned different coping mechanisms to deal with stress and emotional pain. 2. Thank you, Sarah Fine, for blogging about cutting and the YA novel, Willow, both which were the inspiration for this post. )

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Why Do You . . . ? + YA