Tuesday, 30 September 2014

YA-Bashing is the New Black, or something, whatevs

Look, I should be working on another article for the blog tour, but I can’t help it: the number of articles and the increasing fervour of the debate surrounding YA literature in the media lately has kind of infected me.  And I don’t like being angry, it generally makes me cry (embarrassing but true) or get all tongue-tied, and it’s emotionally exhausting.  But I have to say my twenty-cents worth, even though, as friends have advised, you can't reason with crazy.  Because the articles that have popped up all over the place have made me angry, and here’s where I rant, so I will have at thee, Helen Razer and all you people who have flamed my world.

For those of you who don’t know about it, here’s a little intro.  Articles about how YA lit is crap have been getting a lot of media time lately.  Here’s AO Scott in the New York Times, decrying The Death of Adulthoodin American Culture.  And here’s Robert Lipsyte in the same rag, talking about how YA is too Girl-focused.  And here’s Chris Beha in the New Yorker talking about Henry James and the Great YA Debate. Michelle Dean wrote about Our YADystopias here.  Laura C Mallonee wrote a piece here on how it’s Time for Teen Fantasy Heroines to Grow Up.  There's lots more.  And if you really want to make your eyes bleed, here’s our very own Helen Razer saying that People who read YAliterature Should Just Grow Up too.  If you want to go read them and get really pissed off about what’s being said, be my guest.  It’s probably good that you read them, so you’re informed about what’s going on.  My suggestion: keep a cup of chamomile tea handy, or something else that will help you maintain calm.

Because a lot of what’s being written about YA lit is uncritically opinionated, poorly researched, badly thought-out, academically non-rigorous bandwagon-jumping, based on a whole bunch of ingrained assumptions about teenagers and writing and reading and literature and women (I’ll get to that later), written by people who don’t read YA, and would never sully themselves by doing so.  Most of the articles are op-ed pieces – they’re clickbait, as Danielle Binks has pointed out, designed to provoke a reaction.  There’s no academic rigour; although the publication of them in places like The New York Times gives them a veneer of intellectuality, there’s no real examination of the underlying issues (and there’s plenty of issues: see Maureen Johnson’s Cover Flip).  It’s maddening, and engaging with it is frustrating, like trying to hit a buzzing mosquito in a dark room (and probably equally doomed to failure).  But there you have it – this piece isn’t academically rigorous either, because I’m too cross (perhaps it’s easier to engage on the same wonky playing field anyway?) and because I think others have done it way better before me (see below).

But I have to say the lack of standards bugs me.  How can you critically pick apart a whole category of literature, of which you have partaken of only the most recently-noteworthy examples (and it’s the same ones, alwaysTwilight, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, The Fault In Our Stars)?  I don’t know.  If you position yourself as a critic (Helen Razer, I’m looking at you), then surely you need to have some idea of what you’re discussing?  But no – the people who’ve written these articles seem to think that this handful of books is representative of the whole category, and reading them is the sum total of their academic research on the issue.  The idea astonishes me.  It’s as if I said I played Frogger once (in 1985), and I now have the right to offer scathing commentary on the whole of the gaming industry.

I would like to point out, at this juncture, that there have been a number of excellent rebuttal pieces written as well.  And here they are: Anne Ursu wrote a rebuttal of Scott at Terrible Trivium.  Sarah McCarry’s piece on pleasure principles is a must. Kelly Jensen talks here about how Advocating and Writing for Girls is a radical act.   And Foz Meadow’s writes the most entertaining stuff – her pieces in response to Dean and Mallonee are excellent.  Most of these writers have actually done some examination of the issues, and – most tellingly – they have read the literature of the category that they are seeking to defend.  They are all better quality pieces than this will be, and I heartily recommend that you go read them, if only to make yourself feel better.

But I would like to posit a theory of my own as to why YA literature is receiving such a pasting in the media lately.  I know – the issues involved are many.  But I would like to unpack two of them, and I think they are the most relevant two.

First of all, I contend (and see how I did that? I contend something, and I don’t even have to cite anything to back it up! I can say whatever the hell I want!  Two can play the game, folks) I contend that people who criticise YA literature are afraid of teenagers.  This, our society tells us, is a perfectly acceptable position to hold – teenagers are scary, everybody says so.  The ages between 13 and 19, depending on the laws in your state or country, are an amorphous grey area where individuals are neither child nor adult (see Scott Westerfeld’s useful unpacking of the concept of childhood/teenaged years).  Teenagers do crazy shit.  They slouch and spit and wail and groan and bellow.  They smoke and drink and drive fast and have sex and stick two fingers up at religion and politics and custom.  They are not polite.  But above all, they are unformed.

Most adults look back – not too long or hard – at adolescence as a period of their lives that was both embarrassing and frightening, when their bodies and minds were in a state of flux, when things were out of their control (quite literally, when your parents are still dictating to you what goes).  They remember – not fondly – a period of crazy experiences, painful growth and change, humiliation, lack of direction, social embarrassment.  So they find teenagers scary, because hey, it was a scary time in their own lives.  Yes, folks, they’re projecting.

Teenagers dress differently, think differently, act differently to adults.  ‘Yeah, well, obvs.  Whatever.  It’s all g’: teenagers even speak a different language.  At a really basic level, adult fear of teenagers is a xenophobic fear of a completely alien culture (and maybe a fear of what that culture will propagate after the current generation’s demise).  I find it particularly telling, the way adults are so panicked about the level of social media exposure teens willingly (nay, eagerly) participate in.  Because most adults remember adolescence as such a shit experience that they don’t want to remember it, let alone have it pasted up on the internet (and as Lauren Beukes pointed out, that shit is forever.  Your ghastly drunken embarrassment on prom night? Now anyone can see it anytime they want, and it will never go away).

Most adults display a general lack of awareness of how teenagers think, create, dream and feel.  That’s okay – they just don’t get it, or have wilfully or unconsciously repressed the ENORMOUS spectrum of mental and emotional and spiritual experiences that they went through themselves at that age.  But I find it a bit sad.

When I tell people I am a high school teacher, they look at me aghast.  ‘How can you stand up in front of a room full of teenagers?  Doesn’t it freak you out?’  Well – no.  I like teenagers.  They have a refreshing honesty, energy and transparency that I admire.  Their exuberance, their beauty, their rebellion, even their mood swings – I find teenagers incredible, and although I too don’t have great memories of my own adolescence, I admire their bravery and ingenuity and dogged optimism in the face of it.

Adult critics who denigrate YA literature (and other types of children’s literature) seem to want us all to be ‘grown up’, to move away from childish literature into ‘adult’ fiction (or even better, non-fiction).  They remind me strongly of those who also criticise genres like romance and fantasy, because they are wish-dreams, there’s no cold hard facts, no ‘real life’.

I could rant on about how this is stupid, but I think CS Lewis – quoted in Ursu’s article – says it best:
“Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. … But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”  (On Three Ways of Writing for Children)

And I would also like to quote an entirely relevant excerpt from Ursu here:
“Isn’t this really the marker of adulthood? Learning to look beyond yourself to others? Isn’t a marker of intelligence a hunger to see the world outside your own experience? Isn’t that maybe why so many people outside of traditional power structures are draw to this lit in the first place? Everyone who insults reading these books is not just denigrating the quality of the books themselves, but of the very act of using your time to give a crap about kids and the things they give a crap about.”

Before this article gets too long, I would like to just point the finger once – and that should be enough – at the underlying sexism and assumptions about women and women’s writing in YA literature critique.  Female writers dominate YA, despite what the NYT Bestseller list might lead you to believe.  One of the reasons why YA literature is such an easy target is because it’s seen as a women’s field.  This is the second major issue I have with pieces like Razer’s.  Suggesting that YA literature’s success is a collective ‘dumbing down’ of culture – in other words, crying over the decline of the cultural authority of canonical (read straight white male) texts - is staggering perilously close to saying that women’s writing is shit.  I have talked about women and YA writing before.  And as I mentioned earlier, other people have unpacked this issue, and in articles way more erudite than this. 

Foz Meadow’s article says it best -

“…women, whatever their age, are held to different standards. We’re presupposed to be the moral and aesthetic gatekeepers of every genre we’re discouraged from actually enjoying, not just because girls aren’t meant to like that sort of thing (and if we don’t, we’re humourless, fun-hating harridans – natch), but because, if we do, it’s unseemly and inappropriate and we’re doing it wrong, and why does there have to be romance and boys and ugh, trashy films with magic and explosions are just so much better when they fail the Bechdel test and are made for teenage boys and young women need to stop participating in popular culture!...
 …Whether we’re conscious of our biases or not, we’re culturally predisposed to be extra critical of everything women, and particularly young women, do (to say nothing of the women themselves) – and now that YA novels have become such a breakaway phenomenon, with plenty of film adaptations still in the works, otherwise sane adults are falling all over themselves to declare the whole business a type of commercial heresy.”

If you want more on that, I suggest you go read the article.

And that’s all I’m gonna say.

xx Ellie

Monday, 29 September 2014

Inky vid and more Every Breath blog roll-y goodness

I made a video!  I know, it’s not exciting, because people do it every day, but I don’t (usually), and I had to get my son to film it, which was kind of hilarious.  It's a first effort, so it's pretty amateur *blushes* but you also get a little glimpse at my (extremely untidy) work space where I write books.  It’s to encourage everyone who’s 12-20 years of age to go vote in the 2014 Inky Awards – and here it is:

Did you hear the rooster crowing in the background?  Yes, that is one of our many roosters – in fact, we have an excess of roosters at the moment.  Because the chook pen isn’t finished, all the chooks are roaming freely around our yard.  And some of them are very loud, as you might have noticed.

Anyway, I don’t know why I’m talking about roosters when I should be talking about Inkys and the Every Breath blog tour!

The Inkys: like I said above, if you haven’t voted, the door closes at 5pm AEDT on Sunday 5 October 2014 – so if you loved a book on the list, and you fit the age range, go aheadand vote for that sucker.  I’ll be attending the Inky Awards announcement on Tuesday 21 October at the State Library too, so if you’re keen to come along and hear all about the incredible things that were done this year to make the Inkys happen, including chats from the teen judges, scurry over to the website and let them know you’d like to be there.

The Every Breath blog tour:  yes, it’s happening!  Excitements!  If you’re strolling around the internets between Monday 20 October and Friday 24 October, feel free to drop into any of these sites and check out reviews, interviews, giveaways and guest posts (and yes, maybe a video or two):

Monday 20 Oct
Raindrops and Pages
Journey of a Bookseller
Bookish Broads
Tuesday 21 Oct
The Starry-Eyed Revue
Sukasa Reads
Book Club Sisters
Wednesday 22 Oct
Love is Not A Triangle
The Book Wars
Priyanka Reads
The Reader’s Den
Forever Young Adult
Thursday 23 Oct
Michelle & Leslie’s Book Picks
The Paperback Princesses
Nick’s Book Blog
Friday 24 Oct
Ann Towell blog
Refracted Light
Love At First Page

We may still be confirming a few other sites here and there, but I'll let you know if more people join up :)  The thing I love about this blog tour is that it’s ALL OVER – these blogs come out of Ontario, Hawaii, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Alabama…  I am still gobsmacked that people in so many different places will soon (after October 14!) be reading Every Breath.  A huge thank you to all the participating bloggers, and big hugs to the team at Tundra Books, who have done the hard yards organising it all.

So get ready!  It’s happening soon!

Okay, that’ll do for the exclamation mark usage.  Apart from book craziness, I’m loving being on hols, and my fave song right now is ‘A Place Like This’ by MajidJordan.  What’s going on with you?  Hope you’re well, enjoying school holidays if you’re on them, or enjoying school/work if you’re not, and have a good week.

Xx Ellie

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Sap is Rising (and North American release! And Inkys!)

Ahh, the start of Spring!  You may not feel it, if you’re reading this from north of the equator, but here at our place it’s like the first touches of the changing season are thrumming in your blood – the blossoms and leaves are bursting out, all green and pink and fresh, and you feel the nip of cold more keenly as your skin gets impatient to feel air and sun again.  And it’s still cold, of course: the fire still burns in our house every night, and sometimes during the day as well, and you still can’t hang washing outside.  I’m soo sick of wearing thermal underwear – I can’t wait for t-shirts and shorts and skirts again!  The house feels crowded as we all start stretching.  But jackets and warm socks and scarfs are still de rigeur come afternoon…

I’m emerging from self-imposed exile, after two weeks of knuckling down, finishing the edits/rewrites for Every Move.  And they’re done!  That is, the complicated narrative part is done.  Now comes the fine edit, when we prune away some of the excess verbiage, and make the book leaner and tougher and right handsome.  Someone asked me what that meant, to give a book a ‘trim’, and I said it’s like cutting the excess fat off a chunk of beef.  My only concern is that this book could be a complicated trim, as the fat is veined right through the meat, like a nice marbled steak.  But my editors, Eva and Sophie, are both experienced knife-wielders, so I’ve no doubt that it’ll work out okay!*

Every Move is due for release in March 2015 – it goes to the printers in November.  If you’re anticipating it, I can only say that it’s a wild ride, and takes Rachel back to places – and people – she thought she’d left behind…  The book has been a real labour of love (ie. it was bloody hard work), but I’m very happy with it, and I hope you will be too.

Now here’s some other cool news – Every Breath was awarded a Highly Commended in the Sisters in Crime Davitt Awards for Best YA Fiction, which is thrilling and amazing.  Here’s a little pic of me and the other winners on the night, as well as Lauren Beukes (The Shining Girls, Broken Monsters) who presented the awards.  A hearty congratulations to everyone!

While Every Breath didn’t make it past the shortlist for the Ned Kelly Awards (and congrats too to Candice Fox, who won the Best Debut category of that award with her excellent book Hades), there is another award that Every Breath is listed for – and which you can help out with.

Every Breath has been shortlisted for a Centre for Youth Literature award – the Gold Inky.  And now that the shortlist has been decided, YOU can be the one who chooses the winner.  If you’re between 12-20 years of age, GO HERE to vote in the Inky Awards (Gold for Australian, Silver for International), and whether you’re voting for Every Breath or not, I do encourage you to vote!  Because the Inkys are the only award in the country where teenaged readers can choose which – in their opinion – are the best books of that given year – that’s right, you choose.  I really want to see the Inkys continue strongly onward, so that teenagers themselves can exercise their right to vote on which books rock their world.

So go vote!  Vote for Every Breath, if you loved it, or vote for another book you loved – but definitely VOTE!

Finally, the most thrilling bit of all – Every Breath is about to be released by Tundra Books in North America and the Philippines!!  I am VERY EXCITED (I can’t really express how excited I am, except to use a lot of exclamation marks and say that I’m squeeing a lot) that the October 14 release date is drawing ever-closer, and even more excited that there will soon be a blog tour.  The blogs that are participating so far are listed below, and I’d like to say a massive welcome and thank you, to all participating bloggers!

Raindrops and Pages      Oct 20
Journey of A Bookseller                Oct 20
Sukasa Reads     Oct 21
Love is Not A Triangle     Oct 22
Michelle and Leslie’s Book Picks                Oct 23
Paperback Princesses    Oct 23
Nick’s Book Blog               Oct 23
Ann Towell         Oct 24
Love At First Page            Oct 24

It is quite incredible to think that – very soon – people in Canada, the US and the Philippines will be reading Rachel and Mycroft’s adventures, and checking out Melbourne in the pages of a book I wrote.  I find that staggering!  And I hope folks love it, and laugh, and I hope they crush on Rachel and James, and I hope…  Oh, so many things I hope!  But above all, I wish Every Breath luck on its travels, and the love of many new friends on the way.

So that’s all the news, but I’ll be updating again soon with more info about the blog tour and upcoming release.  Until then, I’m enjoying a well-earned break after the excitement of Melbourne Writers Festival, school visits, Adelaide Emerging Writers Festival, sick kids, sick husband, Davitt Awards, Book Week, CBCA events, edits, rewrites and blah blah etc – I’m actually LOVING being able to read again.  I sometimes have to take a break from reading while I’m deep in writing mode, as I find I get so absorbed in some books that I either a)can’t tear myself away, or b)find myself thinking about the characters and plot of someone else’s book all day, when I should be thinking about my own.

But now I can read again – and I’ve had a few books saved up in celebration.  Right now I’m totally sucked into 18th century Scotland with the Outlander series (Diane Gabaldon), and after that I’m going slightly crazy hanging out for Blood of My Blood, the finale of the Jasper Dent series (Barry Lyga).  I’m also a bit desperate to finally read This Shattered Earth (Amie Kaufman/Megan Spooner), We Were Liars (E. Lockheart), and The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl (Melissa Keil), and I’m pretty sure there’s other books on my TBR pile as well…

I hope you have a good book to read right now, to get you through the early weeks of the season, and a nice warm spot to read it in.  Have a great week – remember to go vote for the Inkys! – and see you on the blog tour J

Xx Ellie

* If I’m going to draw that analogy, I have to say too that sometimes cutting the fat makes you bleed, as if the meat comes from your own body.  So it stings a bit.  An experienced and gifted editor will make sure that the knife doesn’t knick an artery, and drain the lifeblood of the piece.  Both my editors are gifted, for which I ‘m enormously grateful.  I do have to keep the BandAids handy though, for minor wounds…