Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Edgy as I Wanna Be

I promised myself when I started this blog that I'd limit myself to posting once a week. The plan was to post on Saturday mornings and Saturday mornings only. The only problem is, I usually have a lot to say, and if I wait, I'll probably lose my thoughts and screw up the whole thing. So, I'm blogging on a Tuesday night, breaking my own rules. Is it still sticking it to the man if you're the man you're sticking it to?

So, I've been cruising blogs and forums, and I'm being told that the term edgy should be done away with. It's too subjective. One person's edgy is another person's happy-happy-joy-joy. Furthermore, claiming to be edgy is somehow uncouth. This implies that you are trying to be edgy, going for shock value only, and have no literary worth or writing ability. Okay, I'll give you that, then.  Fine. Then answer me this, why are you clinging to your label of YA?

I can see if you think labels are bad, sure it sounds a little artsy-fartsy and pretentious, but I like your sense of individuality. But if you say using the term edgy is passe, cheesy, and going only for shock value, then why do you rally behind the term YA. I mean, YA is in now, right? It's the only thing selling. It's the best thing in fiction. Adults are obsessed with YA. We say things like "Wake up and smell the YA." We say you need to respect us as authors--we're not just YA damn it! Almost 50% of adults who buy books buy mostly YA! YA is here to stay! YAY YA!

Hear all that? There seems to be no need for YA as a label either. Adults are liking the same books as young adults. Do you know why? It's because young adults, teen readers, are people, too. You don't believe me, do you? There's no need to play down to them. There's no need to let up, slow down, keep it clean, edit out the naughty parts--none of that. Why do we even call it YA? I'm hearing that anything goes, or should go, in YA. Then why not just call it fiction? There has to be something that makes it YA. Something that makes it different.

Now, I would argue that the same goes with edgy YA. There's something a little different, most would agree, that sets apart an "edgy" work of fiction from a non-edgy one. Certain things just get people's panties in a bunch. I know it's subjective, and we all have different tolerance levels, but on the whole, we all know what's going to be considered controversial or not, whether or not we, ourselves, agree. So I think we need the term edgy. I think it's a different genre altogether. I think if it's not a little edgy, it's probably playing down to teens, and should go into that bubble-gummy YA that we all know is out there.

These same blogs and forums tell me that graphic sex doesn't usually end up in YA. They say that makes it adult. Excuse me? They tell me that in YA the sex scenes should be about the emotions attached, not the act. This brings up another little issue--sexism in YA. That's a female description of sex right there. For a lot of males, sure there's an emotion attached, but the physical act is important, too for us. The pleasure is a feeling just as valid as the emotional tragedy that comes out of the act for girls. The YA section in the book store is awfully pink. I'll probably be getting more into this as the semester brews on, but the assumption is that males don't read, so let's write for a female audience. I think that results in a simple self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe if we wrote more for males, or for both sexes, more males would be reading.

A study I saw on the news last night said that 2/3rds of high school seniors in the state of Connecticut have had sex in the past year. I imagine that of that 1/3rd, some are just out of practice, and others are in the "anything but" category. Teens know sex. They watch pornography--at least the boys do--some with permission. I also don't think this is "today's youth" "running wild." Think about when you lost your virginity. Teens know the deal. Leaving it out when it's part of the story is just playing down to them, and there's nothing teens hate more than us not respecting the maturity they do have.

So, I suppose, if this graphic sex issue is such an issue, then there is, in fact, a need to call something edgy. You've just told me that graphic sex is edgy. We all know suicide is an edgy topic. We all know cutting, sex, drugs, and all that kind of thing is edgy. So let's not pretend that there's no edgy anymore. That today we tolerate anything. We know it's not true. We know parents are just waiting to flip out over their kid reading something edgy. We know books do get banned.

So I'm cool with calling myself edgy. I'm confident enough in my writing, story telling, and characters to know that even if I have shocking content--EDGY content--it's not just there to provoke. I'm not selling out and being cheesy. I'm calling myself edgy because I refuse to tone things down and lie to my audience, and I know some people are going to hate me for it. So I say, wake up and smell the edgy YA. William Friskey writes edgy YA fiction, and I wouldn't have it any other way.


  1. Just read a few of these. The rationale makes so much sense. I wish there was a study that would show how these control-freak parents and communities put kids more at risk by deliberately hiding the edge, leading them down only rose-colored paths. What happens when the over-protected kids go to college or into the service? Aren't they more likely to overreact in the campus or military netherworld? Parents immunize their kids by having them injected with traces of real disease. A dose of society's ills - through edgy YA - can only make them stronger.

  2. That's an amazing metaphor, Laura. You win a prize. I like that. If they haven't gone through any of these "edgy" situations by the time they get that far, at least they'll know they are out there. They may even have more compassion for those they meet that have gone through some stuff.

  3. I didn't even think of the compassion part. That's so important. Takes the narrow good vs bad morality out of it. Take the metaphor - it's yours to convince greater numbers than I can get to this semester! (back to my proposal!)

  4. Did you ever answer your own question about why we label YA as a separate genre from regular fiction if anything goes for subject matter? Is it only because the main characters are young adults? Because if it doesn't have anything to do with subject matter, there's gotta be a reason. Is the language simpler?

  5. I'm working on that. Hopefully that's what my individual aesthetic and process course will tell me this semester. If not, I got nothin' other than it's popular so throwing a YA under it on the shelf moves more product.

  6. Why do you want to call yourself edgy? When I see a word like that (risky, controversial, mature, etc.) on a book jacket, I feel that it's a lure to kids and a warning to parents. "Hey, you bought the book -- don't tell me you didn't know it was edgy!" Do we need these descriptors at all?

    As for YA, I began trying to publish in the late 80s when YA was DEAD. My agent predicted it would be back, and he was right. But why was I trying to publish in a half-dead (or whatever %) genre? Because that was the audience. I wasn't writing for children or adults, but for teens.

    Much of what you'll be looking at during this semester will be books that have teen protagonists and trying to understand why some are marketed for adults and some for YA. I suspect that we'll find that the difference is that edge. Moving the edge -- of so-called adult issues of violence, sex, etc. -- is what you're trying to do as a writer. So calling yourself edgy is including yourself in the tribe of others who are doing the same. . . What do you think about this?

  7. I guess it's the rock star in me. It just so happened that the word came up when discussing my latest novel that I'm working on in a workshop, and when I looked it up and realized it was an actual sub-genre of YA, I liked the idea of using that label for my work. Basically, there's so many out there that think YA shouldn't have "edgy" material in it, but there's also so many who are frothing at the mouth for the next novel that's going to push what acceptable or not. I see that novel I'm working on, if it were to ever be published, to fit into that trendsetting mold of pushing what is acceptable and changing the genre a bit.

    The problem that arises is that the envelope has been pushed so far that the debate comes up over whether we even need the term anymore. Although I think what I've written pushes the edge, chances are there's more edgy out there. And from the adult fiction sect at that last residency, I got the impression that my book goes beyond what can go into YA, so then the rebellious rock star in me takes that as a challenge. And with all the people, like yourself in your comment, saying edgy has lost its meaning, it just makes me want to use the term even more.

    It seemed to me, at the time I created my website and blog, that it makes it easier to find the right market. An agent or publisher who has no interest in something edgy will know not to deal with my stuff, where the ones that are chomping at the bit for it, will focus on me.

    That being said, if and when I can get an agent, my first question will probably be, should I cut that out of my profile altogether because it might limit me. But I like the term as a way of separating what I do from the pink, girlie, supernatural romance that some automatically associate with YA. Things like Monster and Andrew Smith's work, or anything that's a little less romantic and more dark and real, to me, is edgy.

    Am I making a mistake there? Is my problem with authority going to hurt me in the long run?

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. I guess the question would be, am I making a mistake even by calling myself a YA author? Does that limit me? Should I just be "a writer" and let everyone else decide. I'm told that since YA is hot, no matter what, call your book YA if it's got teens in it. I didn't set out to be YA, I was told to be YA as long as I was going to be writing about teens and wanting teens to read it. I think the only reason I did so well with my agent meeting is because she was just getting into YA and wants to build a YA client list. So just by saying the word YA in my query, I got an opportunity I would never have had otherwise. I'll let you know how that goes in about a week or two! =)