Saturday, October 16, 2010

Who Am I?

When I finished my first manuscript for Scout's Honor, which is now in the hands of two agents, I cried. Not because I just finished a novel. Not because I wrote a book. But because the story and the ending made me cry. It was at that moment that I was absolutely sure I'd written a literary masterpiece for the ages. But I was also absolutely sure that it was poorly written, lacked believability, and had to be absolutely the biggest floppy turd of a book ever written. Could it even be called a book?

In that vulnerable state, I was told that I should market it as YA. It was about teens. I hoped teens would read it. In fact, my students were part of the reason I wrote about a teen in the first place. Perfect. YA is all that's selling. I'm YA, fo shizza!

Then, while shopping the manuscript to an agent, I was further told that the market is really open for young, male voices in edgy YA. Publishers are searching for stuff for guys to read. The YA market is saturated with girly stuff and edgy is in. YA needed to toughen up. Kick some ass. And, furthermore, publishers are looking for "regular" writers writing about teens to sell as YA, not YA writers writing what they think teens want to read. Teens want to read about themselves and their issues, but want the hard edge and complexity of adult writing. This I heard, this I thought sounded amazing, and this I latched onto. I became William C. Friskey, edgy YA writer.

I'm now a semi-finalist (top 10 out of "hundred") in a Red Room short fiction contest for a story about a fifth grader dealing with love and loss with a historical tinge. It's certainly not YA. But I bet young adults would enjoy it. In fact, the actual young adult I know that read it really loved it. Of course she really loved Scout's Honor, too, which I'm peddling as YA.

At the summer residency for my MFA program at Western Connecticut State University, I finished second in a flash fiction slam. The judges all made it a point to talk to me after and tell me how much they enjoyed the story. Was it YA? Not at all. It was a somewhat dirty humor piece about internet lust and clueless maleness. But you know what? Teens would love it. Their parents and schools might not like that they love it, but they would.

I'm currently working on a twisted, dark, supernatural and sexy tale that I think teens would love. But it's content is so taboo and some of the sex so graphic that in a workshop at that same residency I was told that it was definitely not YA. But I know that teens would like it. And I think of it as really edgy, trendsetting YA. But I'm usually wrong about everything, so who knows?

So, what the heck am I doing with my life. All my future ideas involve teens except a couple. So am I a YA writer? What the hell am I? What should I do? Why am I getting so old? And, more importantly, why do I care?


  1. You're a writer William C. Friskey and a damn good one. Even Smith told us in Tuesday's chat that he didn't know Ghost Medicine was YA until he was told it was. Your dilemma places you in good company.

  2. I don't know about you, William, but I can spot -- from a thousand freaking miles away -- novels that have been written by people who started off researching "what's hot" or "what's selling" and then sat down in front of their computers with pencils behind their ears, saying things like, "Don't bother me now, dear, I'm a WRITER!"

    It makes me ill.

    It's crap.

    Don't worry about what to call yourself. There will always be a surplus of people standing around on the sidelines coming up with endlessly creative and sometimes cruel names for what you do.

  3. Just write it. What you want, for yourself or whoever that person is that you're writing for. To hell with everything else. Seems like you're doing okay so far!