Saturday, December 11, 2010

You've Come a Long Way Baby

With the holidays and new year on the horizon, along with my thesis semester, I think it's time to look back and reflect. With the spirit of reflection in mind, I now present you with THE TOP TEN THINGS I LEARNED THIS SEMESTER (some of which I already knew).

10) Studying what is marketed as young adult doesn't necessarily tell you what young adults really want. After all, those decisions are made by people who are most definitely NOT young adults. Maybe young retirees.

9) No amount of shocking language, situations, sexuality, or violence precludes a novel from being marketed as young adult. Many young adults gravitate toward this.

8) Young adult books tends to be focused on the life of a teenager in the here and now. Those that look back nostalgically at teen life tend to be marketed toward adults.

7) While certain types of young adult that get reluctant readers to open a book through racy plots or larger font are great, we can't make the mistake of thinking that all young adult readers are reluctant readers. Some like a challenge.

6) Some young adult writers didn't set out to be young adult writers. They wrote. A guy in a suit called it young adult. Bam. Young adult writer.

5) What is marketed as young adult does not necessarily make it what young adults want to read. Once again, adults made these decisions. More accurately, you can't make conclusions about what's interesting to young adults by studying what is marketed to young adults.

4) In fact, you may not be able to judge what is interesting to young adults to read by looking at what they are reading. They were told they wanted to read that by the big, bad adults in expensive suits that told them they liked it by labeling "young adult."

3) You don't set out to be edgy. The story sometimes requires it, and backing down from telling the story as accurately to your vision as possible is wrong. Writing it that way simply to make a statement that you can be edgy is LAME.

2) Less people are offended by "edgy" content than you would think. In fact, in the northeast where I live, most people really aren't offended by much at all. Or at least not to the degree that can cause protest and bloody battles. The issue is that those select few that do give a shit CAN MAKE A LOT OF NOISE!

1) Reading makes you want to write. I read A LOT this semester. Like a freakin' ton. And fast. So, my memory might be a little bit of a blur on some of it, but it certainly makes you want to get on the computer and write write write. I remember as a kid watching football and baseball on TV and just wanting to pick up a ball and go do it. Same thing. Let's roll!

Well, that's it for the semester. I imagine this blog will take on a little different look now that each weekly entry is not mandated by my own syllabus. I'd like to talk about whatever floats my boat, and I probably will. But I like the name, so that will probably stay. Who knows what lies in the future. (Hopefully a nice publishing contract). See 'ya at the res if you're a WestConn student. If not, I probably won't see ya, which is probably for the best.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Who am I? v2.0

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self-reliance spells it out for me and gives me permission to take back everything I've said before about edgy material in books. While I've called my writing edgy based on some sales advice and some other internet mumbo-jumbo, that was freakin' lame. As the semester winds down, I still find myself fighting for the right  to put and the benefit of putting edgy content in young adult books. That, I proudly proclaim, will never change. Books should not be banned. Kids should read everything--the good, the bad, and the ugly. But I am finally understanding after a semester of digging through the young adult genre and the marketing of said genre that calling yourself edgy is a bit like Emerson running around calling himself The Great Ralph Waldo Emerson. For anyone who rolled their eyes at Michael Jackson dubbing himself "The King of Pop," I apologize.

There was absolutely no intent on my part to include edgy content in my writing as a gimmick. When I've written edgy content in my novels, it was simply because that shit is out there, in the real world, and those are the stories I wanted to tell. The content existed to highlight issues that we all sometimes ignore and conveniently forget about, but that can tell us a lot about ourselves as we try to sort through it and deal with it--however dark it is. Not many kids have to deal with falling in love and lust with their twin sisters, but turning a blind eye to the abuse and guilt that pushed the incestuous couple together doesn't help anyone.

What's more, telling teens they shouldn't read my book simply because it will somehow make them worse off or less of a person to read about a brother groping his sister's breasts is simply insane. I think one of the best things literature does for us--through the concept of a flawed hero--is it makes us, if read with an open mind, more caring and compassionate human beings. Even if they don't identify with Holden Caulfied, maybe students who read and try to understand his plight can then do the same with real classmates having trouble in their lives. Maybe there would be less bullying and the resulting suicides if kids read more. Get them to identify with, or at least cheer on, the kid that's boinking his sister, not so they'll think that's okay (in my novel it is obviously the result of trauma and confusion) so when they run into a confused and abused kid in school they don't think of of him or her simply as a "freak" or "emo" or a "cutter," but rather they try to understand their problems and get the person some help. Or maybe they'll even extend their own helping hands.

I see so many kids talk about not liking this or that person because he or she is different or "weird" or strange in some way. So, being different makes you unlikeable? I know that's not true. I know there are some compassionate teens out there that are open-minded and "cool" enough to try and understand and treat them like humans. We have a Gay-Straight Alliance at my school with over 40 members. Many more show up to the meetings. Yes, there are straight kids that are friends with openly gay students. Sure, there are those that are "grossed out." I choose, however, to believe that those kids probably haven't read enough to identify with and understand people with an open mind. So how is keeping kids away from books about gay boys and girls going to help anything? That's just silly.

So, over the next couple weeks, as a result of my studies this semester, I will be updating my website, this site, and everywhere else I made the ridiculous claim that "William Friskey writes edgy and trendsetting young adult fiction." I feel dirty. Yes, my books may be edgy, and yes, that's great. But to use the term to drum up sales is pretty lame (and hasn't worked). If you've got a problem with that, and can't quite understand me...good. I guess that means I've finally achieved greatness. Thanks Ralph! (But between you and I, I'd lose that "Waldo" part. Most people associate that with a dork that gets lost in crowd, not one that stands out.)