For me it began with Richard Bachman. Yes, I now know that was you Mr. Stephen King, lurking, sticking your nose in YA and I am grateful. Robert Cormier and Judy Blume followed. (Forever, I remember reading you under the covers, listening for a parent’s footstep at the door.) And yes I read the classics in school, but they were always paired with a historical romance or fantasy or SF with young protagonists I could relate to.
When I became a HS English teacher, I started attending conferences and reading everything and anything I could get my hands on that might have some connection with my students. I would hand pick them and say, “Jess, this one, perfect for you.” Or “Miguel, it’s dark. You’ll love it.”
There were the ones that I couldn’t keep on my shelves: Speak, Perks of Being a Wallflower, Monster, Ender’s Game, On Jellicoe Road… And we loved them together.
But then I had my own children and decided to take my writing seriously again. I went back to school for my MA. I wrote stories, short stories mainly. The kind of stories that you’re expected to write when you’re in grad school for a creative writing program. I even sent a few of them out to literary magazines. Again, what I was supposed to do. The rejections came like they always do.
And I was discouraged. And I had another kid, the third. Surprise! And I felt like I was going nowhere, until I realized something.
I don’t read short stories. I read novels. So why am I writing short stories?
For the first time I seriously explored the question, “What do I really want to write?” allowing myself whatever answer, no matter how crazy it would be.
The answer: YA. I’ve always loved YA, both as a youth and as an adult. Some of the most exciting things happening are under the YA umbrella.
I wanted to write YA, but I was terrified to do it. Why? Thinking back on my own experience as a reader, and also seeing it with my students, I knew the power YA had with young people. All books, really, have the potential to influence, to make someone laugh, to provide comfort or wonder, to even save a life. And the hubris I would have to have to think that I had something to say that was worth adding to the countless words that have already been put to page.
It’s this kind of insane thing inside a person to make anyone want to be a writer. A kind of gnawing, relentless, drive or need that’s never satiated. It’s work and ego and crushing the ego so the real work can begin. It’s knowing that collaboration is not a threat, but a gift and is how great books get written.