It can seem like a funny question, isn’t young adult fiction just young adult fiction? No, at least not in my opinion. Simplistically speaking, there are two types of YA. There’s the flat characters, raging hormone, “teens rule, screw you old man” type that is often popular. Then there’s the stories that are written to be able to be enjoyed by a younger reader, but isn’t dumbed from in any way, simply structured such that if you haven’t had the life experience yet, you likely won’t see some of the points. The Yellow Hoods is the latter.
Yes. I’m not actually sure I can write something that is “simply for kids,” devoid of any extra meaning or easter eggs and what not.
I write The Yellow Hoods very much with adults in mind. Some things I want or feel I need to make obvious because I don’t want the tween or early teen to miss it. There are many things that I push to be more subtle, that I want you to have some types of life experience or maturity to be able to recognize the significance of. Not to be clever, this is really about allowing me to tell the more mature reader more of what’s going on and how severe it might be, without it getting in the way of the younger reader. I also think of my jokes this way, for example you don’t need life experience to get the Eg & Bakon humour, but you need to know your 20th century comedian history to get the true essence of the Franklin Watt & Abbott of Costello scene.
There are some points I’m told that I make so subtle that most readers only notice it on the second or third reading. I’ve been getting told this for 25 years. I’ve been ‘comically lectured’ once on how I remind some people of a craftsman who engraves the edges of the gears in his watch that only someone centuries later will take apart and realize are musical notes, and then realize it plays a song that has some significance like being about the watch or the origin of all watches. I claim no such thing, but I won’t deny it either.
When I’m revising I think of my different types of readers. I think of what they might be going through (and they sometimes are on different journeys those readers) and how do I get them to the right destination in a way that is interesting and entertaining. Some pieces, like the Mounira origin chapter in book 2 I know hits an adult hard, particularly if they have kids, but a young adult reading it isn’t. For that young adult I wanted to make sure it was interesting and captivating devoid of its intended emotional impact.
My view of YA for an adult is that you trust me to bring you back to a place, ultimately, of safety; think of it like a rollercoaster ride. I’m going to potentially make you scream and cheer and do loop-de-loops but ultimately, I’m bringing you right back to the station. You might be holding on to the edge of your seat, you might be cursing my name, but you are in good hands. A lot of mature adult books seem to make their point to crash you into a wall or six, and leave you emotionally brushed or disturbed for the experience. I can do that, but I don’t want to do that. If I ever do, it’ll be under another name.
Writing YA for me means that I’m very conscious about the violence, about the sexual elements, about the type of social/morale situations that I introduce. It’s what defines the rails for that roller coaster ride. Now with each book, I trust myself and the reader more, and thus I’m willing to go closer to the edge of those things. Also, nothing stops me from implying some horrible things, but there was a scene from book 3 that I removed because I felt it went over the line.
It also means to me that I need to balance intense chapters, particularly if I’ve had a couple in a row, with lighter scenes to ‘restore’ the emotional energy and state of the reader. In Scrivener (the app I use to write) I actually color code parts of scenes (Light, neutral, dark) as well as entire chapters. I do this so that very quickly I can see what the pattern’s like.
Why do this? Doesn’t this just complicate my marketing?
Yes, it does. Never mind because some people who hears me say “10 years old” start yelling “MID-GRADE! MG! HELLO!” Yeah, well, settle down. Some people just love categorizing and pigeon-holing. My books aren’t mid-grade books. My books are not “How to Train Your Dragon” level reading. But would you give a kid in grade 5 (age 10) Lord of the Rings? Yeah. Mid-grade for me is firstly the result of attempts at hyper-marketing and trying to treat kids like they have a specific date of manufacturing that controls their ability to handle complexity, nuance and enjoy elements of life BUT… I’m ranting, aren’t I? Okay, let’s just say my view on “mid-grade” is that it’s really the pre-cursor to the type of YA that I don’t write.
My ‘target’ is the tween/teen and adult over the age of about 28. Males between the age of 17 and 30 are my “anti-market,” meaning that what a lot of them are looking for doesn’t align with my stories. For example, I had a review from a guy who said that I really screwed up because in book 2, I didn’t really get into the scene were the Yellow Hoods fought a dire-lynx, instead I focused on the panicky situation of trying to save someone’s life. No one else has ever even mentioned it because it is clear that Elly and the shock-stick had a quick “talking to” that cat. The guy was looking for action action action and then ACTION. Character development? Fairy-tale ties? This stuff isn’t relevant to him, in his words not mine. Should he be reading the book? No. Why did he? That’s a different story that includes him having stated that he was really interested in it and me wanting to test my theory of the anti-market.
For women it’s different, the age range is much tighter, around 18-23, maybe 24, and it’s not really an anti-market as “not as interesting as other stuff.” Males between 30 and 40 aren’t my market either, unless they’ve become parents or are active uncles. Why am I mentioning all this? Because my books are about connecting with the kid in you, and the kids around you. It’s about the parental/mentoring/experienced view of the world and it’s about the ideal (thus the colour yellow). Most people need to be distinctly in one of those two zones of life to appreciate this series, and few who are in the middle of the two connect with it. That being said, I know several in that zone who love it.
So with all of that, doesn’t this REALLY complicate my marketing? Yes, well, add that this story has one foot in fairy-tale and the other in non-traditional Steampunk, and yes. Is it a battle worth having? Yes. I’m figuring this out as I go. As I’ve said before, I’m fine with being an outlier, I was born a geek, grew up a nerd, it’s all about finding the new path.
I could just state that this is a book for teens and only target teens. I wouldn’t be being true to myself or the way that I write, but it could simplify everything. The problem is, I wouldn’t believe in the vision I was selling, and I wouldn’t succeed. Whenever anyone gives me a look, I just ask them if Harry Potter was for kids and I wait for the lights to go on or the signs that no one is home.
My last point on this is a comment that was made to me by a reader I met at a book-signing event. After listening to my pitch, buying both book 1 and 2, and chatting, they wanted to share a specific point with me. They said that I don’t write young adult fiction but rather “good old fashioned fiction”, like the Grimm fairy-tales. These were never intended for children, but they were accessible to them. It made me smile.