Sunday, June 5, 2011

From a dark and evil YA writer...

I just read this article, so please excuse me if this post takes on ranting proportions.


But this sort of thing just grates me to the point where I want to hit something... So... Here's my say.


I write YA.


I write it because teens are at that stage in their lives when anything and everything can happen, depending on the choices they make. It can be a time of endless potential.


The whole world can be an adventure waiting to start.


It can also be a personal hell.


Indeed. Just because we want our world to stretch before us pure and unspoilt, doesn't make it so.


Throwing a tantrum in the press won't make global warming go away. It won't stop the hike in homicides. It won't make rapists think twice about what they are doing. It won't make people stop bullying.


In fact, it will make the person throwing the tantrum seem a little naive.


So how does this lock in with the above mentioned article?


Well (and some of my readers might have read this before) we writers have a function in society.


We don't teach.


We don't preach.


We don't tell.


We show.


We show the world with its flaws. We show violence. We show the ramifications of that violence. We show that teens aren't the only ones with self-image problems. We show that people subjected to the most terrifying and horrible of situations can come out of it.


We're not Teachers. We're not doctors.


We are oracles.


Mirrors.


And refusing to reflect some things just because it makes certain elements in society squirm is an abuse of our skills of writers.


Rape Exists.
Homophobia Exists.
Murder and Suicide among teens?


You guessed it.


Now, I also can't stomach every terrible event that occurs in YA, but that does not give me the right for criticising writers for being brave enough to pen those words down.


Because writers have a duty to show the pain inflicted as much as the joys experienced. The dark and ugly should get as much attention as the beautiful.


People lose things. 
People lose people that are close to them. 
People suffer from mental conditions and those "unspoken" pathologies. 

Will it hurt them more to read something like that? Only if they're masochists. Because most people put down books that they can't handle. 


YA is not as terrible as it is being made to seem.
All YA books aren't there to say: "Oh look at me! I'm smut and want to ruin you for future generations." 
Good YA books say: "Look. You're in a scary phase of your life, but you can get through it." 
Some are motivational: "You're not alone. You're not the only one with problems and you can face them no matter what. Now go live your own story." 
Some are cautionary: "Please don't make the same mistake as..."




But they ALL have a function for certain sorts of people.


How dare anyone decide for us which books should be allowed and which ones shouldn't.


Smut don't reach readers because people don't like reading it.


But while we're on the topic of smut... who has the right to decide what is smut and what is acceptable? Smut depends on taste. It depends on individual perception.


As a final point of objection:


Is it so wrong to object to the censoring of good books just because The Guardians of Collective Morality decided what should be allowed?


Oh it is?


I'm sorry...


Then let the burning of books and the live burials of writers begin...






What's your opinion?

17 comments:

Maria Zannini said...

You raised several points, but I'll only address two of them.

If I play devil's advocate, I can understand why that mother walked out of the bookstore empty-handed. She wanted something light and uplifting and all she found was dark and gritty.

Writers don't choose what gets on the shelves. Publishers do. They (as gatekeepers) decide what the consumer is going to see. If they feel the money is in dark and gritty, that's what they'll put out. It has nothing to do with reflecting real life or freedom of expression. They're looking at the bottom line.

Self-publishers might think they can bypass this, but they still have to rely on the buyer. Readers will either embrace you or spend their money elsewhere.

Ref: grittiness in YA
To me this is comparable to animal abuse. I know it exists. I want people to be aware of it, but I sure as heck don't want to see it in my fiction.

Some people don't want to read about rape, murder or infidelity. Yet none of those things bother me. It all comes down to personal taste, experience and expectations.

Aw, heck. You made me think on a Sunday. LOL.

Marjorie said...

I skimmed the article. Clearly it was written by a woman who does not read YA fiction. Her examples are taken so far out of context it leads me to doubt the veracity of the examples themselves. I'm really surprised she never mentions J. K. Rowling, or some of the more popular fantasy authors for young people in the (12-18) age group.

We live in a time when violence and violent themes dominate popular culture. Should parents completely shelter their children from violence in the media in response? In a word, no. Too many children are victims of violence, and need a way to process what is happening to themselves, their peers, and their families. Many authors in YA fiction portray protagonists who are grappling with rape, suicide, and other violence, and find ways to overcome it.

Oh, and also: young people have sex. WHY is this news? People as young as ten are engaging in sexual acts. Adults need to stop acting so morally offended and actually teach their children about sex and and violence. If your child winds up being an irresponsible person, no one is going to blame a YA author.

shelly said...

Parents should be helping the young adults choose what they're reading. For instance, I'm a lover of PC Cat's, YA series, House of Night, the book expresses a a passion for cat rescues, no drug and alcohol theme, and esteems the Goddess, WICCAN, PAGAN, and Catholic form, but also shows where hypocarcey(spelling?) reigns. That be it in a Christian church or any other religion, Wicca or Pagan. The books also show the moral dilema between good and evil.

The main character is even charmed onto having sex with one of the Professors. And yes, the scene was explicit in details. Not to mention, there are other sex scenes.

So, really...parents should be their children's moral compass here, not a group of people.

I'm a mother of 5 daughters and to be honest as much as love the House of Night Series, I wouldn't let my 13, 14, or 15 year old read them. But, I'd consider my 16 and 17 year old.

Ann Best said...

I just read the article. It raises some crucial issues. How much "reality" should young adults be subjected to? Yes, they can find it all on the Internet, and in real life, too! But they're at a stage in their lives where they need guidance. Heck, guidance has to start from day one of a child's life. And yet all around me I see children who are given no boundaries (in my own family, in fact), who make choices that I find chilling.

But I don't advocate censorship of books. We can choose what we want to read. And we can guide our children to read books that are powerful; that deal with issues they're faced with every day.

But to writers I say: write the stories without excessive explicit scenes and crude language. I read powerful stories in my youth (the Fifties) that weren't filled with the F word (which I abhor); that didn't have explicit sex scenes (we're not stupid; we know what's going on); that didn't portray minute details of a vicious act. There is one book, a memoir: Lucky by Alice Sebold. Read that one to see how she handled what happened to her: she was raped.

I know, I know. This is what people say and do these days. But if the book is filled with excessive profanity (a little bit goes a long way) and explicit scenes, I can choose to stop reading. I can choose to walk out of the movie theater.

As a writer, I try to portray reality with tact and discretion. Understatement is stronger than overstatement. Robert Cormier, Richard Peck. They wrote powerful stories about young adults in crisis. At age 71, I still enjoy reading them.

Years ago (decades ago) I ranted and raved, along with my first husband who was getting deeper and deeper into X-rated, pornographic movies, and I mean X-rated, about this very topic. No, I don't believe we should burn books. If I think a book is filled with too many disturbing images for children or teenagers, I would, if I were the parent, make sure the lines of communication were open for an honest discussion of the book.

Censorship is a sticky subject. This is all very subjective.

Your tone suggests that The Guardians of Collective Morality are evil. I find any extreme evil. We have to maintain a balance. I think extremes are dangerous, whether they're right or left. In a permissive society, as our society now is, where "doing one's own thing" seems to be openly promoted everywhere, in movies and books, we need a clear eye. We need discernment.

So write those powerful stories, Misha. You're at an age where you're in the mainstream of today's world. You're closer than I am to the wonderful young people who are growing up in this generation. And collectively speaking, they are great!

An excellent, thought-provoking post!
Ann Best, Memoir Author

E.J. Wesley said...

We often forget that young people are just as diverse as adults when it comes to experiences, preferences and the ability to comprehend things. There are SO many great books out there that deal with every level of maturity, and every type of situation. Some kids like a darker side to things, because it better reflects their reality be it either physical or psychological.

I would love it if every person could turn 18 before experiencing any of the real horrors and problems in life, but unfortunately that just isn't ever going to happen. I wish there were never kids beaten for being different, or children forced to make harsh choices. Sadly, I can't make that happen either.

Furthermore, there is some real value provided when young people are allowed to read about things that aren't necessarily a part of their reality. It can teach them about compassion and empathy. It can also allow them to psychologically explore things that might not be the best things for them to explore 'in the real world'. (Like drug use, promiscuity, etc.)

We always have to be careful as a society when it comes to trying the one shoe that will fit everyone. In the end, I think there is room for all types of books and themes. The dark stuff is just popular right now, so it gets front billing in the bookstore.

Great write up, Misha!

~EJW~

Elena Solodow said...

You make an excellent point that it does take a certain amount of bravery for authors to pen this stuff. There have been many times I wonder if I'm going too far, or how people are going to respond. We do have a responsibility to tell the truth, and do it in an accessible way that shows an understanding of the topic. That is the most important thing. And even more important, teenagers are called "young adults" for a reason. They have the full authority to put a book down if it's too much for THEM. I've done so, and continue to do so. Personal preference hasn't changed.

Lucy V Morgan said...

It's funny; true, in bookstores, the YA displays are completely geared towards all the darker (mainly paranormal) stuff comimg out. Had the mother just searched on Amazon, however, she'd have found all sorts of YA books. Makes you think about how stores influence people's ideas just with careful stocking/placing (although they'll only do that if the stuff is selling--point being, it's not who's writing it. It's who's BUYING it that matters).

Anne R. Allen said...

It's an interesting article--so thanks for bringing it to our attention. I see why you're angered. As Ann Best says, anything that implies censorship is a good thing gets our hackles up.

But there's some truth here--and it's just as true of adult fiction: the competition for the most dark, horrifying stories gets fiercer and fiercer, and readers who feel too much empathy or anxiety to find torture entertaining are treated as stupid and shallow.

I think it's a shame the publishing industry doesn't allow for more diversity. If that's what the article writer was trying to convey, then I agree.

erica and christy said...

(fyi - I didn't read the other comments to make sure I wrote my own words and didn't just agree or disagree with others)

I've read this article a couple of times. Here are my impressions:
1. If that mom thought she could only find dark, depressing novels at her local bookstore, she didn't look closely enough. There are a lot of really great, uplifting stories out there. In fact, there aren't enough. I encourage her (and you) to look for them and buy them and then more can be published.

2. I read "Diary of a Part-Time Indian" for banned book week last year. Anyone who wants it banned is a mystery in my book. It's awesome and I'd put it on required reading if I had any say in high school curriculum. (*gasp* a masturbation scene!!)

3. Are some YA books over-the-top?. In my opinion, yes. I just read a YA romance, as it's touted on its dust jacket and the website. I was deeply saddened not only by the plot (which seemed to want to add in every teenage problem that exists and also didn't make sense), but by the very, very graphic language. I know I'm 35, but I also consider myself pretty progressive and there were things in there I wish I had been warned about (very graphic pornographic scenes). Do teens have sex? Yes. Do we have to read the details or can we imagine what's going on through the power of the writer's language leading up to and after the scene? I certainly hope the answer is the latter.
erica

Susan Kane said...

I think the ones who read your blog will fall on one side or the other of the posed topic.
Like Ann Best, I think YA books do not need to delve into all the profanity that hangs in the air in the lives our this age group. The violence these kids experience is so real and harsh, it doesn't need to be spelled out in print. Good writing means expressing life without spilling blood all over the page.

Steph Schmidt said...

The "Classics" have the same things people object to seeing in YA (substance abuse, wild drunken debauchery, torrid affairs, suicide attempts, murder, war, social upheaval) and yet the classics are required reading in schools. The Great Gatsby, Pride & Prejudice, The Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies...they not any worse than what's on the shelves of the Young Adult section. Parents like the one in the article think they're sheltering these kids but really they are suppressing them.

Misha said...

Lol Maria, sorry. ;-) Next week I'll post fluff just for you to relax with it. On a serious note though, I understand that the availability depends on publishers and book stores, but doesn't that make my point? That they go after the money, meaning that those so called dark books mean something to someone? I don't like reading too much violence either, as it isn't in my taste. But I don't judge people who read/write it.

You make an excellent point, Marjorie.

Shelly I agree with you here. I'm not saying that parents should be irresponsible with what they let children read. All I'm thinking is that no-one should have the right to take the choice away from other parents just because THEY don't like certain types of books.

Ann, I agree with you on all of your points. I tend to go for the subtle and subversive more than overt grit. It's just my taste. It's also how I write. I don't tend to put down books I read, even ones that don't fall in my usual tastes. And I'm glad, because some of those "dark and evil books" were books of empowerment and standing up against horrible, but real situations. I learned from those books. I'm not sure if I'll say the GCM are evil. They're... misguided. But so are parents who leave their children to do anything they want because the child is supposedly happy like that. Still, neither of the above are the writer's fault or responsibility.

E.J. I love the way you looked at this. You mirrored my thoughts almost exactly. (I was much less eloquent in my rage...)

Misha said...

Elena that is so true. I have dealt with much less difficult topics than those writers and I still had to grapple with my own feelings and concerns.

Lucy that is an interesting thought... Personally I'm hoping that there will be a swing away from paranormal books. Because it's getting a tad... tedious. ^_^

Anne, I think it's sad that people can disrespect people for their tastes, no matter where they lie. No one has the right to say what is better than anything else. I also wish to see a bit more variety, but I can't condone with someone drawing a bead on a segment of YA just because it dares to exist despite the person's wishes.

Hi Erica, 1) I couldn't agree more. The money determines the supply. We should ask to see more variety. 2) It's ridiculous that books are banned left and right. It's worse that people like WSJ lady think it's a good idea. 3) I agree... Plot and characters first, then window dressing. Overdoing everything in every possible way isn't going to make a wonderful book. But... if it's that bad, people will put down the book and not tell friends about it. Unless more people do like it, but then we can't go insult them about their taste.

Susan, that is true. But do we have the right to judge people who find value in those books?

Amen, Steph.

Michael Offutt said...

My opinion is that the Wall Street Journal is owned by Rupert Murdoch and is just another pundit for Fox News seeking to establish their right-wing stance as the new "standard" of morality by which everything is judged.

Misha said...

Hehehe... true, but I think they messed with the wrong community.

We're smart, we're fair and we're eloquent.

Hear us roar! ;-)

Caitlin said...

I actually wrote about this today, as well. And you know what? I'm mad, too. I don't write YA, but no one, not a single person on this big beautiful planet of ours has a right to say what is acceptable reading material for another person.

No one person has the authority to say "These books are smut, so no one should be reading them."

Banning books tears my heart apart. To see a beautifully written story, or one filled with hope that one CAN triumph over bad, be ranted and raved against because a few people find it to be "too dark" is ridiculous.

And besides, when were teenagers bound to the Young Adult section? There's a whole world filled with books out there! Both smutty and not ;)

Misha said...

I agree with you 100%

Sometimes, people look at things too closely and forget to take other people's opinion's into account.

I find that fact sad, because pretending to be morally upstanding while depriving a person of a chance to gain meaning in his/her life, is wrong.