Thursday, December 18, 2008

Where Young Adult is a Point of View, Not a Reading Level

And now the NEW YORKER is throwing its rumpled hat into the "can YA be literary" debate. And not doing a very remarkable job of it.

In the comments section, the inimitable John Green points to the same argument I always use when someone tries to define YA as any book with a teen protagonist: Well, then, CATCHER IN THE RYE is YA. Funny, that's not where it's shelved. That would also make Brian Malloy's YEAR OF ICE a YA novel (again, not where it's shelved). Jonathan Safran Foer's EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE becomes a middle grade novel with its 9-year-old protagonist. THE LIFE OF PI was released as an adult novel, shelved in the literature section, until someone realized its crossover potential and a YA edition was later released. Would it have received the accolades it did if it had started as YA? (Sadly, probably not, owing to an excess of snobbery.)

How can people accept that adult literature can fall into literary and commercial categories (and Michael Chabon would argue that even that delineation is an atrocity) but refuse to accept that YA can offer the same depth and breadth of character? Is it simply because it's easier to dismiss that which one doesn't understand? (Well, duh, yes.) The problem, as I see it, is that little effort is made to even start to understand. That the entire YA oeuvre has, in many cases, been condemned on a small sampling. That would be like reading one poorly written science fiction novel and condemning the entire genre as a result.

I've given up being outraged when I see people whose alleged education would suggest they know better than to make blanket statements of condemnation based on their peripheral experience with YA novels. It's not worth my time or energy. It's sad, though, when the media feels the need to present only one view point on the subject. And it's always the one with the weakest arguments.

Go fig.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My First FAQ

In desperate need of a blog post that exists purely to spite A.S. King (long story), I thought I'd take a moment to address a few questions that have come my way since taking over here at Flux. It occurred me to that the answers might be of use to people besides the one who asked the questions. Many of these questions are related not just to Flux but to "the biz" in general. Please remember: most of these answers apply to ME. Questions that focus on preference are MY preference and may differ by editor or publishing house. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Let's check the Flux mailbag for some FAQ!

Writermania100 writes: Is there a standard font and format for manuscripts to be submitted to editors and agents?

I think there are a few standards. Double spaced? Absolutely. I don't think I'll find anyone who argues with me on that. Will I banish you to the Total Perspective Vortex for sending me something single spaced? No. (I will WISH I could banish you as I hit Ctrl-A and double space it myself and that will make me start reading your work with my mind in a haze of anger and resentment but I won't banish you.) One inch margins? Yeah, I think that's pretty standard across the board. Fonts? Oy. Some old school editors and agents ask for Courier. Personally, I hate Courier. Dunno why. Just hard on my eyes. I'm very much a Times New Roman guy. (And, yes, if you submit something in Courier, I'll do my Ctrl-A trick and magic it into being TNR.) I encourage people NOT to get creative with fonts. Don't submit your fantasy novel in Olde English font. (Please, for the love of Mike, don't submit ANYTHING in Olde English font.)

YAguy asks: Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to the stuff you read?

Of course I do. The person who tells you they don't is a liar-pants. Will I share them with you? Mmm. I dunno. As soon as I start saying, "I hate when writers do this..." it sends writers in a tizzy, either fumbling to "fix" something in their manuscript or they denounce me as a fool who wouldn't know their brilliant writing if it grew legs, crawled up my arm, and danced the Watusi. I'll say this much: I enjoy logic. I want things to make sense on some level. If your hockey playing, first person boy protagonist is spending WAY too much time cataloging every article of clothing that every character he encounters is wearing ("Todd was standing there in his navy blue, GAP, zip-up pullover, his dark tan Dockers, ankle cut white socks, and brown bowling shoes..."*), I need to know that there's a really good reason this guy is obsessed with fashion**. Otherwise, I'm going to assume you just took a writing class where the importance of concrete details was impressed upon you and you took it a liiiitle too much too heart. Again, will it make me reject you? Probably not. But you can bet any sweet bippy you may have lying around that it WILL come up in my editorial letter. And it will look a lot like this: "Is this really his voice? :-("

SuperAgent29 asks: Are you going to go and change everything that Andrew worked so hard to establish?

This actually is THE most FAQ I have. My somewhat wishy-washy answer thus far has been: I don't see the point in fixing that which isn't broken. That's not to say that I might not explore some new territory (I like to experiment) but I like what Flux is and I like what we're known for. My goal isn't to change and shake things up. My goal is to continue the standards we've tried to maintain since our inception. If that's a little vague and evasive, good. Means I can do whatever I want. :-)

Although I never opened myself up to questions, I find myself getting them. That's cool. Feel free to keep sending and maybe I'll do another of these soon. And not just out of spite.

*= I made this line up. This is not from an actual submission. But it closely approximates one of those moments where I go, "Ummm..." in certain manuscripts.

**=I'm not saying that hockey playing, first person boy protagonists CAN'T be obsessed with fashion. That might actually make for an interesting book. But the observations should be organic to the character. You should assume, for the purposes of this post, that said HPFPBP showed absolutely NO OTHER INTEREST in fashion throughout the book, except when another character would walk through the door and he would interrupt his discussion of Derek Boogaard to go into extended detail on what the character was wearing.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bang Head Here

I'm surprised Andrew hasn't piped in on this one yet. Guess it's up to me. Be afraid.

So, yeah, the YA blogosphere nearly caught fire over the last 48 hours or so after this writer made some staggeringly ill-formed blanket judgments about YA as a whole. One of those instances where an entire oeuvre is condemned because someone jumped to rash conclusions based on a limited (and, apparently, ill-chosen) sampling. It's like saying all science fiction sucks based on reading a single STAR WARS novelization.

There are rebuttals, refutals, recriminations, and other re words floating around. It's good to see. Nothing mobilizes the YA world like being dismissed (or the mistaken perception of being dismissed, as novelist Margo Rabb learned a few months ago when she penned a NYT essay that was frequently misunderstood). Colleen Mondor has a wonderful response on Guys Lit Wire. And TadMack sends her thoughts from Glasgow.

Sometimes I think we owe these Ann Coulters of YA thanks. (Not Colleen and Tadmack! I mean Caitlin Flanagan and her ilk.) By contributing outlandish opinions, they force us to look at what we do and want to accomplish and really appreciate that we have vision that's not limited by our diminished sense of tolerance. Just like how banning a book is the surest way to watch its numbers rise, poo-pooing YA galvanizes the community.
So go ahead. Turn up your nose, naysayers. That which does not kill us...won't get a second chance to try. BWAH-HAH-HAH!!