Tag Archives: Cory Doctorow

Adult Readers, YA Books

This article in Louisville, Kentucky’s, Courier Journal was tweeted to me recently. It discusses the growing numbers of adult readers consuming so-called Young Adult fiction.

I don’t think it’s a new thing. I do think it’s a good thing and not just for the obvious, self-interested reason. As I wrote in one of my first ever blog posts a good story is a good story. It should contain truths for readers of all ages, especially the young-adult-at-heart.

When I complete a manuscript for my novels I shop it around to friends and family for feedback. My oldest test reader is almost 100 so it’s an incredible effort for her to read an A4 manuscript. She doesn’t care that the protagonists are teens. She’s all about the story.

For Five Parts Dead my other test readers included a Tarot-reading friend with experience in matters spiritual and paranormal, two obliging teenagers, two or three Kangaroo Island locals, a secondary teacher, a crime-fiction addicted masseuse, my parents and my Tarot-reading wife. Everyone brought different experiences and opinions to their reading and the finished product will be better for their input.

I’m getting off the track. There are lots of pros and not too many cons to being a YA author. Here are a few:

– There’s a certain snobbery out there. Writing for adults seems to be considered more prestigious than writing for children or teenagers.

– Australia has numerous fantastic YA authors yet, as multi-award-winning YA wordsmith Simmone Howell has pointed out, we don’t see them on the tele. John Marsden might be the exception to that rule and even with that exposure few Australians appreciate the international superstar John is.

– The YA aisle tends to be tucked away in the back of bookstores so adult readers are less likely to browse or even enter the teen zone unless they know what they’re looking for.

– I suspect adult fiction attracts better advance$ than YA. Guess I won’t really know until I write a grown up book.

– Hey, everyone says teens are reluctant readers. The teens I talk to aren’t. Whatever the case, I’m rapt if I can get any reader to persevere from the front to back cover of my stories – but uber-impressed when I hear from a teenager who says “your book is the first I ever read”.

– As Cory Doctorow says, it’s an honour to be telling stories for and about young people during such a formative part of their lives. There are books I read as a teenager that have had an indelible impact on the person I am today.

– Writing for YA readers helps preserve the Peter Pan in my mind.

– I get to visit schools and work with fantastically creative young minds before the adult world pummels them into jaded and world-weary submissiveness.

– It’s a great time to be writing YA fiction thanks to JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Lian Hearn, Markus Zusak and countless other “crossover” authors.

I could go on. I won’t. I’m chuffed to be a YA author… or stoked, as some might say.

Next time you’re out to buy a book, please give the YA shelves a gander, regardless of the date on your birth certificate.

Revolution Imminent

I’ve got a feeling I may be about to bite off more than I can chew in one blog entry. It’s because I’ve got that itchy sense of expectation, that tingle, that big things are afoot. Journalists learn to develop a nose for news, or “news sense”. Marvel’s Peter Parker has “spider sense” to tell him when something unlawful is going down. When workshopping with students, I often talk about “story sense” or how to find the seeds that germinate into creative writing. My children would say I specialise in “nonsense”… At least one of these senses is buzzing.

I was a newspaper journalist for a decade. I’ve worked with websites for the same period. My first published work of fiction was printed two years ago. (Novel # 2 will hit bookstores in 2010.) I’ve been part of the media for 20 years and a consumer of it for as long as I can remember. Today it feels like the media is entering a period of unprecedented tumult and change.

For Exhibit 1, I point you to last night’s episode of Media Watch which contrasted the thoughts of ABC managing director Mark Scott, News Limited’s Rupert and James Murdoch, and media commentator Meg Symons on paying for online news. By attacking public-funded journalism conducted by the BBC and ABC, the Murdoch duo came across as unusually apprehensive. They seemed to concede that the power balance in the media playground had shifted forever. That feels like a good thing to me.

Exhibit 2 was a landmark moment in journalism when the combined might of the Twitterverse was directed at assisting a journalist to tell a story that lawyers were trying to suppress. It was a victory for people power in combination with old-school journalism. Inspiring stuff.

As a relative newbie to Twitter, I’m impressed by the many ways clever and determined journalists are using it to gather and disseminate news. I’m also watching how individual Twitterers (authors, athletes, celebrities…) are using it to bypass traditional publicity channels and speak their minds or push their wares direct to fans and followers.

Which brings me to Exhibit 3. I’ve long enjoyed the ideas, writing and free-thinking of Cory Doctorow. (His first novel for young adults, Little Brother, is a title I’ve successfully enticed reluctant teen readers into tackling which is possibly the highest praise I can offer an author.) Doctorow is a pioneer and evangelist in the field of free online e-books. His latest project is truly radical and, I believe, could change the publishing world as we know it.

Depending on what Australia’s Productivity Commission recommends in relation to parallel importation of books, Doctorow’s insights could provide a template for publishing that puts authors and consumers on the same page, so to speak.

Exciting times. Stay tuned.

Update: Here’s the unparalleled First Dog on the Moon‘s take on the issue of paying for online news content.

Little victories

Sometimes you need to savour life’s little victories, rather than sweating the targets you’re yet to hit. Here are a couple of snapshots from recent days:

  • I finish a school visit encouraging boys to read more, having recommended specific titles from the library shelves and my own collection. One of the students approaches me and asks if he can borrow one of those books right away. (For the record, that was Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, featuring hackers, Xbox, surveillance, torture, teen romance…) That felt like a win to me.
  • As I’m speaking to the main group, there’s an older student off to one side, enjoying a free study period. I notice he’s tuning in and nodding as I speak (thankfully not nodding off). Turns out he’s endorsing the list of books I’m suggesting. Nice one.
  • The Little Dragon (Grade 3) has successfully campaigned to have his teacher read the first of Sandy Fussell’s excellent Samurai Kids books to his class. He tells me the class is loving it, no surprise there, but he’s not enjoying it as much “because Dad read it better” during bedtime stories.
  • A student comes up to me after one of my school sessions and says he never really considered journalism as a career path but now wants to put it high up his list because “it’s a lot more interesting than I realised”.
  • During one of my writing workshops this week a student whips up an evocative story sketch and I end up awarding him a prize. I later learn he’d begged to attend my workshop because he was too unwell to attend a previous author’s visit. The subject of his true story? Being diagnosed with leukaemia. Serendipity?
  • The super-duper bike lights I ordered online make it across two states in time for me to fit and charge them before my next night ride.

If you want to celebrate your life’s little victories and feed some brain fodder to a cartoonist, check out Keith Knight’s website.

Books for Boys update

I’ve managed to attach a website traffic monitor doo-hickey to this site so I know the posts here that are attracting the most eyeballs.

Books for Boys and Books for Boys 2 are the most-read posts on this site by a country mile. Judging by the search keywords, there are parents and teachers out there desperate for titles that might tempt young males to turn off the PlayStation and turn over some pages.

So, I’ll keep posting lists of books I reckon boys will enjoy. Here are a few titles I’ve read recently that I think boys might tackle willing – and hopefully get hooked by.

Little Brother – Cory Doctorow (15+) – An exciting, contemporary spin on surveillance, hacking and George Orwell’s 1984. Can get a bit mired in techno-babble at times but otherwise this is a gripping, alarming yarn. One for the web-heads and X-Boxers in your household.

The Story of Tom Brennan – JC Burke (15+) – Rugby, testosterone, drink driving and living with guilt and grief. Should be compulsory reading for every teen male who ever wants to drive. There’s a reason why car insurance is so expensive for blokes under 30.

Ten Mile River – Paul Griffin (14+) – Homeless boys trying to survive in New York. There’s a constant sense of dread about what might happen to these kids next.

Jackdaw Summer – David Almond (14+) – This story, about resisting growing up and entering a seemingly crappy adult world, won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But there’s violence, bullying, running away and an enigmatic girl. I found it utterly persuasive.

Breath – Tim Winton (17+) – This is a story about the addictive, adrenaline-charging nature of risk. It’s a ripsnorter … but might need a “don’t try this at home” label.

Before I Die – Jenny Downham (15+) – A knockout. Yes, I know, the narrator is a teenage girl but trust me and keep on reading guys. I couldn’t put this down.

Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing With Fire – Derek Landy (10+) – Funnier and bloodier than the first book. Currently reading this to my 8.5 yo son for a bedtime story and he is completely entranced.

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman (12+) – Growing up with ghosts. Literally.

For the record, I haven’t read the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer but noted these titles on the desks of Year 7 (13 yo) boys at some workshops I did earlier this year. That was at a boys’ school. At a co-ed school more recently, the Year 9 lads (15 yo) said there was no way they’d be seen dead reading this phenomenally successful series. (Just about every girl had though.) Not sure what to read into that observation but I won’t recommend a book unless I’ve read it. And for some reason, (professional jealousy?) I’m reluctant to go there.

Anyway, if you click on the Books for Boys tag in the left hand column on this page, you’ll get all the articles I’ve tagged as being relevant to boys and reading. Have fun turning those pages.