Tag Archives: Five Parts Dead

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:

Cons
– 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.

Pros
– 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.

Getting fresh

Journalists are trained to get the story first or at least gather new facts that are exclusive to their reports. As an author, you should be striving for a different sort of exclusivity – original ideas, characters, voices, structure and plot. After all, why would any publisher want to invest in a story that has basically been done before – unless you have a truly unique spin on the material?

While writing Game as Ned I had a day when I questioned whether I had any original ideas in my head. I picked up the Saturday Age and stumbled across a double page spread on Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Not only did this oft-awarded book focus on a teenage narrator with an autism spectrum disorder but it was already so successful it had been added to the Victorian VCE reading list. Most Aussie authors would kill to have one of their titles make that list.

Given that I was writing a book narrated by a teen with an autism spectrum disorder, I feared nobody would be interested in a story so similar in subject matter to Haddon’s. Game over.

That night my wife and I scored a babysitter and had a night out. For want of other choices, we saw the Jack Nicholson movie Something’s Gotta Give. The plot, coincidentally, echoed that of a short story I’d just had short-listed in a writing competition. That realisation hit me like a bus. I became genuinely worried that I was just a big sponge for other people’s ideas. It was a dark day on the author odyssey.

On the up side, it inspired a major rewrite of the Game as Ned manuscript, a new co-narrator and, I believe, a stronger story.

My next book Five Parts Dead deals with death, dying, guilt and grief. It’s set at a lighthouse in South Australia. Not so long ago I stumbled across reviews of two new YA novels – one focusing on exactly the themes I’m tackling*, the other set at a remote West Australian lighthouse. Ouch.

Perhaps I’m older and wiser now. I’m certainly more philosophical. It’s impossible to prevent overlap between stories.

Death and grief are universal themes. People have been writing about them since… forever.

Lighthouses are evocative and iconic**. Umpteen books have been written about them.

What I have to work on is delivering a fresh way of looking at age-old subjects. Screenwriting guru Robert McKee once wrote a dedication for me in his book, Story. It read: “To Tim, Write the truth.” I see my task as an author as finding a new truth that’s worthy of a) publication and b) reading.

That’s my focus while I’m working towards an end of year deadline for my Five Parts Dead edits.

*I’m currently reading this book, Lia Hills’ The Beginner’s Guide to Living. I thoroughly recommend it – probably to readers 16 and up. Sure, Lia covers very similar issues to those I’m trying to tackle. Thankfully, she does so in very different ways – even if we reference some of the same materials.

**My Word of the Week is the noun for lighthouse lovers – “pharologists”. Would you believe there’s a Facebook group for lighthouse buffs entitled “Pharologists are light-headed”? Of course there is.

Energised by passionate people

You’ve got to love people who are passionate about their professions. I reckon folks who exude enthusiasm about the next project, the next challenge, the next chance to change a patient/student/life are the people that recharge our batteries and invigorate us for the day ahead.

This morning I met with a friend who wanted to run some ideas for television programs by me – namely a doco and an animation for children. His pitches sounded like winners to me. That fired me up to go try and kick some goals too.

Last week I met some publishing industry professionals and we discussed my current manuscript, which has the working title of Five Parts Dead. I explained that I’d tried to write a book that 15-year-old reluctant readers would power through from start to finish. The chapters are short. The paragraphs are too. There’s very little padding. It’s a manuscript intended for people more familiar with text messaging, Twittering and micro-blogging than ploughing through acres of verbiage.

One of the publishers responded that, and I paraphrase, ‘We live in an era of constant distraction. Books are a respite from the distraction and that’s why we have to make them the best we possibly can.’

There’s passion in that philosophy. And truth.

Stamp out the distractions and get passionate about a book today.