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written words

As a writer, the most important thing I do to become cleverer is to read. And, lest you think I'm one of those people, the "literary fiction" types with their americanos and clove cigarettes, let me confess to you right this second: I've never made it through a single Jonathan Safran Foer book. SHOCKER I know. (I also don't own any plaid flannel, so I can't be a real hipster. DARN.)

These are the cleanest hipsters ever.

Taste aside, I am a reader. One of my earliest memories is sitting in the backseat of my parents' car, kicking my feet, exclaiming how I couldn't wait to learn to read! (My mother obliged & taught me how. Thanks, Mom!) When I did learn, once I exhausted my school library's supply of Berenstien Bears books, I moved on to Beverly Cleary and Roald Dahl. Then on to Lou Kassam and Mary Downing Hahn and (best!) NANCY DREW. I spent the summer after 6th grade reading Nancy Drew in Kings Hill, ID, and, uh, making up a fake boyfriend. (I never forgot the afternoons we didn't spend playing basketball in your driveway, Tall Jeffrey!)

There was a brief stint in late childhood where I read a lot of Sweet Valley High and Babysitter Club books. My saving grace were LM Montgomery books. Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, The Blue Castle, all amazing. In my teens I read Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series and discovered William Gibson. Eventually I discovered Sandra Cisneros, Louise Erdrich, and Barbara Kingsolver.

When I turned 25 and realized something was missing. YA was missing. As a too-cool-for-school teen, I was busy reading Anaïs Nin and David Sedaris. I didn't have time for frippy romantic teenage novels. I barely visited the library, instead opting for the dusty shelves of the local seconhand bookstore.By wading through heavy literary fiction, reading about murders and incest and difficult adult relationships, I missed out on all the heart-thumping, the sweaty palms, the intense romance and agony of being a teenager in fiction.

Of course, YA isn't really about romance all the time, or agony. There are some great books out there that sit firmly within the "adult" banner, books that deal with homosexuality, sexuality in general, have bad words, or have difficult themes (death, supernatural abilities, sparkling inappropriately, etc). There are some that are light-hearted but still approachable. The book that got me into YA was Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

I'd never read anything by John Green or David Levithan but a friend recommended WG, WG so I bought it at the Sydney Writers' Festival. And when I finished reading its amazingness, I promptly scoured my favorite bookstore, Kinokuniya, for all the David Levithan and John Green books I could find. I bought them all. I began browsing in YA, ignoring my pretentious adult tastes. I felt a pang of guilt each time I passed the literary fiction section without a backward glance, but honestly, I was loving every sweaty-palm difficult-choices being-a-teen-sucks coming-of-age moment.

And the writing. The glorious, amazing writing. These weren't hastily penned for a daft audience; these books were crafted, written for intelligent and savvy young adults. The authors spent just as much time creating worlds and characters as any "proper" novelist. Maybe more. John Green takes at least three years to write a book. And Maureen Johnson's dedication to writing has clearly sent her insane. (For proof, see her Twitter feed. Watch out, she'll try and put you in a jar.)

My point is, my home is YA. It's what I read. It feels right. I might be a married mother but dang, when I read Looking for Alaska I was crying like a teenager. I felt like a teenager. (I was poorly suited to being a child, by the way, and love being all grown up, so this is not some sort of nostalgia doohicky.) YA is not a guilty pleasure; it became the first place I turn for new books. And it's fabulous. Here's why.

YA is a reader's genre. See, it's not just "young adult fiction". It's YA science fiction, YA horror, YA fantasy, YA dramatic/comedic fiction, YA poetry, YA you name it it's there. And as a reader, a real reader, the kind of person who reads ANYTHING and EVERYTHING she can get her mitts on, I respect that. I love that one minute I'm reading about butt-kicking angels and the next I can pick up a book on terrifying fairies and I'm back to reality with a story about a girl who is finding her family.

I bring this up because when people ask what I do, I tell them I'm a writer. Invariably they wonder, "What do you write?" and I have to make a decision. I write coming-of-age stories for people who aren't teenagers but remember being teenagers. I write about teenagers but not necessarily for them. Plus there's a lot of magic/random/supernatural-esque stuff (don't worry, NOBODY SPARKLES) in my stories, so a large chunk of my work falls under magical realism. Magical-realism-not-quite-YA doesn't really roll off the tongue, though. So I tell people I write novels, fiction, and most people leave it at that. I always want to say I write YA, but then I don't. I'm scared people will read my manuscripts and take me to pieces for corrupting the nation's youth or something. Eek! So I don't say anything.

What people should ask me, when they find out I'm a writer, is "who's your favorite author?" because that tells you more about a writer than any genre ever could. For the record, I can't think of a favorite author. Probably LM Montgomery, since she's been with me the longest. But I'm reading a shedload of Maureen Johnson right now. And I could quite cheerfully reread, at any time, John Marsden's Tomorrow When the War Began series. Oh, and I do enjoy Neil Gaiman. Maybe he's my favorite. Maybe they're all my favorite. Who cares? I'm a writer. I read a lot. And I love a lot of authors. The inspire me to put my fingers on the keys and write.

And really, that's what makes it awesome.

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Reader Comments (3)

I LOVED L M Montgomery growing up, the Anne of Green Gables series especially ( I think my favorite was always Rilla of Ingleside) but also Emily of New Moon and actually i just got a post card yesterday of the actual Green Gables as a good friend is currently visiting Prince Edward Island :)

September 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNikki SapphiredDragon

Based on this post Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which is languishing on my kindle, is next on my reading list (as soon as I finish the interminable Game of Thrones series.)
So glad you're blogging again! I hope to read something of YOURS soon :)

October 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErinn

I imagine WG, WG will be VERY different to Game of Thrones! :)

October 5, 2011 | Registered CommenterPenny Poppleton

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