Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why Write for Middle School Age Readers?

Bonnie J. Doerr has taught students from kindergarten to college in eight states. Her degrees in reading education, combined with a brief post as a science teacher, led her to write ecological mysteries. I asked her about writing YA books:

Why did you decide to write a YA series?

Let me begin by saying my books are for the younger teens. So my series is more tween than what readers usually think of as YA.

I didn't start out to pen a series. But the characters got so involved in their environmental passion that they wouldn't quit after one success story. When they saw injustice they simply had to do something about it. I must admit, it was also a great excuse for Angelo and Kenzie to spend time together. Alone. In remote areas. In the sun, sand, and water.

Why do you write for this age group? Do you have a certain mindset when writing for teens?

Well, first, this is the age (middle-schoolish) when kids often lose interest in reading. Let's face it. There's a great deal of competition for kids time and energy out there.So I wanted to write fast-paced, fun reads that could hold their attention and that might actually get into their hands via the gatekeepers. By this I mean, most books for middle schoolers are still being vetted by adults: teachers, parents, mentors, etc. So, I write about topics and an area I feel passionate about--ecology, nature, and the Florida Keys. And I know that there's nothing objectionable about those topics. They're even educational subjects. Yet, I hope when my books are read, the fact that learning is taking place is secondary to readers losing themselves in the story.

And no, I don't have a different mindset when I write. I deeply care about my topics, and I research them carefully through travel and personal experience. My writing actually allows me to further pursue lifelong goals and enrich my life.

Bonnie's book Island Sting is out now, and her next book Stakeout will be published in January 2011. You can visit Bonnie at her website here.

Dana Davis Talks YA vs. Adult Fiction

Dana Davis is a four time award-winning author of fantasy and science fiction. She writes both for adults and young adults. I asked her why, and what she feels the difference is when writing for teens. You can see all of Dana's books here.

Why did you decide to write Young Adult books?

Actually, I began writing science fiction and fantasy for young adults because I wanted to have girls as the main characters. I wanted girls to have the same adventures as boys. And I want my readers to have fun. As a kid, I loved these genres but had difficulty finding books that featured girls, especially in sci-fi. While I have boys and men as important characters in my young adult novels, a girl always has the main role. At least, so far.
In fact, when I was shopping The Mask of Tamirella around, one editor suggested I change the main character Caitlanna to a boy to make the book more marketable. This was when Harry Potter had come onto the scene and everyone seemed to be looking for that type of novel. I declined to make those changes. And I’m very glad I didn’t give up on Caitlanna. I’ve been very lucky to have only positive comments from girls who have read my books. Many adults have picked them up and told me how much fun they had reading.

Do you have a different mindset when writing YA rather than your adult books?

I don’t censure my thoughts and let my muses have free rein, just as I do with my adult novels. But there are things those in the young adult field frown on, like excessive cursing, graphic sex, and too much violence. There is violence in my young adult books, you might see a mild curse word from an older character, and my adolescent girls can and do lust after boys, but I don’t put anything graphic into the books. Sorry kids.

I don’t preach in my writing because I don’t like being preached to. I write for enjoyment and want my readers to read my books to escape whatever might be going on in their lives. Though my main characters have problems, get into heaps of trouble, and don’t always make the best decisions, I want them to learn from their mistakes. I don’t want them to be afraid of asking for help when they need it, though some have more trouble with that than others. Just as in my adult works, I have to like and trust my characters. If I don’t like them, then my readers certainly won’t.

You can visit Dana at her website which is Her publisher is

Bobbie Pyron on Writing Young Adult Books

Bobbie Pyron is a writer and YA author. In her book, The Ring, fifteen-year-old Mardie is trying her best to fit in at high school, with disastrous results. She finally hits rock bottom and her salvation is the boxing ring. I asked Bobbie to share with us why she writes for young adults.

Here's my "musings" on writing for teens and younger kids. My teen novel, The Ring, and my mid-grade novel due out next January (2011) are both stand-alones.

Here's a typical scenario for those of us who write for teens and younger kids encounter frequently: we meet someone for the first time--say at a party or on an airplane--and they ask what we do. We say (with pride and humility):

"I, um, am a writer."

"Oh," the questioner says, thinking you might be more interesting than you look. "What do you write?"

We say, "I write novels for teens and for kids grades four and up."

The person narrows their eyes and says, "Why don't you write real books? You know, like for adults. Are these books you're writing now just for practice?"

After enduring this scenario with the tedious frequency of the poor sap in "Groundhog Day," I've learned to say with pride:

"No, actually. I have no intention of writing for adults. I love writing for kids and teens."

Usually, the questioner doesn't ask why, they just shrug and move along. But you asked so I will tell you why I write for teens and kids: because they're brutally and passionately honest. They are honest with the world and they are honest with their many, many feelings and they are honest readers.

I love the big questions kids and teens are wrestling with in their own lives: who am I? how do I fit in this world? what do I believe in? what is worth fighting for and why shouldn't I ask questions? what is my north star, my passion? I love exploring all these questions with my characters and with my readers.

I have no interest in writing about adulterous husbands or corporate greed or who killed who. I want to write about people who are on that cusp, poised on that point, of staying in that safe cocoon of all they've ever been told about the world and who they are in it, and setting out to break free and explore. And by writing these stories, I get to break free and explore those same questions about myself, too. That's why I write for teens and kids.

Bobbie Pyron is the author of The Ring (Oct. 2009, WestSide Books) and A Dog's Way Home (February, 2011, HarperCollins. You can find out more about her on her website:

Why Do We Read & Write Young Adult Books?

Why do I love Young Adult books? First, I love them because I'm a mom to 15 and 16 year old boys, and a ten year old girl. I've been reading out loud to my kids since they were born. I was determined to pass along my love of books and reading. Forcing a teen to read is like trying to get a toddler to eat peas. You can force it, but they will just spit it out and look at you like you are insane. Instead you provide the example, the material and you let them figure it out on their own. So, my first reason for loving YA books is I find books that my kids might enjoy. An added benefit is that because I've read them we can talk about the books with each other and have some really cool discussions.

The second reason I love YA books is because I like to read books that weren't around when I was a teenager. Back then, I jumped from Encyclopedia Brown and kid friendly mysteries to Willian Blatty...., Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King. The only non-horror titles I remember reading were Go Ask Alice, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and Flowers for Allgernon. My senior year in high school I discovered Science Fiction. In college I started reading J.R. Tolkien, Fritz Leiber, Peter S. Beagle and Piers Anthony. Other than Salem's Lot by Stephen King, I don't recall reading any vampire themed fiction until I was in my 40's. I have a lot of ground to make up in the YA world and this month I've made a pretty good dent.

Why do authors write YA books? I really wanted to know, and sent out emails to a few authors asking them this very question.

My first author is Michelle Rowen, who has written two YA books, both in her Demon Princess series. Reign or Shine came out in October 2009 and Reign Check will be released on May 24, 2010. Here is Michelle's response:

Young Adult has always been my favorite genre. It was YA books that inspired me to focus my writing on something I really loved to read (L.J. Smith in the nineties). The first book I finished (as yet unpublished) was a YA about ghosts. What appeals to me is the fact that every piece of fiction out there can be encompassed within this genre -- there are no constraints other than the general age of the characters.

Also I like the idea of exploring characters as they are making the decisions and learning lessons that will take them into adulthood -- like they're "coming of age". That sounds kind of dry, but with adult books, your characters are somewhat "been there done that," but with teen books everything is fresh for them. Teens are rarely closed off, they're willing to jump in with both feet, make mistakes, fall in love for the first time, and have deep issues with friendships and school like what is happening is the end of the world. And sometimes it is. ;-) Also, I like writing YA because I can add in some romance, but the plot doesn't have to depend on it. There can be a lot of other stuff going on. In my romance novels, the romance is the most important thing to keep in mind.

You can visit Michelle at her website: where you can read the first two chapters of each book.

I'll be posting more author's opinions on YA later in the day and tonight.