Category Archives: YA

“May Not Be Suitable For Children”: What Is Appropriate for Young Adult Fiction

goldshaft-advisory“May Not Be Suitable for Children” should be my pen name, plastered across every short story, poem, and novel I write. There arises a dilemma in writing young adult fiction for teens, even for older teens, in that you must purposefully censor the content, language, and context of the story. At the same time, you want to commit to a certain degree of realism in your portrayal of teenagers—they cuss, take drugs, and make poor decisions. But at one point can the pursuit of depicting something “real” cross the line into commercializing the controversial? While editing my novel The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County, these questions have plagued me.

Young Adult Lit in general has begun catering to younger teens, from ages 12 to 15, and with that comes a certain sacrifice of material. Violence becomes cleaner, romance becomes chaste, and the 14-year-old who might be a bundle of angry hormones speaks proper as a British butler. On the other hand, there exist plenty of YA novels that explore the dark and gritty. Thirteen Reasons Why explores the suicide of the protagonist’s sister. The Perks of Being a Wallflower highlight sexual abuse within the family and contain scenes about drug exploration. Probably one of the books that takes on the most criticism for dark material is Crank, which details a girl’s descent into meth addiction.

The controversy has already been much discussed in blogs and articles, asking whether YA is TOO DARK? Here are some opinions on that, but here too is my opinion.

The Article That Started the Debate

YA Fiction Is Too Dark

YA Fiction Saves Lives

Think of the Children!

YA Fiction Shows Teenagers As They Actually Are

As edits began on my novel The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County, I began to have these exact conversations with my editor and publisher. After we reviewed some of the scenes in question, I agreed—some of these existed purely for shock value, the I can’t believe they might do that moments. Some were clearly inappropriate, though others existed for very particular reasons.

I’ll give an example: one character in the novel struggles with abuse in her relationship. In the first draft, I merely hinted at this dynamic and in subsequent drafts I wanted to bring the conversation of partner abuse to the forefront. So I employed the Toni Morrison school of realism and left nothing to the imagination, which created a powerful though perhaps horrendous scene. Was the scene necessary to show the horrors of abuse or could have I implied my opinion in some other way? In the end, I removed that particular scene because I believed that the character could convey her unsettling experience more easily herself. I could explain why domestic abuse was a terrible thing without actually showing domestic abuse, therefore in some way glamorizing that sort of violence.

Other controversies arose, as well, such as certain sex scenes and the presence of drugs and especially the level of cursing that some characters undertook. This caused the book to lower the f-word count nearly 100 f-words, which you probably might not notice reading the book. I based this novel and some of the action and the idiosyncrasies of the book on my friends, and my friends in high school swore like sailors. Of course we were always talking about sex and crimes and what we going to do once we broke out of our hometown. That’s part of growing up.

The most important question to ask is, why are you writing? Is the scene, though controversial, serving a specific purpose? I want to write something entertaining but also something educational. You learn not just about science or the South or even about the inner workings of teenagers, but a little something about what it means to be human.

Lastly, another big question: who are you writing for? It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I’m writing young adult literature, but the stigma of writing for teenagers has begun to dissolve. I always wanted to write “literary fiction,” something serious, though you can write serious fiction for teenagers. After all, I was reading Melville and Fitzgerald and Dostovskey and Eggers as a teenager, and even now I’m barely removed from “teenager status.” Over the past few years, YA Lit has trended toward younger readers (12-15), but I wanted to write something for the almost New Adult. And I don’t mean the genre “New Adult,” which has been swamped solely by romantic fiction. I want to for those in-between, people like me. Maybe we’re not ready to read academic treatises yet and still crave the adventure of a teen lit book, though we also want something substantial in our fiction. We wanted to learn something about being human, want to better ourselves through the process of reading.

So, maybe The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County isn’t “suitable for children,” but I hope it’s suitable for you.

First Novel The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County, To Be Published Fall 2015

I am extremely happy to announce the forthcoming publication of The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County.

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On May 21st, I signed a contract with PRA Publishing for my first novel. This summer I am working with my superb editor to put the finishing touches on the manuscript, and then we’ll begin a massive marketing campaign. You’ll see reviews, blurbs, interviews, and other creative forms of marketing on this site! The tentative release date is August 2015, though I’ll keep you updated about specifics as the time draws nearer. Find out a little more about the book here:

When Declin Ostrander arrives in Lickskillet, South Carolina, he encounters a town on edge: after a grisly hate crime in their most affluent gated community, the citizens have adopted extreme caution and comical political correctness. The lynching coincides with a series of strange occurrences: the haunted house burns down, the local swimming hole is filled in to make space for condominiums, and a corporate lawyer arrives in town to defend the accused– a lawyer who happens to be Declin’s father. He moves to a new city every six months, sometimes once a year. Such might be the duration of the average hate crime trial. When Declin arrives at Lickskillet High, he struggles to relate with others and must seek out his own identity in the wake of tragedy.

Every town the same: a new racism, a new house, a new you. Declin’s father works for the infamous Knights of Southern Heritage, a cultural group often accused of hate crimes, and though he does not care fondly for the Knights or the victims, he relishes the chance to constantly move from town to town, to essentially recreate himself. The town reels over a central mystery: who killed Francis Jameson?

The book re-landscapes the South as an absurdist menagerie of Southern heritage groups, social segregation, and corrupt local politics. At the center stand the disaffected and aloof teens of Lickskillet, crusading against the humid hum of boredom with reckless mischievousness, post-modern apathy, and redeeming humanity.

Of course, I’ve written a book that is Young Adult (though that term here applies to 16-30 years old) and Southern. I wanted to write a different southern novel, one that didn’t glaze over the potholes of our history and society. Whether I’ve succeeded in recreating the SC atmosphere will be up to you readers come next year.

Genre Crisis: “New Adult” Label

a_4x-horizontalNobody likes to be put into categories, most of all writers. But categories—or in the world of books, genres—are very helpful for marketing and selling a book. When querying publishing firms and literary agents, one must identify their genre, which helps the editors and agents decide whether the project will fall into their areas of interest. But recently, I’ve had an extremely difficult time placing my novel in a genre, which should be a good thing because agents seek works that cross several genres, except it seriously curtails one’s ability to market himself.

I could easily make up my own genre: Southern comedy transgressive? Meta-cultural southern teen exploration? Young adult, but not that young, but maybe still in their twenties who like funny but also serious writing?

The problem is, if the agent doesn’t recognize the genre, then she or he cannot place it right? I tried literary, but that

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can’t just say that: you need a better phrase.

brand is too broad. While my project has literary elements, it certainly could be explained more descriptively. I tried young adult, but this generally means the books is marketed for teens ages 12-15. My novel is marketed toward older teens and 20-somethings. It, like many New Adult novels, tracks the growth and development of young adults whose identities are forming, who are seriously changing.

So maybe your book is a noir space opera western with thriller-paced plotting, literary aesthetic, and occult elements? Well, you need a better way to say that, a shorter way.

As I’ve been e-mailing literary agents, literary magazines, and publishers, this question has plagued me constantly. Finally I found an age-group description “New Adult” with which to market the novel THE HEATHENS AND LIARS OF LICKSKILLET COUNTY. “New Adult” bridges the gap between the safe and young group of Young Adult (YA) readers and Adult fiction. But because my books deals with characters in between, I think this genre (a relatively new invention of words) is fitting.

Querying agents has so far not worked out, but I am still sending many, many emails all over the country (and the world!) to publish this novel, as well as poems and short stories.

Have you had trouble labeling a piece of work? What genre did you settle on?

How I Write

Mutli-Cultural Reading: Spoken Word Poems

Below is a video of my performance at the multi-cultural open mic. I read two poems called “A Savage Yawp” and “American.”

I hope you enjoyed these poems, seriously. I might post videos of other performances of either separately. The second poem is defintiely one of my favorite.

The open mic was hosted by LadyVee DaPoet, as part of Poetry Matters. Poet Big Bailey videotaped this performance and posted it. Many thanks to him. You can find his channel here: http://www.youtube.com/user/BiGBaileysBeats

Thanks for watching and reading.

Arts in the Heart, Last Day

More great poetry occurred today on the Troubador Stage. Mahogany Lounge, Augusta’ s premiere spoken word experience, hosted a teen poetry slam. Yours truly participated.

Nine great teen poets competed on Broad Street, and a poet friend of mine Sasset West won. Hopefully, she might join the Young Artists for Change showcase line-up. More info on that showcase coming soon.

Why I really wanted to make it down to Augusta was to meet Jon Goode, a Def Jam Poet from HBO. I’ve heard a few of his poems and am a fan. He is currently touring, performing tonight at Mahogany Lounge. It was quite cool, him knowing loads of poets that I really admire. This is all very exciting news for me, anyways. Was an exciting day. I’ll share with you, before I go, one of Goode’s poems.

Book Snobs Are Snobby

How To Pick Up Women (According to Edward Cullen)

Happy Birthday Harry!

Today marks Harry Potter’s birthday, another reason to gush about my love for the Harry Potter book series. Thank you, Joanne Rowling, for turning a generation of nonreaders into a generation of wizards.

Raise your Butter Beer, raise your Fire Whiskey to the Boy Who Lived!

The Writing History of Derek Berry: Part 2

Derek is telling a wonderful story about how he finally wrote a novel he’s proud of and all about everything he’s ever done in writing. Read part 1 here: http://derekberry.wordpress.com/2011/07/23/the-writing-history-of-derek-berry-part-1/

Read about his book here: http://derekberry.wordpress.com/about-the-book-word-salad/

Last time, I told you about Aurelia, the book I wrote when I was only eleven.

After I put Aurelia away, I ventured onto several tangents. Some time during my freshman year, I ventured into rocky territory. I dropped fantasy, which I always intended to write in my youth. My “younger” youth. Instead, I wanted to write horror. I tried all sorts of projects, too- a learning experience. Dean Koontz rip-offs, Stephen King rip-offs. the most cringe-worthy idea was about a horde of very classy vampires who exploited the vampire craze of the day by sleeping with creepy, nerdy Twihards.

As a sophomore, I began writing for the Hornet Herald, which I credit with my skills at writing funny blog posts! After being subjected to plenty of snooze-inducing news stories, I finally tried my hand at a column. A Valentines Column that I may one day re-post here (probably on Valentines Day). For the past year, I’ve almost exclusively been writing columns for our school newspaper, funny serious, and otherwise. Some might find their way here, some not. I’ll have to dig through the archives of my old computer. Such practice has helped me learn how to write blogs, I’d like to believe.

Last summer, I began writing poetry. It began as angry tirades but became more like this: http://derekberry.wordpress.com/2011/06/11/reading-poetry/ More poetry videos will be coming soon, I promise.

A very captivating poetry reading very late at night

I began writing Word Salad for NANOWRIMO, which is in November when you’re supposed to write 50,000 words in one month. The book was not exactly what it is today, because it was called The Life and Times of a Serial Killer and dealt solely with Sebastian Martinelli. The story I wanted to tell only involved a serial killer and a lot of gory acts of violence: this was before I learned how to better write about, you know, “feelings.”
The story now, is far large in expanse and storytelling. But I do suggest NANOWRIMO to people who want to jump-start ideas. No, the story will not be able to be published right away, and no 50,000 is not the length of a real novel, but it’s a good start. Learn more here: http://www.nanowrimo.org/ Even if you don’t want to be a commercial author, it’s fun and I think it’s great for aspiring writers.

Well, it took about two years after that of revisions. In fact, I think I just decided to change the ending… again. Because as long as I haven’t published the book yet, I can do that. The problem arose because of a beta reader’s comments who found that the ending was very unfair to the consistency of one character.

I’ve shaped the story, though, to a place where I’m very proud to show it off, to market it via a blog. To send query letters, though I should stop until I rework the ending. Otherwise, I’m very excited to share it with the world as soon as possible. What path I know shall take is unknown. We will one day see. Also, I’m planning on printing and publishing a book of poetry. Merely a chapbook to hawk off at poetry readings. But… I’ve reconsidered and now I believe I shall also sell an e-book copy of the book (once I put all the poems together and write an introduction and put together a chapbook.) But hopefully, the poetry book which has yet to be named will be coming to an Amazon website near you!

That is the entire and exhaustive history of my writing. I hope you have enjoyed reading about the misadventures of Derek Berry!

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