Can Young Adult Fiction Grow Up?

The novel I’m working on, Ghostlight, is very clearly in the Young Adult Paranormal (YAP) genre. Bette is 17, a high school senior, as are her friends, and there are ghosts. Bam, YA, done. See also such series as The Vampire Diaries, Harry Potter, Twilight, the list goes on.

But she’s also a character I can easily see in what’s come to be called the Urban Fantasy (UF) genre: Bette in her 20’s, in a city somewhere, doing some manner of paranormal-related work, be it a professional ghost hunter, a PI, a journalist with a secret, and so on. In a number of ways, the story I’m writing is Bette’s origin story, her first adventure into the paranormal, the point at which her life changes, the events that set her on a certain path. See also such series as The Dresden Files, Southern Vampire Mysteries/True Blood, Mercy Thompson, Greywalker–the list, again, goes on.

Really I just wanted an excuse to post this awesome picture.

What I’m writing for Bette now is the kind of story that the Urban Fantasy novels will often mention in passing, but don’t usually go into details on. Those novels largely skip ahead to when the character is established in their weird world; whereas for the YAP novels, this is the story that they cover, how it started, how the character went from normal to paranormal, how that world got weird in the first place. While both types have their similarities and differences, there’s one big difference I’m seeing right now: the YAP novels tend to be contained by a set number of books, usually a trilogy, while the UF novels are much more open-ended.

I can see Bette’s story being contained, spanning 3 or 4 books and then ending there, with the future becoming a big blank slate. But I can also see it continuing on, her growing up and finding a new place in the world, her being not just the YAP heroine, but the UF one as well.

As far as I know, this isn’t something that’s been done before, a Young Adult character/series developing into an adult-focused Urban Fantasy series. I can certainly see why, there are plenty of reasons for it. Who do you market the books to, those books generally (or at least often) have a very different tone and subject matter, there’s no ‘transitional’ genre out there for this. It’s the reason why TV shows about high schoolers rarely manage to survive when those characters go to college. You’ve got characters you like, a setting you like, actors you like, and the reality is that most people don’t all stick around in the same town they grew up in when they go to school.

Harry Potter: The Jack Bauer of Aurors

But, I can also see reasons why it could possibly work. For one thing, your readers are growing up, why not a character who grows up with them? As well, a book series doesn’t face the same issues of having to always be tied to one place, certain characters, certain actors. It’s easier to change those up in a book than in a TV show. And while one may say there’s no transitional, I’d argue that YA is the transitional genre. Some very real and meaningful events, thoughts, and conflicts can and often do come up in YA. Death, love, broken hearts, hardships, prejudice, poverty, family issues — all of these frequently come up in YA and are explored and dealt with in thoughtful, satisfying, and mature ways.

It might be challenging — and, of course, this is all assuming I finish this book, get it published, and have enough success to keep doing more featuring Bette — but I do think it’s possible. I’d like to approach the whole idea thinking it’s possible, and that because whatever adventure Bette has now may end, it doesn’t mean she can’t have more of them later in life.

Let’s be honest, if JK Rowling decided to write books about Harry Potter’s adventures as an Auror, who wouldn’t want to read that? It would be awesome! (No, I’m not saying I’m the next JK Rowling, as awesome as that also would be. But HP is a series that had many mature themes for what was a “kid’s” book, so it well illustrates my point here.)


Meanwhile, in some other story…!

Like many, I love getting caught up in a story. And I love unexpected twists! Challenges I would not have forseen being thrown at the characters, turning the whole thing on its head–it’s great!

Except for when it’s not.

One such twist has happened in a book I’m currently reading called The Passage. And spoiler warning, though I will try to keep this fairly vague for those who may read it. The first portion of the book I very much enjoyed. Small town people collide with government conspiracies, a hint of mysticism that may just be insanity, big consequences for small actions, and clear tones of mystery and horror. Good stuff, and I wanted to read more.

(Okay, and really, here be spoilers)

Then the book took a drastic turn, jumped about 90 years into a future that was, due to international disaster, more like a throwback. Antiquated lifestyles, simpler living in smaller and more contained towns, horseback instead cars, bows and arrows instead of guns…all things that make sense give what’s happened, but it was incredibly jarring. There are two strikes against it here. One isn’t the book’s fault exactly, but it reminds me a lot of what happens in Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling. Also not a bad book, but I grew very tired of the characters and series as it clunked it’s way closer and closer to a headlong dive into fantasy after starting off as science fiction. Second, which is the book’s fault, at least thirty pages into this new section and it has yet to connect directly with the characters from the first chunk of the book. It lost that connection between one

Jess: Epitome of whiny bad boy asshole teenager, but still somehow a better boyfriend than Logan.

scene and the next, and rather than feeling like I’m seeing a natural progression, I feel like I’ve been

Then again, if Dean had stayed on Gilmore Girls, we would have been denied hotty Sam Winchester, so, thanks for your terrible taste in men, Rory!

unwittingly sucked into a spin-off of the show I was watching without anyone telling me. Aha! It’s a

Backdoor Pilot! (Or a Poorly Disguised Pilot, whatever you prefer.)

I’m trying to continue on–this section I’m in isn’t on it’s own all that bad, it’s just that the transition was so jarring and disconnected that it hasn’t really worked for me. I do want to know what comes of the stories unresolved from the earlier section as well, so it’s still worthwhile enough for me to push through.

The other thing that often jars me too much to keep reading is when a main character is suddenly just not who they are anymore. Something happens to change them–and that’s just fine, that should be happening–but when the change is too much, it’s hard to keep reading. You’ve been misled, the hero is not the person you spent the last half of the book reading about. And you just might not like them anymore, to boot.

This has happened to me twice. Both in my teen years. Spoiler alert again, this time for Mary Brown’s Master of Many Treaures and Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule. MoMT is a sequel, and I found the first book, Pigs Don’t Fly, to be really fun. This was a while back now, so my

Is it just me, or was there only one person drawing dragons for fantasy novel covers in the 90's?

memories of it are vague, but I recall enjoying it and liking the characters quite a bit. It had a cliffhanger ending, so I jumped into Book 2. And the characters got really annoying…I forget exactly why and how, but Summer, the protagonist, was just irritating and stupid, from what I do remember.

Somehow despite that she finds her true love in the end, and then suddenly there’s a really weird epilogue where….I think they got eaten by other dragons? Maybe? It was hard to figure out, but on top of everything dumb that had come before, this was the big ending for this pair? Seriously? No thank you! I actually think I skipped to the end, read that, and gave up on the rest of the book. The dumbing down (this may have been my first encounter with the Idiot Ball) and then quite literally even more character assassination, was jarring, annoying, and I had no interest in continuing on. There was just no point to the story at all. They did some stuff, and then they died, summed it all up.

The second instance was the opening novel of the Sword of Truth saga. Richard is all stalwart and heroic, he and Kahlan are in love, things are going alright halfway through even if he hasn’t killed the bad guy quite yet! Then he gets captured–ooo! This should be exciting, heroes rarely get captured, so I was expecting something good.

Uh…instead, I got leather-clad dominatrixes (dominatrices?) with magical pain sticks.

Yep. In a sword-and-sorcery fantasy novel. Evil dominatrices, out of nowhere. Wait, was this filed under the right section in the store?

So the Mord’Sith, as they are called, capture Richard, torture him with their pain sticks, break him entirely, have him basically begging for the pain from his mistress eventually, and I stopped

Hi, I'm here for the audition for--sorry, am I in the right studio? Are you sure?

reading. I’m told this was important because it enable him to kill out of love and not hate. Of course, I’m also told Richard, the good guy,  went on to use the enemies’ peasants as a meat shield further down the line, so all-in-all, I think I got out of that series at exactly the right time.

It’s worth noting, however, that despite the Mord’Sith, the TV show Legend of the Seeker knows exactly what it is and it’s a hilariously campy romp. I’m pretty sure Zed’s actor is constantly drunk.

Smashing the Routine

After spending a chunk of yesterday feeling in a funk, I finally realized why: I’ve spent most of the last month moving (twice), hosting my boyfriend’s mom for a week, going away for a family vacation weekend, and going away for a friends camping trip weekend. My normal routine and most of the things in it have gone completely out of whack, cutting me off from the outlets I usually have for creative work, physical work-outs, and other things I’m passionate about. Life happened along and smashed my little routine to bits for a while there, but luckily it’s not too hard for me to put them back into the niches where they belong.

But this also segues nicely into another topic: why I love post-apocalyptic (or even mid-apocalyptic) stories. It has a dash of why I really enjoy stories set in the Real World Plus, as I think of it. You know, our world, but plus a little something else–like a school for witchcraft and wizardry, or a girl given incredible power so she can slay vampires, that sort of thing. It’s that yearning of wanting to picked out as someone special for being exactly who you are, an ordinary and good person who gets to be extraordinary all of a sudden. Who doesn’t want that? Also, it helps that you don’t need to go through the set up of a completely different world, either on the enjoying or the creating end. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, either, but it minimizes the tasks that require your attention. There are also plenty of stories that are in completely foreign worlds that are excellent, and well-done world-building is an admirable skill.

Back to the post-apocalyptic. The basic tennant of this genre is always the same: the entire world has changed, and that means the people need to change with it in order to survive. What do you do when everything you know, your daily life, has been irreversibly changed? How do you deal with the world as it is now? The Walking Dead is a fantastic example of this–while it’s about zombies, it’s really not. It’s about people trying to figure out how to live in a world that has changed completely. Priorities have to change, the way they think has to change, and they realize these things slowly and with significant growing pains (not to mention a significant body count). The routine they have become accustomed to and lived in is smashed, gone forever, and there’s no guide for what the new routine needs to be. What’s more, the new routine itself is a constantly changing thing, and if you don’t catch up, how will you get by?

Characters in this setting not only need to adapt, but they eventually need to realize, in most cases, that there is no going back. Even if the bad guy is destroyed, that doesn’t mean the world gets to go back to the way it was. Who are they going to be, now that not only their life has changed, but the whole world has?