Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Violence and Cursing and Sex...Oh My!

For some reason, I've been coming across a lot of threads and posts on a certain message board that I frequent regarding the topic of violence, cursing and sex in YA literature. I find myself getting very frustrated and feel my blood begin to boil when anyone makes such blatant comments insinuating that those things should NOT exist in YA literature. References to the YA audience being "children" and that writers of YA must consider that parents are the ones who are buying these books for our kids makes me want to give myself a bikini wax with a pair of tweezers! It makes me want to grab a hand saw and cut the top of my skull off so I can retrieve my brains, throw them on the floor and stomp on them until--Oh. I'm sorry. Was that too violent?

Oh, well. Perhaps you'd be more interested in someone else's bubblegum blog post full of flowers and rainbows and pixy dust.

This is how I roll. This is how I write. And believe it or not...THERE IS AN AUDIENCE WHO DESIRES AND CRAVES THE EDGIER SIDE OF YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE. You have no interest in writing material with sex, violence, drugs, cursing and the such? Fine. Don't write it. You don't want to READ books that contain this subject matter? Great. Don't read it. But to tell people that these topics don't belong in the entire genre of YA is nothing more than your very own conservative opinion and taste of what you like and dislike w/in the genre (or perhaps any genre).  I don't go around telling other YA writers that they HAVE to have sex or underage drinking or drugs or homosexual activity or fighting or cursing or some combination of them in order to relate to their audience. There is an audience for all that is out there. Yes, there are teens out there who might not curse (at least not in front of their elders ;-)) and who wait until they are married to have sex and would never even consider trying a cigarette--let alone drugs, who would never drink until they are legal, and who view homosexuality as a sin (what. ever.), but this is not the reality of ALL teens. EVERYONE enjoys reading books that they can connect to and many of the "taboo" topics happen to be things that MANY teens deal with and live.

Any and all of these taboo topics can work if they are done properly and not written gratuitously. If I have cursing in one of my books, its' because it works in that scene. It works for that character and gives that character believability. In my novel Breaking Out, I have characters who run the gamut regarding foul language. Libby HATES foul language. She never uses it and it makes her cringe when kids around her use it. Sam curses occassionally, and Josh will sometimes curse, but he usually does it in Spanish when he's having a Ricky Ricardo (from I Love Lucy) moment. Then you meet KK who is a high school drop out, pretty much from the streets and lives with his older brother where the two of them deal in some highly illegal business. Anyone who has met KK (aka my many beta readers--love you all!) has told me that the language that comes out of his mouth is very fitting to his characters. I questioned my beta readers if it was too much and all of them said "no way, it fits his character." In fact, one of my beta readers suggested I stick a few more in. haha. She was only kidding. I think... Not only that, I was told by several of my beta readers that KK is one of the best secondary characters they've come across. Obviously his horrendous foul mouth was easily overlooked because it completely fit his character.

Anyway, the point to my post is that these "taboo" topics in YA are here to stay. You don't have to read it or write it, but you NEED TO GET OVER IT. If you don't want to read it and it's not your cup of tea, lucky for you there are people who LOVE to write the kinds of books that have none of the things you loath. And by all means, if you like to write those kinds of books...ALL THE POWER TO YOU. Write it. And guess what? I may even pick it up, read and probably enjoy it. What can I say? I have an eclectic taste. Likewise, for those of you who love a good violent oriented, foul mouth filled, sexing it up, drugged out book, there will always be someone ready to write  what you long for.

Don't judge. Freedom of choice. Free will. To each his own. But for goodness sake...STFU about what "belongs" and "doesn't belong" in the genre of YA. I live on the edge. I read on the edge. I write on the edge. You don't like the edge? What can I say?

Move the %&#%*$^#@ back! Personally, I like it here.



  1. Haha, I was laughing over the image of you giving yourself a bikini wax with tweezers. Ouch!! I can feel your frustration here, and you are absolutely right that whether or not a character runs the gamut of foul language will depend entirely on that character. Hopefully anyone who is serious about writing YA will figure that out, and those who are not writers... well, there's not much you can do about it except shake your head and walk away. Unless they get into book banning, which is a whole other topic.

  2. GO MEL!

    Admittedly, I don't read a ton of YA, but I definitely prefer the edgy stuff and wish it was around when I was younger. One of the reasons I went right to adult books from children's books was because I couldn't seem to find YA books that weren't fluffy (I'm sure they existed back then but I just didn't know about them).

    Write what feels authentic! And make no apologies!

  3. First: I can't get behind all this genre stuffing, anyway. A book is a book, not a genre.

    Second: The YA genre hardly existed before Harry Potter, and what was there was pretty much all teen romances.

    Third: Protecting teens from "adult" things is an invention of the 20th century. Before that, teens were adults and didn't need protecting from it. People forget that. I mean, teens have always had sex; it just used to be that they were already married and having sex.

  4. Hmmm, I think I know exactly which forum you mean ;)

    I do think some of it is generational (and some of the YA buyers are grandparents and parents, so that will always be an issue). Most of my crit group are in their 30s and 40s, but we have 2 members over 60. They get shocked by some of our language choices, and one in particular just doesn't get my sarcasm. Her comments make it obvious that she can't even see what I was trying to do.

    But...there are some things that my teen nieces and nephews are completely blase about that give me pause. So again, it comes back to what we as writers can write convincingly (and if you're uncomfortable w/ a subject it shows) and what we want to put out there. But that doesn't mean you need to eradicate things that make others uncomfortable.

  5. Okay, Mel - It's official, I love you. ;) This is FictionChick from AW, btw. I am SO with you on this, my head may explode.

  6. "Don't judge. Freedom of choice. Free will. To each his own. But for goodness sake...STFU about what "belongs" and "doesn't belong" in the genre of YA." AMEN! It was folks perpetuating crap like that that led me straight away from YA lit when I was younger. I started reading Stephen King, Peter Straub and Dean Koontz in fourth grade because I wasn't finding the kind of thing I actually wanted to read in YA lit. That's why I'm trying to write the kind of thing the younger me would have want to read, and assuming folks who disagree will have the sense to stay the eff away rather than making sweeping generalizations about what should and should not be read or written. Bleargh. But go you for posting this rockin', spot-on commentary! *cheer*

  7. i read a bunch of stuff when i was a teen that were adult thrillers and crime and loved it. teens also love to watch that stuff, hey.

    i think a lot of people in forums have no idea b/c they aren't actually familiar with what is in the market (and has always been).

    anyways, you rock mel. love your stuff.

    xx Nomes

  8. @ Angie, the thing is, there are many who are serious about writing YA, but they tend to place their own convictions and personal belief systems when making such sweeping statements. That's what frustrates me. It's the narrow mindedness and inability to say, hey, to each his own, not everyone shares the convictions I do. They just think that everyone should see life as they do, ya know? Blech.

    @ Jenny, You know it, girl! No apologies coming from me. Just speaking from the heart. The heart never lies. Well, maybe sometimes it does...:-)

    @ Andrew, what an EXCELLENT point re: the change of times where teens back in the last centruy (well, the earlier part of it, anyway) were getting married in their teens and therefore having sexual relations. When you look at it that way, it makes total sense that the teenager's desire to engage in sexual and experimental behaviors is so normal. Thanks for bringing that up! I'd really like to discuss that in more depth. Think I will do some research on that.

    @ Angelica, Here, here. I know it's totally generational. I just hope that as I get older and continue to read and write in the YA genre, that I will see and understand the changes as they happen. I hope to continue to read works from writers who give their readers authentic experiences of what really goes on in the life/world of a teen.

    @ Fiction Chick, loves ya back! :-) Glad to know there are others who so strongly share my frustrations. Now if we can just get all this great stuff into novels with protags in their late teens earlier 20's ;-)

    @ Deb, I was not much of a reader as a kid. Sad. I missed so much great lit, but i think it's because I simply wasn't inspired by the "fluffy" stuff. I just didn't relate to it. I think if there had been available what there is today, I would have been a much more avid reader for those years of my life.

    @ Nomes, first of all HELLOOOOO. totally missing you hard, chica :-). And I agree! As a teen, I was obssessed with horror movies and action thrillers and the such (still am). So, obviously these things are going to influence me (and still do) in what I read, write and watch. Like I said, "To each his own." Just don't try and push your convictions and beliefs on me. You won't change my mind. I am who I am, I like what me likes.yada, yada, yada :-)

  9. Mel - I guess the point I was trying to make is that anyone who is serious about writing YA is going to have to read YA - a lot of it - in order to break into publishing. When at least 75% of what's out there includes swearing then you can't possibly avoid it and maintain that kind of attitude. And if they do get published - and continue to insist upon such a thing then they're going to start offending an awful lot of people. I'm not sure exactly what thread you were referring to, but most of them that I see are from newbies who don't know if it's acceptable to swear/have edgier stuff in YA. So maybe they're serious about writing because they're visiting AW, but they haven't been around the YA block enough to know what's acceptable. Or they just don't want to have it in their book and they want to know if that's okay. Anyway, just wanted to clarify what I meant.

  10. It's not just the sex, either. I mean, teenagers used to be adults. They got married, they worked, they had kids, they supported families. They went to war. They experienced death. Not like having a grandparent die; they experienced it. We protect our teens too much. Shield them from too much life. Not that I don't want to keep my kids safe, but I also want to prepare them for the world.
    Reading is, actually, a safe way for teens to find out what's out there and what can happen rather than having to go out and experiment with everything themselves.

  11. @ Angie, hey, sweets--totally didn't mean to come off sounding like I didn't understand or agree w/your post. I TOTALLY do. You and I have so much in common and tend to think alike. And you are right on this post too that a lot of them are young or newbies (as I still am) and sometimes they are asking more than preaching. I guess I was more trying to add on the point to what you were saying in that there are some, who because of their very strong, narrow-minded convictions, will only read a certain type of novel (and write that sort of novel) and feel that it's the only kind that should be written and anything else is inappropriate. Not saying it is and I'm not saying there are a ton of people out there who feel that way, but now and then I come across some statements from both newbies and not-so-newbies who make these statements that just blow my mind.

    *mwa mwa*. Thanks for joining this discussion with me!

    @ Andrew, You are so, so right. I remember one time I was in Puerto Rico visiting the hubs family and we were watching a movie with my FIL and his wife. My then 11 year old stepson was with us and a sex scene was happening and my husband I both went to cover his eyes. My FIL's wife was like "What are you doing? Why are doing that? Sex is a very natural thing. It's a part of life. Always has been, always will be." That really made me stop and think. And then I remember seeing some movie where Native Americans were having sex in the tent, right in front of their children (can't remember which movie it was) and it was just so natural and normal and beautiful. We as a society have made sex (and many other things) so taboo to the younger generations that all these things have become Pandora's box to our youth.

    Thanks for commenting again!

  12. Just one more thing - remember that thread on AW about the guy who wrote that article for NYT (or some big paper, I don't recall which one it was)? I know you know what thread I'm talking about because you posted in it - did you see how people chewed him out because of it? And he didn't even really mean to offend anyone with his conviction of this is how it should be. He lost a lot of readers - particularly from his own genre - because of that. I'm betting that he's still kicking himself in the butt. Point is, the vast vast majority of writers will figure it out as they go or get a rude wake up call like that guy did. Again, I'm not saying that you shouldn't be frustrated by it, but at least comfort yourself in knowing that they're a huge minority and in most cases they'll figure out not to be so closed minded.

  13. @ Angie, Oh, yes. I so remember that. Poor guy. Just goes to show you that you need to be careful and think twice before you make general sweeping comments that go to print. I felt really bad for him. I mean, I read the article and it does come across as "this is how it should be" rather than "this is what I believe". I thought people were unfairly harsh to him, but it seems to happen to a lot of people.

  14. Excellent freaking post! (bad word was made nicer, because, you know, cursing on a YA blog is taboo! lmfao)

    I see those same topics pop up on the message boards and I can't even read them anymore because it makes me so angry.

  15. @ Chey, bwahahaha...it's okay. you can be taboo on my blog anytime ;-)

  16. i am completely okay with vulgarity in YA. my manuscript's first line has the f-bomb twice. sex makes me uncomfortable, or overly graphic sex scenes, but yea, cursing it okay by me :)

  17. What a beautiful rant, and I agree.

    Good ol' live and let live needs to be exercised more often.


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