What’s the hardest part of writing YA fiction?
I’d have to say the hardest part of writing YA fiction is doing the emotional homework myself so that the characters I’m writing are authentic, in-depth, and genuine. I have to shine a bright light on many shadowy areas that I’d rather leave in the dark. There’s a certain amount of amnesia that sets in as you grow out of adolescence and into your 20’s and 30’s.
You can forget what it’s actually like to be in those cloudy lands that stretch between childhood and adulthood, and the paranoia, panic, and existential angst that pursue you there. Part of the reason I think we forget about that emotional landscape so quickly is because so many of the memories from that time are painful, either because they hurt us back then, or they hurt now, because we know how it all panned out, and maybe some of our hopes weren’t fulfilled like we thought they’d be.
There’s a lot of this emotional archaeology that needs to be performed in order to genuinely connect to a YA audience, a lot of excavation and honest surveying and it’s not easy at all. But it’s valuable for the writing, and for myself, too, to be honest. I’m much more introspective when in the throes of writing, and realize as much about myself as I do about my characters.
For The Threat Below, even though it’s a story about post-apocalyptic monsters, it’s still an intensely personal emotional book. I’ve revealed a whole lot about my own life, my upbringing, my disappointments, how I’ve attempted to reconcile all of that, in it. I can sometimes be naturally closed off, face to face. Sometimes when my wife would be pushing me to communicate with her better, and reveal more of myself, and I just felt locked up and unable, I’d just want to hand her the pages and say “Just read this, I can’t say it, but I’ve written it down.”
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Since I was a young child, I was always writing stories and plays. I remember in kindergarten, I would write scripts out by hand, transcribing them over and over, and then try to get my classmates to take them so we could perform my latest masterpiece. My teacher at the time was surprisingly accommodating and allowed us to put on a number of small productions before the rest of the class, even though… I don’t think I’d hit my creative stride just yet. Yet I had this strange sense of responsibility even when I was only a teenager, and thought that it wouldn’t be wise to pursue this creative pulse. Sure, it made me feel alive and connected and inspired, but I never thought it could make enough money. I pushed an online marketing career out of college instead, and started to feel trapped in it. So finally, in my late 20’s, I decided to pursue the writing muse. It’s been a great decision.
Have you found any clever ways to market your books to YA readers?
I’ve found that giveaways are a really good way to find your reading audience. Whether on Goodreads, or Amazon, or Book Blogs, there are a lot of rabid readers out there just waiting to get their hands on your book. Not every person who receives a free book from one of these giveaways will become a fan, but some will, and that’s invaluable. Once you’ve gotten some favorable editorial and customer reviews, you can make keyword marketing on Amazon work, to some degree, too. It’s not really a “clever way to market” but one tip I have learned is to be generally bold and confident for your work.
You’ve written a book, and hopefully it can connect with people, so don’t apologize for it! Many writers, and myself, too, can be shy about their books. (At least, the ones who have written good books seem to be. The authors of books that are riddled with typos and generally subpar seem to be brimming with pride.) Don’t be demure about. Tell people you think they should read it, that you think they might like it. No one can read your book if they don’t really know it exists. Really though, I haven’t found the silver bullet yet. I don’t think there is one, outside of writing pages and telling strong stories. I’m mostly relying on quality writing, and if I continue to work on the marketing, believe that ultimately good stories find their audience.
What YA books have had the greatest influence on your writing?
I’ve been greatly influenced by Lois Lowry, particularly her Giver quartet. I adore the way she sets up her worlds to best reflect her character’s struggles and journey. I love John Green’s books, especially in the way he treats YA emotions with a ton of respect. I was moved by The Hunger Games trilogy, and the way these young people had to work through the terrible consequences of the world the adults had created for them. The Lovely Bones is another one of my favorites, for the ways it unearths hope and beauty in the most tragic event imaginable, and shows how life always outshines death. Eleanor and Park really surprised me, because this flood of overwhelming romantic feelings that had overtaken me in my teens came rushing back to me, like I was there again.
I had forgotten about them, at least how they really felt, until I read it. That’s what I think the best YA books do – they give young adults and adults alike a context where they can contain and understand their huge emotions. I actually suspect that all adults are still stuffed full of YA feelings. We’ve just gotten better at masking and muting and ignoring those very real passions that still dictate and control our actions and reactions, but they’re still there. That’s why I think so many older adults devour the YA genre. It’s still us. The differences are overblown, if we’re honest
Short Author Bio: I was working in online marketing, and then moved to LA to pursue a career in writing. I’ve worked in film and TV, and have an MFA from UCLA. The Threat Below is my first novel.
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