Elsewhere (i.e., Twitter) I have recently said that I consider myself to be retired as a novelist — that is, I’m no longer trying to write for a living, but just as a hobby. I have no intention of not writing, I’m just not going to worry anymore about whether my work is commercial.
This prompted a phone call from a friend who made several suggestions about how I might be able to resurrect my professional career and once again establish myself with a New York publisher. He did not ask whether I wanted to re-establish myself — a question I can’t really answer, as my emotions on that subject are very mixed.
He also kept making suggestions that involved writing YA — “young adult” — novels. This is not new. People, including my agent and a few editors, have been telling me for about twenty years now that I should write YA, since that’s a huge market and several of my novels would fit comfortably in that niche. They have not asked me whether I want to write YA. That question is much easier to answer. I don’t.
It’s taken me a long time to realize this, but I’m pretty sure now. I don’t.
I never read much YA as a kid. I started reading Heinlein when I was seven, but I didn’t read any of his juveniles until ten years later — I started off with The Green Hills of Earth. I never read any of Andre Norton’s at all — still haven’t. Missed the Winston series entirely, never saw The Runaway Robot or Revolt on Alpha C or any of the others that SF fans usually point to as their gateway drugs. From age seven on, I read adult SF and fantasy; the house was full of the stuff, since both my parents were SF readers.
As for other genres, I mostly missed those, too. I started reading mysteries with Rex Stout, adventure with Edgar Rice Burroughs and C.S. Forester, etc., all in grade school. The stories I read that were aimed at younger readers were mostly either 19th century, British, or both, and stuff like The Princess and the Goblin or Bushranger’s Gold did not provide a grounding in what’s meant by “YA” nowadays.
About the only exception was the Tom Swift Jr. series, which I discovered when I was ten or eleven — after reading stuff like The Door into Summer and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Oh, and do the Oz books count?
Anyway. People started telling me back in the ’90s, maybe even in the ’80s, that I should try writing YA. I did not really have a firm grasp on what they meant. Fact is, I still don’t. But once Tor dumped me in 2009, I figured I had nothing to lose by trying.
So I tried. I started several novels that I thought were YA. Most of them fizzled out; I just wasn’t that interested in any of them. A couple reached the point of being proposals I sent to my agent; he rejected most of them, for various reasons.
One proposal became Relics of War, which isn’t YA, it’s just another Ethshar novel.
I finished one novel on spec — Tom Derringer and the Aluminum Airship. My agent couldn’t sell it, as YA or otherwise, and pointed out that it was unmarketable as YA because it’s written in the style of the 1880s.
Well, yeah — it’s set in the 1880s, told in first person, so of course I wrote it that way. But I am informed that modern YA readers won’t tolerate such old-fashioned prose. I don’t know why not, really — when I was a kid I read plenty of stuff written in the 19th century, florid and prolix as it was, without any problem.
And then there’s Graveyard Girl. This was one I actually got moderately enthusiastic about, and which my agent was very enthusiastic about, from the proposal. I wrote it, delivered it — and was told that it wasn’t a YA novel. It didn’t have enough in it about relationships, or personal growth, or the other stuff that YA apparently needs to be about.
And at this point I realized that I really don’t care about YA, and I don’t want to write it. It’s not anything I ever cared about.
So I’m going to write what I please, and if any of it turns out to be YA, that’s cool — but I am not going to aim at that target anymore. I don’t grok YA, I never have, and at age sixty I doubt I ever will.