Novel Reaction is excited to welcome Shannon Delaney as she talks about writing young adult fiction. Shannon’s debut novel 13 to Life is available this month.
As a debut YA author with a farm and a son in kindergarten, I often feel my age (plus fifty years). But to write youngadult novels in an authentic teen voice I can’t get hung up on numbers like those of my real age. So, rather than stalking tweens and teens at the local mall to try and catch their voices and mimic it in prose, I rely on memory, attitude and experience to write people younger than I am.
I remember being a teen (many, many moons ago ;-). It was not my favorite phase of life. But I wrote during it and I can still dig up some of those awful things if I really search. If you’re a teen now, write. Someday you’ll be thankful you did.
I was a middle school teacher, so teen attitude? I’ve seen it, handled it, and helped get it under control. Teen pregnancies? Check. Girl thowing punches at guy nearly twice her size? Check (chick had to reach *up* to clock him). Guy breaking up marijuana in In School Suspension? Uh, yeah (not the brightest light–and that was in a high school in a “good neighborhood”). Abuse? Had to make calls a couple times, unfortunately. Bomb threats and school searches? Yes and yes. So, I was on one side of the issues many parents don’t want to even think are potential problems and saw the complexity of teen life. If you think getting good grades are the only concerns teens face, you need a reality check.
I saw the grit and pain that was part of adolescence for many of them. That’ll age faster than most anything else, especially when, as a teacher, you realize your limitations.
And I think that’s a key to writing young adults authentically. They don’t recognize their limitations until we adults push them down with cold, hard “facts”–or until their hearts have been broken enough times. They aren’t cynics until we’ve crushed their dreams sufficiently.
So when I wrote 13 to Life, I incorporated the things that made up the teenage experience as I lived it and saw it lived by others: that fleeting sense of immortality that tempts us to drive too fast long before we’re thinking about kids in car seats and “Baby on Board” signs; the hope that one day we’ll be far more than just a member of the godforsaken town we all grew up in; and the rebellious heart that encourages us to live life fiercely–to take risks–and love like there’s no tomorrow.
I think many YA authors write powerful and authentic voices. I hope the voices of my characters live up to that of their fictional and far more real peers.
13 to Life: Chapter 3, part T (used with the author’s permission):
“No. I’m not afraid.” He reached past me, brushing against me as he retrieved the pencil. I shivered, a sort of static electricity snapping along the edges of my body.
As he straightened back up to offer me my pencil, I could swear hesniffed my hair. Totally inappropriate. “I could find you, regardless.”
Shannon Delany’s debut novel (and the first in her series), 13 to Life, hits stores nationwide on Tuesday, June 22. Learn more about Shannon and her series at http://ShannonDelany.com and http://13toLife.us/blog and explore the town of Junction as it grows at http://13toLifeSeries.com .