Monday, March 31, 2008
Stopping By THE HANGING WOODS
Revisions on CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS continue apace--I wrote an entire chapter yesterday, which may be a record for me. When it was finished, I realized it had filled a large hole in the manuscript. But it put me a bit behind on the rest of the revision, which is due tomorrow. (Oh, Mr. Editor....)
Today I'm excited to introduce Scott Loring Sanders and his debut novel, THE HANGING WOODS. Like Charlie Hustons's THE SHOTGUN RULE, it's a vibrant, gritty portrait of boys struggling to become men. But at the bookstore, Huston's novel sits on the Fiction shelf, and THE HANGING WOODS is classified as YA. The distinction is complicated--I'll leave it to you (and Scott) to figure out, because the lines are so frequently blurred and tough to discern.
Like me, Scott is a refugee from the corporate world. We both felt a call to shed those golden shackles and take a chance on this risky fiction-writing thing. And we also both had our first major short story publications in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. He's like a literary little brother to me! (Okay, kind of a scary little brother, but then I wouldn't have any other kind!)
Bridging the Gap
by Scott Loring Sanders
If you’re like me (or at least how I used to be) you probably don’t frequent the teen section of your favorite bookstore too often. Up until recently, I would have never considered going there. Mainly because I assumed (pompously, I admit) that I’m a far too advanced reader to bother with literature for young adults. I assumed it must all be fluff. Must all be about teenage girls trying to date the cute, dreamy football player. Maybe I assumed this because that is generally all I ever see on bestseller’s lists within the genre. But that same trend seems to permeate adult fiction too—fluff seems to sell. Discerning readers know they have to dig a little deeper to find hard-hitting quality fiction. For example, you generally don’t find Cormac McCarthy or Denis Johnson at the top of bestseller’s lists. Well, the same holds true in young adult fiction. However, if you’re willing to sift through the fluff, there are some excellent literary gems to be found.
Take for example M.T. Anderson’s The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing. This is a novel that is extremely complex, even for the most advanced adult reader. I’ll be the first to admit that some of the vocabulary was over my head, yet this was published as Y/A. I challenge any adult to read that novel and then say afterwards, “Oh, that was just a kid’s book.” Anderson’s novel just happened to win the National Book Award in 2006 for Young People’s Literature. Before I began writing novels, I didn’t even know there was a Y/A category for the NBA. But there is. Each year, the NBA chooses one winner in four separate categories: fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and young people’s literature. There’s a reason why a committee as prestigious as the NBA bothers to take the time to give an award in Y/A. That reason? There’s really good stuff being written. The Edgar Awards have a category too. Again, there’s a reason.
Imagine if Mark Twain started publishing in present times. Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, The Mysterious Stranger—those titles would be published as Y/A in today’s market. In 1948, William Faulkner wrote a novel called Intruder in the Dust which was narrated by a fifteen year old boy. It wasn’t one of his better novels, but the point is, in today’s publishing world, it would have been slotted as teen literature. What about works like The Catcher in the Rye or To Kill A Mockingbird? If the Y/A category had existed then, think of all the adults who might have missed out on some fantastic reads. And the logical argument might be, “Yeah, but those were deep books with a whole lot of other things going on.” My answer: “Exactly. Nothing’s changed except the category.”
I never set out to write a Y/A book—I just wanted to write a novel that packed a punch while maintaining a high level of literary integrity. The fact that my narrator was fourteen is the only reason my agent initially leaned in that direction. As my editor says about The Hanging Woods, and also about my next novel, “Your work is at the extreme edge of young adult.” And I like that. I feel my work is absolutely crossover literature. It’s appropriate for older, more advanced teen readers, and equally apropos for adults. I want to bridge that gap and get people of all ages to start reading more Y/A.
And I guess that’s my point. By avoiding the teen section, by not keeping an eye out for the reviews in the most respected journals, it’s the adults who are ultimately missing out. There is great writing going on in the Y/A world, a lot of wonderful stories being told, a lot of mature, edgy fiction that unfortunately gets overlooked because of the “teen” stigma attached to it. Give Y/A a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.