A YA Thing

Marissa Lingen has some thoughts on my entry yesterday about ambitions, and puts it into the context of YA writing:

And I’ve never taught physics grad students, and I’ve never written a doctoral-level monograph in history; but I would bet you good money that at least some of the difficulties in doing those things are not greater than the difficulties in teaching freshman physics lab or writing a history text for fourth through sixth graders but rather are different difficulties. Don’t believe me? You can go ahead and explain pogroms to a 9-year-old audience in words they understand, that will get the concept across with due gravity but without scaring the kid so badly that they have nightmares for weeks about man’s inhumanity to man. Also perform this task in less than 200 words, and also make sure that the words you choose will not offend parents, teachers, librarians, etc. either by their explicit nature or by their coy omissions. And remember that yours may be the very last reference to the subject they see until they take a history course in college, if ever. See what an easy romp that is — why, it must be! It is for the sweet little childrens!

Mrissa points in the direction of a larger truth, which is that writing for any specific audience requires skills that don’t always make themselves apparent on the casual read. However, writing for kids in particular is not easy, I’ll bet, for all the reasons Mrissa notes above: Not only to you have to satisfy the kids as readers, you also have to walk the tightrope satisfying the gatekeepers to the kids: parents, teachers, school boards and assorted busybodies who will aim to ban your book even though they haven’t bothered to read it. All of which makes YA lit even more full of hoops which must be jumped if one wishes to play in that arena. The only thing you get out of it as a writer is that if you’re lucky, you’re creating a lifelong reader through your work.

As it happens, not long after I finished Agent to the Stars I took the excess momentum I had after that and banged out several chapters of a YA attempt. Among other things, it convinced me that writing YAs was not just a happy side lark; if you’re going to do it, do it right. My friends Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier are examples of that; they both write YAs that I’d rather read more than a lot of adult novels that I’ve come across, because the work and skill is there.

The YA I began remains unfinished because — obviously — I have lots on my plate now as it is. I’d like to return to it one day (or start a different one), but I’d need to be able to make time to devote to it. Nevertheless, I thought it might be fun to post up the first chapter so those of you who want to see it can have a look. How is it? Eh. I liked it at the time (and I still like the overall story), but the better part of a decade on I can see quite a few things I’d choose to work on before it made it to release. It’s not nearly as good as Scott and Justine’s works, which comprise the quality benchmark to which I would need to aspire before I could feel comfortable doing YA.

It’s not horrible, mind you. It just needs work. But, as I said, it is a useful reminder to me that YA is work if you want to do it well. Perhaps it’ll be a useful reminder to you as well, should you feel that Young Adult writing is less craft-intensive than any other sort.

The chapter starts after the cut —


Nuggets, 4/18/06

Various things I’m thinking of today:

* Stephen Bainbridge passes along his thoughts about the dust-up between Donald Rumsfeld and the retired generals, which is a story which, aside from the schadenfreudesque fun it affords, is surprising me with its longevity. What makes Baingridge’s perspective interesting is that he’s looking at it from the perspective of “bottom-up evaluation” — that is, when underlings evaluate their bosses. It’s a common enough technique in the corporate world, and Bainbridge is looking at how such a system works (or doesn’t) in a military setting, and what retired generals bring to the table in this formula.

My personal take on the whole Rumsfeld v. retired generals thing is that I tend to side with the cantankerous retired generals more often than not, but I think the real problem here was simply that Rumsfeld had an organizational agenda that was ultimately trumped by realities on the ground. His idea of a smaller, faster military was just dandy for the thrust into Baghdad, but I think once Iraq was taken, there was a problem, and Rumsfeld and co. didn’t want to admit the “smaller, faster” plan wasn’t “one size fits all.” So Rumsfeld was half right (in this circumstance, anyway; one wonders what “smaller, faster” would have accomplished against a competent military foe), but the half he was right about took less than a month, and the half he was wrong about has taken the last three years.

* Regarding the “Pointlessly Wasting Money: A Quiz” piece, someone in there was asking whether this was one of those personality tests, in which the answer you provide is an indication of your personality. Well, maybe it is, but that wasn’t the intent. I have simply been thinking about a new computer (although not necessarily the Alienware; that was just representative of the sort of rig specs I was thinking on), or possibly picking up the Heinlein series, and figured that throwing open the question to the Whatever collective would help clarify my thinking on both, and — surprise! — it did.

My thinking at the moment is to get neither. The tech geeks have convinced me it’s worth waiting until the next generation of processors come along, and enough book geeks have come along to whisper concerns about Meisha Merlin in my ear that I’ve decided to wait at least until a few of the books in the series have come along to see what the feedback is on the overall worthiness of the collection (to answer the questions in the comment thread, if I buy the series, you damn well better believe I’m going to read them. I’m not someone who buys books just to have them on the shelf). It’s possible that by waiting I won’t be able to get a set, even if I decide I want one, but since the the run of the set is 5,000 sets, and you have to buy into the whole set (i.e., there need to be 5,000 other people willing to part with at least $2,500 before me), it seems a safe enough risk to me.

I also appreciate the alternate suggestions, including the ones which suggested I hand the money over to Krissy for investment purposes. Trust me, folks, we max out the 401(k) and IRAs and have other investments socked away. And I always hand my money to Krissy anyway; then when I want to buy something I ask her if I can have it. This is a fine way not to spend outside our means, as Krissy is indeed hawk-like in her stewardship of our finances. Which is, among other things, why I can contemplate choices like these.

In any event, thanks for all your thoughts and comments; they were indeed helpful.

* An interesting map from USA Today, showing where abortion would be restricted in the US if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned tomorrow; it’s mostly “red vs. blue” all over again. I personally suspect that this map is not quite correct because if it came to that people would vote in representatives with opinions more in line with the general thinking about abortion; which is to say I suspect you’d find rather few states like South Dakota and more like Illinois. It might take an election cycle or two to hit equilibrium, however, during which time I suspect people would be vividly reminded that women who really want an abortion really will get one, regardless of risk. I doubt there would be a national law against abortion, unless the GOP really does want to either fracture or relegate itself to permanent minority status.

My own state Ohio is listed as likely to significantly restrict abortion access; allow me to express doubt on that, or to say that if it’s correct in the short run, that it would not be after a single election cycle. I’d also suggest that the law one Ohio state legislator wants to put on the books that would make it a felony to transport a woman across state lines to get an abortion wouldn’t last any longer than it took for a soccer mom to get tossed in the slammer for driving her kid to New York to end a pregnancy. Apparently one would still be able to drive one’s self, although I’m interested to see how long that loophole would last, or what would happen if two pregnant women traveled together across state lines to get an abortion.

I’m not particularly keen on Roe v. Wade being overturned, but I don’t think overturning it would give the anti-abortion folks what they want. When going through a pregnancy is compelled, you’re going to find people suddenly rather less tolerant about pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions, or having sex education predicated on “abstinence only.” And here’s a prediction which I am sure is going to make me friends from all over: I’ll bet you a ten spot right now that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, you’ll see parents of teenagers becoming a lot more accepting of same sex relationships, because at least that way, their kids won’t become pregnant. Because it’s been 33 years since Roe v. Wade, you know. Overturning Roe v. Wade would not be the same as turning back the clock. I sometimes wonder if anti-abortion folks have actually internalized this salient fact.

* Speaking of Ohio, the ever-industrious Tobias Buckell (who you may recall has an in-store appearance in Dayton tonight) has started contributing to Blogging Ohio, a news and opinion blog about — can you guess? — the fine State of Ohio. If you want news and information about the Buckeye State, in blog form, now you know where to go.


Dia de las Krissy

It’s my wife Kristine Blauser Scalzi’s birthday today. In my opinion, meeting her was one of the two best things ever to happen to me (the other being the birth of my daughter, which — as it happens — she was actively involved in as well), and there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t try to let her know how much better my life is because she is in it. I’m making it my goal to ensure that this next year of her life is filled with joy, happiness, and footrubs on demand. Because all of those are good things.

If you feel like wishing Krissy a happy birthday, the comment thread is an excellent place to do it.

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