The Changing Face of YA

To get in the zone for my current work in progress, I’ve been reading a lot of YA lately. One of the trends I’m noticing is how much YA has changed in 20+ years. Gone are the romantic and mystery series, and in their place are gritty historicals, hope driven dystopians and supernatural star-crossed romances. Looking back, I don’t remember a whole lot of YA appealing to me. I moved on to adult fiction by the time I entered junior high. Lucky for me, YA today has great crossover appeal. Victoria Hanley even speculates that 47% of women and 24% of men ages 18-24 still read YA. Even a current article in Writer’s Digest contends a new sub-genre of YA is on the rise online and soon to hit book and mortar store shelves. It’s New Adult and centers on characters in their early twenties struggling with adult responsibilities (think Gossip Girl) while still feeling the pull of teen fears and anxieties.

In researching the fifties, what amazes me is the ages current publishers are targeting, were the same ages many teens marched to the alter (average age for women was 19, men 22, qtd in Stuart A. Kallen, The 1950s). I can’t image marrying someone in my teens or early twenties. There are still people that marry out of high school, and I commend them for it. I just couldn’t image myself doing the same. I didn’t know what I wanted out of a significant other much less myself in my early twenties. Much of the YA I’m reading, kids aren’t contemplating marriage either. I guess the state of YA fiction and marriage has changed, I think both are a good thing.


  • Brown, Teri. “New Adult The Next Big Thing?” Writer’s Digest, July/August 2013, pgs. 28-30.
  • Falk, Kathryn and Cindy Savage. How to Write a Novel for Young Readers and Get it Published
  • Kallen, Stuart A. The 1950s. A cultural history of the United States Through the Decades, series. San Diego, California: Lucent Books, Inc., 1999, pg. 53.
  • Halverson, Deborah. Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2011.
  • Hanley, Victoria. Wild Ink. Second Edition. Waco, Texas: Prufrock Press Inc., 2012.

A New YA Thriller

I’ve immerced myself in another writing project again. This time it’s a YA thriller set in the mid 1950s and tentatively titled, He’ll Bring You All Down. What’s surprised me the most about this story is how easily it’s coming together. The writing. The research. Perhaps the reason is this isn’t my first go around at writing a novel.

In He’ll Bring You All Down, everyone has secrets. Some are just darker than others. You’ll find a sample of the first chapter below.

Chapter One

Lucy Dobbs

No. 1: Gayle Fisher

At the end of this story, I’m going to kill my brother. This may sound callous to you now, but when I put the barrel to his skull and pull the trigger, you’ll wonder why I didn’t do it sooner.

It was the fall of ’55. An Indian summer had taken hold. Uncle Corky and I had just finished repairing Grandmother’s orchard fence. Again. A couple of two-by-fours were no match for two half ton Percherons who thought apples were far more appetizing than scrounging for fodder in the adjacent field. Sweat streamed down the sides of my face. Some plopped into my eyes. I squinted against the burning pain and fumbled in the back pocket of my overalls for my handkerchief. I took my time wiping my brow. I knew my perspiration wasn’t entirely due to the weather. My stomach knotted again. I needed to get Uncle Corky to the opposite end of the orchard, but I couldn’t make it appear too obvious.

“God damn, worthless pieces of shit.” Uncle Corky tossed the hammer into his opened tool box. The metal gave off a clatter of protest. I winced as the sound vibrated inside my skull. “I should turn those stupid horses over to Ol’ Man Jones and he can turn them into fuckin’ glue.”

Obscenities. Grandma said it was one of the many things he’d brought back with him after his time in the Pacific. I didn’t think anything of it. To me, his profanity was as much a part of him as his angled face, short, stocky frame, thick black curls, and piercing brown eyes.

“Grandma would have your head,” I said. “As far as she’s concerned, Bob and Bill are family.”

“Well, your Pop should have put a bullet through their heads a long time ago. That’s what a tractor is for, damn it.” He gathered up the remaining tools. “Someday, your Pop’s gotta realize, pleasin’ women gets you nowhere.”

I shoved my handkerchief into my pocket and plucked a few torn leaves from my musty overalls. How was I going to get him to the other side of the orchard? My heart pounded faster. I was running out of time.

“Speaking of women,” Uncle Corky rose and tucked the tool box beneath his arm like a football. “Where is your brother’s lazy ass this morning?”

Maybe if we talk about James, he’ll stick around?

“Homecoming,” I said. “Sleeping it off. Why?”

“And you didn’t go?”

I bristled and shoved my rust colored braid over my shoulder. Even if I’d wanted to go, no boy had asked me. My hair and stick-skinny frame didn’t amount to much on the popularity scale. I had to deduct a point for not playing basketball. Another because I wasn’t a pomp-pomp shaker. I got decent grades. I wasn’t a bully. But those weren’t traits that made one popular at William McKinley High School. Unlike my brother.

“So, what unfortunate girl got to go on a date with your brother?”

Goose bumps prickled my skin. My heartbeat echoed in my ears. I swallowed the lump at my throat. Take it easy. For God sake, don’t give it away. Not yet. “Gladys Fisher.”

“The banker’s daughter?”

“Yeah,” I couldn’t help it. My voice quivered with sarcasm. “And when the star quarterback and captain of the basketball team asks your daughter to homecoming, you can’t exactly say no to a god, now can you?”

He snorted. “Your brother is no god.”

No. He wasn’t. But that didn’t stop everyone in town from thinking it. The football and basketball team had made it to the state championship two years in a row. By the way people talked, James had done it single-handedly.

Uncle Corky began to walk away. Panic assaulted my brain. My breath came short. Why hadn’t I done something earlier? I kicked a rotten apple. It imploded on impact. Juice and rotten fruit splattered my boots. I wrinkled my nose in distaste.

“Wait a sec!” I grumbled as I braced myself against the rough bark of tree while I scraped the mess from my boots. When I raised my head, I found Uncle Corky staring at something past my shoulder. A frown furrowed his forehead and drew his bushy brows into a deep vee.

Exhilaration shot through me. Did he see it? I turned in the direction of his gaze. “What?”

“I don’t know. Thought I saw something.”

Long, brown grass. Multi-colored leaves. Naked branches danced in the breeze, obscuring the view of the repaired fence and black, cultivated fields. Then something white flickered in a sea of greens, reds and browns. In attempt to squash my relief, I bit my lip. Good. He saw it.

I tried for nonchalance and shrugged. “It’s probably just a piece of trash.”

“Maybe.” Uncle Corky’s frown lingered. He didn’t sound convinced. “Come on, let’s check it out.”

I followed him. The orchard floor was a carpet of tangled grass, dried leaves and rotten apples. The debris crackled and popped beneath or boots. The scents of earth and decay tickled my nose, igniting another spark of exhilaration inside me. He cleared a fallen tree with ease. I was about to holler for him to stop, to let me catch up, when he stilled. His stocky shoulders looked like a taught wire pulled taunt and about to snap.

He held out his hand as a warning. “Lucy! Stay there.”

He was too late.

A white and black dress. Ruffles. Tulle. They’d been torn and rucked up to her waist. Steaks of blood stained the porcelain skin of her thighs. One of her white shoes was missing. Leaves and twigs were mangled in her shoulder length curls. My gaze halted at her face. I can’t get it out of my mind, even now. Her blue eyes bulged with fear glazed over in death. A purplish-blue welt branded her cheek. Another two inch bruise encircled her neck. Most people would probably feel pity. Fear, maybe. I clenched a fist at my side. The only thing I felt was an acute sense of anger that made it hard to breathe.

“You know her, don’t you?”

“Yeah.” My voice broke. I swallowed. “It’s Gladys.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. I’m sure.”

He let out a sigh. It was heavy and long, as if he’d been holding his breath for years. I hoped he was thinking the same thing I was thinking: James.

“I want you to go up to the house,” he said. “Don’t talk to anyone. When you get there, you call Pat. You wait for him. Once he’s here, you bring him to me. Understand?”

He called my name, but my brain was so numb his voice was too far away for me to answer. Rage boiled in my veins. I could feel the heat in my face. I still couldn’t get the image of Gladys’ face out of my brain. What a stupid fool. She should have known something like this could happen if she trusted my brother.

“Lucy!” He punched my arm. Hard. My trance broke and my gaze skittered to Uncle Corky’s face. Pale, his lips were set in a firm line. He watched me and not the body. I wonder how he could stay so calm. Then, I remembered. He’d seen a lot more dead bodies than me.

I gave a shaky nod and scrabbled toward the house. I tripped over dead branches—even my own feet. James—all my life he’d been like one giant armed atomic bomb waiting to implode. But unlike those poor suckers in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, we’d all been warned.

And I was the only one who’d listened.

Publishing-Self, Publishing-Traditional

A New State in the Publishing World

I try to take in about a half hour of news per day. This usually consists of listening to NPR on my way home from work. A story on All Tech Considered back in December got me to thinking about how writers, literary agents, editors, and publishers are all voicing their concerns about the evolving publishing world.

While listening to the story, one particular question kept bumping around my in my head. When was the last time the publishing world had to adopt a new format? Mass-market paperbacks were the only thing that came to mind. These cheap, glue-bound books have been around in one form or another since the 19th Century, but saw a reassurance after WWII. In the past sixty years, other forms of media have evolved. It’s about time the publishing world caught up.

E-readers and tablets are changing the way consumers buy and read books. I have a NOOK Color (I chose this e-reader for a variety of reasons which I won’t go into here). I’m constantly amazed at the number of e-book selections on B&N & Amazon websites for a dollar or less. This ties into the NPR article in December where a reviewer was overwhelmed by the number of available apps. Most of the apps were priced at a dollar or less, which mirrors the trends in the e-book world. Consumers are demanding cheap entertainment, whether it can be downloaded to a phone, tablet, or e-reader. Publishers are forced to meet this demand which is a detriment to every one in the publishing worlds pocket books.

Low cost entertainment is both a positive and a negative. The less expensive doesn’t always guarantee quality. But in the end its all about choice. The consumer doesn’t have to rely on the displays at book and mortar stores, or big publishing houses telling them what they think they should read. Consumers have more choices—and more can be a good thing.


The Search for a Literary Agent

When I first started writing the query letter, I thought my brain would explode. How does one take a 100,000 word novel and chop it down to 250 words, not tell the ending, and tease the agent enough to make them request samples or the entire manuscript? Daunting–yes. Frustrating. Yes. Impossible. No. I started thinking about my favorite books and their dust jackets. How did the summary of those books capture my attention?

So I modeled my query letter after books in my genre and sent my queries out. I told myself not to expect too much. To not get my hopes up. Of the first twenty-five, all of the literary agents sent rejections. I sent out twenty-five more. All rejected. I decided that there must be something wrong with my query letter, so I made updates. I sent out more. Got more rejections. Updated my query letter again and again. And by the sixth update, agents began to bite.

My stats so far:
Total Queries Sent: 143
Total Rejections to Date: 135
Waiting on Responses: 8
Requests for a partial manuscript: 0
Requests for a full manuscript: 0

(Sigh) No luck so far with agents that had the full manuscript. Very generous and helpful comments, though. They liked my character–just didn’t love her. Oh well, (shrug) I’ll find one eventually.


More on Literary Agents

Some people have asked me why go with a literary agent? There are lots of other alternatives to getting published. Places like Amazon’s CreateSpace or Barnes & Noble provide a way to market, promote, and sell your material. With the burgeoning e-reader market, these places would seem like a viable and easy way to get published. So, why choose a literary agent who gets a cut of 10-15% of your earnings?

The popularity of e-books have exploded in the past couple of years, but people continue to go to book stores and still buy books. Printed books may have competition, but they’re not dead yet. Depending on what source your looking at, ebooks only account for about three to five percent of the publishing market. A book in hard cover or paperback still has the greatest potential of reaching a larger audience.

While you can self publish and hope to reach your target audience, a literary agent’s job is to know the market. What’s trending and what isn’t. They have established relationships with editors and publishing houses, and can negotiate the best deal for you. After all they’re getting 10-15% of your cut too and often don’t get paid until you do. As a writer, I don’t have time to research the market, or get to know publishing houses, who more often than not, would only associate with literary agents anyway. The entire process may take well over two to five years before my book is actually published, but the relationships I will cultivate will be entirely be worth the wait.