It’s a holiday weekend, hooray! I hope everyone has had a most excellent Thanksgiving. I thought for a holiday weekend treat, we’d do something fun here today, so I asked a couple of authors to participate in an interview just for ALSC and YALSA blog readers!
The two authors I asked to participate have something in common: they write both middle grade and young adult books. As a librarian who works with all ages, and especially with the “tween” ages (where ALSC and YALSA’s services overlap!), I find myself needing to be familiar with both types of books.
The exact definitions of Middle Grade and Young Adult are subjective and amorphous. For the purposes of this post, we’ll just say that the intended audience for middle grade is slightly younger than the intended audience of YA, but both can be enjoyed by all ages.
The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls (2012), Middle Grade
The Year of Shadows (2013), Middle Grade
The Cabinet of Curiosities (coauthor) (short stories) (2013), Middle Grade
Summerfall (2014) (prequel novella), Young Adult
Winterspell (2014), Young Adult
ALLY: Are you in a different mindset when writing MG and YA? How do you think differently about your audience?
Claire: Regardless of genre or age category, I approach writing all my books the same way: How do I write the best story I can, in a way that shows I respect my audience and their intelligence? Beyond that, any differences between writing YA and MG are primarily stylistic. For me, it’s all about voice and language. YA is generally more introspective than MG. YA characters process experiences internally and think a lot about their emotions, whereas MG characters are still externally focused, looking outward for examples and understanding. MG characters are distilled, pure–not innocent, but rather mutable and unfinished. There’s a rawness to MG characters, a lack of sophistication, that lends itself to a certain straightforward, unfettered voice. It’s not that MG characters don’t feel a complexity of emotion; they simply aren’t as adept at understanding and expressing it as their YA counterparts. So, with this in mind, I strive to craft my MG voice using careful language that feels true to the spirit of this emotional purity and inexperience.
Alison: This might sound callous, but once I’ve chosen the subject matter for my books, I rarely think about my readers at all! As I see it, my job as a writer is to tell the truth through the medium of an engaging, well crafted story, and that’s the case whether I’m writing for twelve-year-olds or eighty-year-olds. I think readers of all ages want basically the same thing: a plot that hooks them right away and continues to surprise them throughout the story, and characters who feel three-dimensional, relatable, and flawed. I certainly consider whether or not a sixth grader would know a certain word or a specific cultural reference, but those are minor details, and the important parts of storytelling are way more universal. I’m not writing for kids and teens, specifically. I’m writing for anyone who wants to read stories about kids and teens.
ALLY: Do you think you will continue to write both YA and MG? What’s next up?
Claire: I hope to continue writing both, yes. I certainly have ideas for more of each! Currently I’m ensconced in three different MG projects, so those will probably surface first. Unfortunately I can’t talk about any of them yet!
Alison: Absolutely! I love the variety that comes from switching back and forth between them. Right now I’m working on a new MG that involves a prank war at a sleepaway camp. My YA work-in-progress, which comes out in 2016, is about musical theater and the fine line between obsessive, platonic female friendship and romantic love.
ALLY: Claire, you started in publishing with MG. What was it like to make the transition to YA, both in your writing, and in terms of the way your book was received by the kidlit community? Did it feel very different?
Claire: From a craft perspective, making the transition was a bit challenging. The MG voice comes more naturally to me, so refining my YA voice required a lot of work (especially since my YA debut, Winterspell, is high fantasy-esque, and that’s a tricky voice to get just right). However, since joining Twitter back in 2009, I’ve made many friends with bloggers, authors, and readers in both the YA and MG communities. There’s a lot of overlap between the two. So in that way, I felt like I already had many supporters in the YA world before my YA debut even released, for which I’m incredibly grateful!
ALLY: Alison, your MG hasn’t been published yet. Do you anticipate major differences in the entire experience?
Alison: I do! First of all, I anticipate having a lot more contact with actual young people this time around! Although I do get to chat with my teen readers sometimes, tons of adults read YA, and nearly everyone who has contacted me about my books so far has been a grownup. I’m excited for this experience to be a little more kid-centric! Relatedly, I’ll have to change my publicity strategy; for YA books, most promotion can be done online through Twitter and blog tours and such, but those tactics won’t get my books into the hands of the fifth graders I want to reach this time around. Honestly, the thing I’m most excited about is that the cover for Grandma Jo’s Guide to Prim and Proper Pilfering will feature an illustration instead of a stock photo. My editor has already asked me for character descriptions so she can start looking for the right artist, and I’m bouncing in my chair just thinking about it!
Y’alllll, aren’t they great?!
Claire’s latest book, a YA fantasy retelling of the Nutcracker (perfect for Christmas!) is out now, And Alison’s latest, a fun YA sister story about a reality show trip around the world will be out December 9:
Our cross-poster from YALSA today is Ally Watkins (@aswatki1). Ally is a youth services librarian in Mississippi, and has worked with ages birth-18 for the last 5 years.