Monday, October 31, 2011

The Authentic Teen Experience

A couple of months ago an editor critiqued my YA ms and said that a marriage proposal felt too mature for YA. My first reaction to this was complete annoyance. Partly because for my characters I felt it was a natural choice, but also because Perfect Chemistry, The Twilight Saga, The Shiver Trilogy, and The Lost Saint series, all have marriage proposals in them.

I returned home from the conference and discussed this issue at length with a friend. She said she thought they were looking for an "authentic teen experience" and that most teens aren't thinking about getting married. She said she'd had similar critiques in her writing just not regarding marriage proposals. This is when I went from being annoyed to pissed off (not at the friend, at the situation). Because am I writing a book about the majority of all teens, or am I writing a book two teens both orphans looking to build the family that was taken from them? As I'm flying to Texas for a 19 year old's wedding next week, I don't find a YA marriage proposal to be inauthentic.

But what makes me angry is who is an editor/agent to decide what's "authentic?" I turned 17 on 9/11/2001. I left for college on 1/14/02. I moved hours from anyone or anything I knew when I should have been a junior in high school. I was hazed for being one of the two youngest people there and for a rare sometimes medical condition. I met a lot of interesting people there too, including a couple of married teens and another married couple who were young adults when I met them, but married as teens. I met an 18 year old honor student with a four year old, and from what I understood of her situation his father was no longer in their lives. I bet all these people think their experiences were authentic. By the time my class graduated I'd been through a couple of heartbreaks, acted in some independent films, forced back to the town I spent my life trying to get out of and escaped again. It obviously wasn't the norm at the time, since I did all this before I should have graduated, but every moment of felt real.

My little brother moved out of my parents house and into an apartment across town at 16. His apartment was behind the home of a diabetic old lady and when dogs tore her trash open insulin needles were scattered in the driveway. My parents accused of him of being on drugs. In a very authentic fight with my step dad in front of his school, he was expelled and got a fine which he still finds authentic today. My husband graduated from an all boys high school without ever having gone on a date or even having a crush. I was his first love, and he met me at 24.

I must be lost, because I have no idea what the "norm" is. I don't know what the majority of teens think/don't think. I'm clueless as to what this "authentic teen experience" editors want is, and I must be a bad writer or just stupid because futhermore, I DON'T CARE!!!! I met a girl on page one. She was carefree and in total denial of her crush on the boy-next-door/former best-friend/ex-almost boyfriend. I had to follow her through a whole lot of pages and the only thing that mattered that whole time was what she thought and what he thought and how they related to each other.


  1. Did the editor see the whole ms or just the first so many pages? Perhaps she didn't see the whole picture of what the mc wanted.

    I think if you write a girl lives a wonderful life, nothing ever bad happens book you aren't reflecting what really happens in the world. I think most people have some form of dysfunction in their lives, Beth.

    Put this critique to the side for a while and then go back to it and see if there is something you can get from it. I had a stomach punch from an agent about one of my babies a few months back. I put it to the side and revisited the ms a few weeks ago. I didn't follow all of her advice, but my story is better now.


  2. Beth,

    Check out my blog, I've nominated you for the Lovely Blog Award. Your hard work is noticed!