Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mildly Anxiety Inducing For Control Freaks Like Myself

In Identity Crisis? Not Really Meg Rosoff explains that whether or not her books are classified as YA or adult is determined by her publishers' marketing departments. "The truth is, most writers simply write, and by virtue of the subject matter they choose (divorce, sexual deviance, the Peloponnesian wars), are deemed to be adult writers. The presence of puppies and pigs in a story line usually indicates a children’s book, except when it doesn’t (Marley and Me, Animal Farm)."

I don't know about the Peloponnesian wars, but divorce and, if you define the term loosely enough, sexual deviance certainly turn up in YA.

I have control issues and Rosoff evidently doesn't, which is probably why she wrote How I Live Now, and I didn't. Just writing and letting the chips fall where they may as far as an audience is concerned has worked rather well for her. But to me, knowing whether I'm writing a children's, YA, or adult book is less about audience than it is about knowing what the hell I'm doing. Decisions must be made, people! How can I make decisions about character, voice, setting, theme, and plot, if I haven't made the fundamental decision about what I'm doing first?

Really. I'm feeling quite stressed thinking about this. Rosoff didn't sound stressed in that PW article, did she?

She had a couple of quite interesting things to say toward the end of the article:

You know how traditional wisdom says that kids' read up? Rosoff addresses that. '“In America, novels cross down,” one publisher told me' (Rosoff), “but they don’t cross up,” meaning teens will read adult books, but not vice versa.' Teens continue to read up. What do adults read up to? I've wondered about that before.

Rosoff also describes her new book What I Was as "a love story set in a boy’s boarding school in 1962, narrated by the main character as a very old man." She goes on to say, "In the U.K. it will have two editions. In the U.S., just one—adult."

My understanding of adult vs. YA/kid classifications is that if the narrator of a book is an adult looking back on his youth, than it is an adult book because the story is told through an adult sensibility. That adult has knowledge of what happened past the time in which the story takes place. A YA or children's book has a narrator telling a story of something happening to him in the moment and has no knowledge beyond the time of the story. So Rosoff's new book sounds adult to me.

I think Rosoff's article was meant to try to distance herself from the whole "YA or adult?" debate as far as her own books are concerned. While doing that, though, I think she may raise some questions for readers for whom YA fiction is defined by more than the people who read it.

Link came from the Adbooks listserv.

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