The MTV Books Blog will close on October 31. Follow us to our new home at YA Outside the Lines on November 1!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Who are you?

No, not just the Who song of the same name, but an honest question I find myself fielding a lot with respect to writing and fielding the equally curious looks when I respond with "I'm just a writer." People desperately want to know what kind of writer I am and while it should be an easy thing to answer, for me, it's really not. See, it's a curious thing, having fallen into this YA writing world without ever having intended it. And I can't deny that it's played a large part in my outward identity as a writer, since it's a path that's brought me a lot of success and it's currently the only genre in which I've been published.

However, I've never made any secret of the fact that I've always intended to write for the adult market. That it's still my goal, to land a publishing contract for one of my adult novels. However, that doesn't mean that I don't have a healthy respect for young adult. If there's anything guaranteed to raise my hackles, it's to see adult writers who think they can write YA because it's "easy" or that they can dumb down the same stories for a younger market. 'Scuse me while I snort with laughter, but since that's a whole other rant, that's what I'll limit myself to. Besides, they'll learn. Maybe.

Anyhow, my point, and I do have one, is that there are times I find it difficult to define my writer identity. I mean, I write YA, but I never really considered myself a "YA Writer," the way so many others do. That's all they write, that's all they ever wanted to write, that's where they feel most comfortable, and they're absolutely fantastic at it. Admittedly, I sometimes do feel like a little kid, standing outside the soda shop window, watching them having malts and fries, completely secure in that particular identity but honestly, I know that's not where I belong. At least, it's not the only place. I know I want more. So I continue to plug away at my adult works which run from contemporary romance to women's fiction, to my latest work which has everyone who's read it saying, "Yeah, this is definitely a lot more mainstream than anything you've ever done before."

Whatever that means.

See, in the end, I'm not much for labels. I'm a storyteller and I have the ability to translate those stories to the page. Who they appeal to? Well, in an ideal world, they appeal across a broad spectrum. Just because a book is labeled a YA because that's the age of the protagonist or it's the group that a bunch of suits in marketing think it's going to appeal to, doesn't mean that it can't or shouldn't appeal to a larger group overall. (Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series comes to mind here, for example.)

For me, just because a book has a love story, doesn't mean it's just a romance or just because the main character is a woman, doesn't mean it's just meant for female readers.

You know, it's a lot like music (for me everything's like music, it's a thing). Anyhow, in music, people have this deep need to categorize and compartmentalize, in order to make sense of the huge variety that's out there, but in their zeal to do so, there's so much they're potentially missing out on. Personally, my favorite musicians are the ones who defy description and who refuse to allow themselves to be slotted neatly into an easy-to-define category. When they're asked what kinds of musicians they are or what kind of music they produce, they're perfectly happy saying, "I do what I like—I'm just a musician."

Kind of like I'm just a writer.

So, who are you?


Jennifer Echols said...

I'm in the same boat. It's so strange that we may think of ourselves as one thing. We may have stacks of manuscripts under the bed, all in the genre we think of ourselves as writing. But all other people ever see is the tip of the iceberg: what we get published. And that's what we're labeled as writing.

Me, I thought I was a romantic comedy writer, and that I wrote romantic comedies for the YA and the adult market. However, the market has informed me (at least so far) that I am NOT in fact a writer for the adult market, and that my YA romantic comedies are very dark.


Having read a lot of your stuff both published and not-yet-published, Barb, and having watched you win an adult award for a YA novel, I think you ARE just a beautiful writer, and your writing appeals to a broad spectrum of people.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

I'm in the same boat too, but in a slightly different way because my book seems to be considered both YA and adult. It was a big deal when my (well, our) lovely agent decided to shop it as YA and I adjusted to that, but then, lo and behold the editor told me it would be sold in the adult section of the bookstore. Talk about a personality crisis. But now I've decided that much like I was in high school, I am not easily categorized and since I agree with the music comparison you made, I am fine with that.

I also agree with Jenn, I have only read your published stuff of course, but you are just a beautiful writer!

jenny o'connell said...

Totally agree, and I feel really stupid when someone asks and I have to answer, "I've published YA and adult fiction, non-fiction, and also edited an anthology of essays."

People are like, "Huh? Sorry I asked."

I like the idea of just saying, "I'm a writer," but they always then ask, "What do you write."

I guess the easy answer is "Books."

Barbara Caridad Ferrer said...

Thank you guys-- so very much for the lovely comments. For various reasons, they're very appreciated, especially this week.

Funny, that no matter how different we all are, we're really really similar, huh?

We're writers.

And yeah, Jenny, we write BOOKS. :-)

Now, if we could just get relatives to quit telling us they've got great story ideas that WE can write up and then we'll split the royalties 50/50.

Anyone sees my rolling eyeballs, feel free to stop 'em.