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Thoughts about the YA Genre and Ferran’s Map

While writing Ferran’s Map (Book 4 of The Cat’s Eye Chronicles), I find myself hit repeatedly with the same question: how much is “too much” for a YA novel?

Romance exists in the YA realm, and publishers are becoming more and more aware that YA readers like it. In fact, they might just prefer it. Since more than 50% of book-readers are female, and a great majority of them are between the ages of 13 and 30, it stands to reason that Romance is becoming more and more expected in YA books. You could say that Twilight cracked that jar open. You could also call it a product of feminism, or perhaps a sign of our ever-evolving culture, but the truth remains: YA is not what it was 25 years ago.

Part of the benefit of indie publishing–and perhaps, part of the curse–is that I don’t have an agent or publisher telling me what I can or can’t write. No one is pointing out to me where the boundaries lie. And so, I find myself torn. Do I tell Crash and Sora’s story in a true fashion, woven by a writer’s heart, which doesn’t consider genre? Shall I follow where my creative intuition tells me to go? Or do I stifle the development of the story out of respect for genre? Is there a middle ground? Can I even find it?

Would the writing be better if I just wrote from the heart, and let the readers take it as they will?

Ferran’s Map retains its center of morality. It is not a “dirty” or “sexual” story. But it is a romantic one, more so than previous books in the series. Not only are Crash and Sora growing closer through hardship, but Lori and Ferran and other characters are building relationships as well. I want these relationships to unfold in an honest fashion. However, I am beginning to wonder if this book is slowly growing outside of the YA genre. It is still very much a coming-of-age story for Sora, and she is eighteen, which is considered a YA age. However, the rest of the characters in the books are in their twenties, thirties or older. The themes are becoming more mature, addressing death, hardship, the pains of growing up…and perhaps, that despite growing older, there is always youth in the spirit.

To which I ask–is it wise to shield our teens from these issues? Does it help them in the end? Perhaps I am sounding too serious–it is just a fantasy adventure, after all–but I don’t think young adults are beyond understanding grief, emotional hardship, earth-shattering trauma and romantic love.

Also, the ages of 18-25, which is the age difference between Crash and Sora, is widely considered a time of romantic exploration. To encompass this, a genre called “New Adult” is taking wing. However, I’m not fond of splitting books into categories upon categories. They help us make informed purchases, but they also give us preconceived expectations of a novel. They can quickly dissolve into minutia and nitpicking over ultimately minor details: age, amount of romance, amount of gore and violence, and maturity of themes. I suffered through 4 years of an English program where professors bickered endlessly about theories and categories for things, and as a creative soul, I found it absolutely stifling and trivial. Let critics categorize. Let writers write.

And yet, I am also aware that many readers share my books with their 12/13-year-olds. They have expressed much happiness in finding a book they can enjoy with their young daughters. I want to stay true to my younger readers and not swipe this series away from them. Yet at the same time, I need to stay true to the progression of the story. You can see how I am at an impasse.

There is no easy answer to this. But I think, given the nature of my creative soul, I am going to follow where the characters lead. I am not going to impede Crash and Sora’s development as realistic, growing people, simply for the sake of genre. And if this is looked down upon by publishers and more wizened readers, who have been trained to read within categories, then perhaps it is time for something new. Perhaps a single series can span different genres. And perhaps a writer can do it well.

Ferran’s Map is going to be quite a different animal from what I have previously written. And yet, it is a plateau that Sora deserves to reach. The loss of innocence, the discovery of self, the complications of love… we will see where it leads.

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Comments (39)

  1. I think that you should write true to where your heart and mind takes you, I love your books, I like to write myself and I find that I change a lot about my books, but to fit what I like, I’m going to self publish my books one day, that way my books can stay true to what I want. I think you should continue to write the way that you do because that’s what the readers seem to love, I know I do :)

    • Thank you Tyla! Best of luck with your own writing and (eventual) publishing! I think, ultimately, that I need to stay true to the story. In my head, a hundred publishers just rolled their eyes at that idealistic statement. But maybe, perhaps, readers will enjoy a fusion of both worlds rather than the limitation of a single genre. And perhaps I have been doing that right along. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  2. Deanna

    I think as long as you don’t make it like a Harlequin Romance or 50 Shades of Grey, you’ll be fine. You could use the power of suggestion and leave out explicit details that may be too much for younger readers.

  3. Raye

    Have you read the Graceling trilogy? It’s categorized as YA, but there’s definitely romance. There’s even sex. It’s just not explicit. Sora is an adult, and as such, she’s entitled to make adult decisions. I would, however, be disappointed to see if she made bad decisions with no consequences. Graceling and its sequels get a lot of criticism for what people call its “free sex” message, but I don’t really see it that way. The way I see it is, the characters are adults, and they are entitled to enter relationships with whoever they want. They don’t do so without consequences. There is heartbreak. There are even a couple instances of pregnancy for those who don’t take precautions. But those are realistic consequences of their decisions, and not some attempt to glorify sexual relationships. As long as you don’t have explicit details, your books should still be suitable for younger readers–and I would say doubly so if they deal realistically with the consequences of decisions.

    • Hi Raye! Graceling is a book I have yet to pick up. Sounds like something I should check out while writing Ferran’s Map; perhaps I am overthinking things. I’m not even sure if there will be sex in Book 4 of The Cat’s Eye Chronicles, but in the YA books I’ve read, as you said, it is either implied or completely off the table. Intisar Khanani, my beta-reader and another YA Author, had a lot to say about Sora and Crash’s kissing scene in Book 3. Then again, her tastes lean closer to the Middle Grade spectrum of YA, which isn’t the case for The Cat’s Eye Chronicles. Lots for me to think about and navigate as I write the story to come…. :) PS. I hear you about the consequences of a character’s decisions, which could be another way to balance out the question of romance, genre and plot.

      • Here I was going to say–definitely read both Graceling and Fire by Cashore to get a sense of sex in traditionally published YA–and then I see I’ve been outed for my G rated writing (at least with relation to sexuality) . πŸ˜› Ha! But I’ll be the first to say be true to the story. Otherwise, well, we’ll be able to tell and that won’t work. Also, there’s no point in denying that teenagers are basically huge, tangled up balls of hormones on legs. So, really, it’s how you talk about sex and kissing rather than whether or not you should. Just me G-rated two cents. πŸ˜€

        • LOL Intisar! You really are the best beta-reader a YA writer can ask for. Obviously your comments really sat with me! :p It’s a good thing though, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be thinking so much about this and would have crossed the line long ago. Thanks for reining me in…. πŸ˜‰

  4. Lisa

    I agree with the above comments to stay true to the story. I love the story line with Crash and Sora. It’s so nice to see the development in their relationship and that they haven’t fallen into bed immediately, but if further development doesn’t happen at this time, I think the relationship would become unrealistic. I also don’t think you are swiping the series from younger readers, just maybe postponing it for a few years. Young adult means different things to different people. If someone started the series at say 13, they would be at least 16-17 when the fourth book comes out.

    • Hi Lisa! Very good point: “if further development doesn’t happen at this time, I think the relationship would become unrealistic.” I think you’re right about that. I spent 3 books getting the characters to this point–their growth is natural and to stop now would have the opposite effect. And like you said, there’s no reason why 13-year-olds can’t wait a year or two before continuing the series. The books will always be there. And as a young reader, I greatly enjoyed more mature books when I was 14 or 15. I liked thinking about what life could be like and where it was leading. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. Brittany

    I believe it all comes down to the details. If you’ve never read The Duskgate Trilogy, it might be a set of books you want to check out. It’s a YA series, but the relationships mature as the characters mature. There are even babies that come of the relationships :). You can still right romance and have it be clean. That’s what Breeanna Puttroff does with Duskgate. You know all of the intimacies are implied and there are a few scenes that are suggestive, but everything is still kept clean so younger audiences are able to enjoy it.

    Personally, I’d like to see the relationship develop naturally with all the implications that come along with it:). It’s your line to draw! There’s no rule that says you have to make sure a middle school student is able to read it, even though they’re covered by the YA umbrella. Sora’s eighteen in the books. It’s a given her character will mature in a way much younger teenagers won’t be. YA adult covers a HUGE age and maturity difference with all of it’s readers, but that shouldn’t stifle you as the writer.

    • Duskgate: another series I will have to pick up! Sounds like a good one. I liked this thought: “YA adult covers a HUGE age and maturity difference with all of it’s readers, but that shouldn’t stifle you as the writer.” I think that is where my conflict arises from, and I just have to follow my gut, then maybe edit after to “calm things down” if it goes over the maturity-deep-end. YA is a very diverse genre aimed at a readership with vast maturity differences. And that’s okay! (repeats to self) That is okay…! πŸ˜‰

  6. Melinda

    As I read this post, I really thought about it and chewed on it for a bit. I completely understand the dilemma, having recommended this series to many, including some younger readers. And being a mother who screens books before recommending them to a younger audience, I am very particular as to what is in the books and what is appropriate for that age. (I still fall into the “YA” genre I believe though…29? )
    With that being said though, there are quite a lot of books that start out quiet “young” in the series and as the books go on, the themes mature into something quite beyond the original story. Take Harry Potter for example. To read Book 1 and then Book 7 – one would find a huge contrast in the darkness of the latter. I have known kindergarteners (no joke!) reading the first book, but know that the parents ruled out further books as reason dictated. My own sister (who’s 13) was allowed to read up to book 5 (until she was caught in the library sneaking the last two =P ).
    In all honesty though, I think the readers really do grow with the series and would be able to tell when, and if, the characters deviated from their “true” paths. I truly believe that’s part of a good book. To be able to grow up with the characters and walk through their new experiences with them, regardless of which genre it falls into. Staying true to the characters, and yourself as a writer, gives you the freedom to tell your story (and theirs) without someone telling you how it has to be done.
    Go with what you feel is important to get the story out, and let the parents and readers discern for themselves the content of the book.

    Hope that’s a little helpful in having you make a decision. =)

    • Melinda, excellent point about the Harry Potter series, it did get quite gruesome in the end, and I never quite recovered from Sirius dying in Book 3… he was my favorite character!

      I appreciate your insight as a mother and I think you’ve summed up how I’ve been feeling. As long as the characters are able to grow–while maintaining the “moral” heart of the story–some rules of genre can be bent. As the characters age, so shall the story. It will certainly make for a more exciting read! :)

  7. It is your story. Follow your heart. Do not let other peoples boundaries limit you. I write YA fantasy as well and also have kept it fairly PG rated, however, I am not going to lie to my readers because life is not PG. There is a difference between tasteful and not, so that is the boundary I choose for myself. Your books are spot on for taste, romance, action, etc. Following Crash and Sora’s personal journey has been breathtaking! You are doing it right from my point of view.

  8. Ileana

    I agree with most comments here about how Crash and Sora relationship should develop naturally and all that. Talking bout twilight, for one reason I ended up disliking it, it’s that it’s story revolved much about the romance of the two main characters being Bella a weak human (attached in so many ways) to a good looking vampire. c’mon :/ Haven’t read the latest book (Volcrians hunt)but I like how the romance evolves in the series. Thing is: how will love affect Sora and Crash in future releases? Hope our heroine won’t get weakened by love :p

    • Hi Ileana!

      Good point about Twilight. In my mind, Sora can’t get much weaker than she already was in the first book (lol.) Turning her into a “Bella Swan” would be a complete devolution of her character, don’t you think? πŸ˜‰ I’m glad we agree on that! I anticipate some romantic drama, but nothing too sniveling or pathetic. πŸ˜‰

  9. Kendra

    Also consider what kids are already exposed to. Heck some commercials are more suggestive than some PG13 movies I have seen! For that matter a LOT of PG13 movies would have been an R rating 10-15 years ago.
    That said I like that you are not going to make them go at it Harlequin-stye! There is a lot to be said about the slow fade out ;-). You had mentioned Twilight…remember there was no sex in that series till they were married, and even then it was done in such a way as to suggest (so that those who have firsthand knowledge can have a fun memory moment, while protecting those who do not have that knowledge can still get a love-ie feel).
    Hope this makes sense and that you know how much I have enjoyed your writing!
    Thanks!
    :-)

  10. I have a deep-rooted wariness of the term “New Adult” because it has been lately used as a euphemism for “Erotica.” :/

    I don’t really have a problem with blood, gore, or heaviness of the topics, but explicit adult content is the surest way to make me “page-skip.” Though, I do love me a love story (I’m a teen girl, it’s allowed). So long as it’s not “dirty” or “sexual” and the center of morality is maintained like you said, I say write faster! =D

    • Melinda

      Well said, exactly my sentiments. ^_^ I was actually thinking last night that I wish books had ratings in them like TV shows and DVD’s. It’s much harder to tell which books are a good, ‘clean’ read today. And once you’re sucked into a story…sometimes it’s hard to come out of it. =)

      • Hi Elisabeth! (and Melinda!)

        I could go on about “New Adult”… It seems more of a “safety blanket” genre for those who want to write explicit romance about underage, or just younger than usual, characters. Establishing a separate genre for it could be an attempt to legitimize the subject matter. And I’m not necessarily against that, as I also hate the confines of genre and often feel caught between them….

        But I see most New Adult books as written for a “juvenile/YA” reading level, yet with the explicit content of a full-blown Romance. So I can’t help but think of it as “Poorly Written Smut.” There’s my three cents. πŸ˜‰

        That being said, I’m all for a world without genres, especially considering how limiting they can become. New Adult could be a great thing in the future…but for now, it doesn’t feel like a real genre, more like a hazy in-between.

  11. Maddy B.

    I’m absolutely excited about this book! I just reread the first three books again, and I really think I might die of excitement! I really am hoping that Crash and Sora end up being together! This is one of my favorite series! Great job, T.L. Shreffler, and keep up the good work!

  12. Jessica

    I absolutely adore this series! I have re read it twice now and it has actually ruined me for other books that I have started and just can’t seem to finish cuz my mind is still on this series. I cannot wait for the next installment! As a not so young adult that is a fan of this series I sincerely hope that you do let crash and sora progress naturally, understand I do not NEED it to be explicate but I feel that they need to progress. I loved this series so much that I did read your werewolf series, and enjoyed it as well. I’m kinda hoping for book 4 or 5 to fall somewhere in between the 2 series as far as the intimacy goes…but that’s just my opinion. I know that whatever you choose to do I will love it.

    • Thanks for reading along, Jessica! And thanks for sharing your thoughts: “understand I do not NEED it to be explicate but I feel that they need to progress.” I understand what you mean and I think that’s the direction the story is going. Not too explicit, but not too vanilla. Gotta hit that balance. The story is definitely deepening and growing! I think Ferran’s Map is going to be an excellent catalyst for Sora and Crash’s relationships, especially when Crash gets to see her as a noblewoman all over again…. Bringing it back full circle!

  13. maria

    I love this series, and I’m sorry that it’s categorized as YA only. It’s a very clean, very moving series, and I have recommended it to all my kindle friends, especially since “Sora’s Quest” comes in at such a nice price! However, I am 46, and all my friends are not far behind me age-wise! I have loved the way the characters have developed their relationships over the series, and I’d like to see more, and more in the way you would like it to develop rather than paying attention to the genre. I understand what you’re saying about the “Twilight” series, but you have to admit that the tension was way hotter than any kind of sex scene anybody else could have written. My favorite lovers are Bogey and Bacall (I’m really dating myself here), and they barely touched….The tension between Crash and Sora is indescribable and really makes the story “pop”. I pretty much finish these books in a day. Thank you so much for your contributions to literature. I really appreciate the way you think.

    • Hi Maria! I enjoyed reading your thoughts. “The tension between Crash and Sora is indescribable and really makes the story β€œpop”.” I think you’re right, the tension between Crash and Sora is a huge driving force behind the story. I hope to keep that tension while continuing to explore their relationship. In all ways, I want it to be natural, and yet always progressing. Thanks for reading along! :)

  14. Heather S

    I am absolutely in love with this series!!! My favorite part is the slow, natural way that Sora and Crash’s relationship progresses. It is so much more realistic than the isnta-love that is so often found in books of all genres. I think you are obviously blessed with great instincts for writing, so I say follow what your heart tells you to write. As a 37 year old mother of two (I guess I’m only YA at heart!), I don’t think there is anything wrong with allowing a young reader to wait a year or two to be able to mature into the later books in a series. I know the Harry Potter books have already been mentioned, but they are a perfect example of a series that matures as it progresses. The characters mature, and it only seems natural for their actions and situations to mature as well. Keep up the good work- I know whatever you decide to write will be fabulous! :)

    • Thank you for the inspiring words Heather! I’m not a fan of insta-love either. I need to see the couple “connect” before I can believe they’re in love. I’m beginning to think that “expanding” the themes of The Cat’s Eye Chronicles might not be such a bad thing. Nothing too explicit, but still, enough to show the growth of the characters and stay true to the story. I enjoyed reading your thoughts and thank you for taking the time to comment!

  15. Karine

    Hello!!
    I love the Cat’s eyes Chronicle, and I totally see how it might be problematic to write Crash and Sora’s relationship. But in ‘Young Adult ‘, there’s the word ‘Adult’, which means it is about young people becoming adults, and sex is a natural part of it. It doesn’t have to be explicit, but Crash is 25 years old and Sora 18, and them having a ‘clean’ relationship wouldn’t feel realistic. Sora is coming out of age, finding herself, and discovering something new and pure (okay, not so pure, but you guys get what I mean) with Crash, and you should totally write the way you think feels right instead of worrying about it being inappropriate :)
    And honestly, by the time I was 12, I had already read about sex in books qualified as YA, and wasn’t shocked about it. I honestly don’t understand why themes such as violence or death are okay in the YA genre while sex is taboo. I mean, they are ALL parts of life and human nature, and adolescence is the perfect time to start exploring and understanding those subjects!
    BTW, do you have an estimate date for when Ferran’s map is coming out? I cannot wait to read it! πŸ˜€

  16. Lyn

    I love this series and I am happy to hear from the comments that Sora and Crash are going to have a mature relationship that progresses naturally and isn’t cutoff by Genre boundaries without getting too explicit. I think it’s also interesting to remember that Crash comes from a background where marriage doesn’t exist-so the fact that he has qualms about being, shall we call it, ‘casual’ with Sora only lends more to his character as someone who is trying to reform and considers himself her protector.

  17. Nicole

    As long as I can continue to recommend my mom read this series without feeling embarrassed about my taste in books I will be happy.

  18. Lindsay

    So happy you posed this question because I definitely feel that Sora and Crash’s relationship is getting to the point where if it is stifled or played down in intensity, it will begin to become frustrating and fulfilling. Many YA/PG-13 type stories, both written or shot for tv, feature adult feelings and interactions, though the more ‘mature’ content may be implied or, as you said in a previous interview, featured up to a point before we “modestly look away”. Though a healthy serving of juicy-details delivered during or after the fact are always appreciated as a hunger reader. πŸ˜‰ Go where the story’s flow takes you! (And get Ferran’s Map out to us soon, please! Going crazy here!!)

  19. Alex

    Roughly how much linger until Ferrans Map comes out???

  20. Taelyr

    I have lived reading your books and am so happy that I stumbled across Sora’s Quest on Amazon when looking for books for my kindle. It has easily become one of my favorite series and Sora and Crash have become one of my favorite book couples. I love how while you know how much they care for one another and how much they want one another it isn’t easy. And it shouldn’t be. The tension is real(and addicting!) and you can see the characters growing alongside each other which makes the story believable. I wouldn’t want you to stunt their growth and your growth as a writer just to satisfy people. My favorite TV show Game of Thrones, writer doesn’t satisfy. He kills off characters left and right to make it realistic and how his view of that world is and the fans still love the show and hang on the edges of their seats to see what he has in store next. I believe you should do the same and write the story that you want and love and live out inside your head because fans of the books will only love it that much more.

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