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.