Hannah Moskowitz had a thought-provoking post some weeks back at her blog about whether the YA community has gotten too insular...I don't agree with all of it, but I gotta love Hannah for getting me thinking. I love a good juicy blog discussion.
One of the sub-discussions that popped up was whether we should, or do, write for ourselves or for our audience.
So, I was just reading a book of interviews with children's writers from the library (AuthorTalk). The book came out in 2000 and I think the bulk of the writers were born in the 1930s. I mean, obviously if you're going to be one of the few selected for interviews in a book representative of the genre, you're going to be somewhat of a classic in your own time, so these aren't whippersnappers like me. (That may have been the first time in my life I used the word "whippersnappers", and I have to say, I never noticed what a fun cadence that word has.)
A recurring theme I noticed with these writers is that when they were young, they didn't see a lot of books about kids like them, whether it was because of race, or class, or because they lived in a big city, or whatever. These writers, and others like them, shaped the next generation of children's literature, the stuff I read as a kid in the 80s, where lots of kids lived in New York or Boston, and there were Jewish kids and black kids, and kids with really down-to-earth lives, money troubles, divorce, etc.
Of course, since I grew up with those books on the shelves, AND old books like Betsy-Tacy and Emily of New Moon and My Father's Dragon and Doctor Dolittle, it all blended together with little sense of How Far We'd Come, and meanwhile, I wondered where the books I wanted to read were. Like, why were fantasy books always set in pseudo-Medieval England? Why were they incredibly lacking in influence from other cultures or time periods? Why were disabled characters always either aggravatingly cheerful or just plain aggravating with a big fat lesson at the end? And we won't even get started on race. I mean, sure, books about other races existed in the mainstream, which was an improvement, but they were awfully pigeonholed...we still have this problem, but it gets better with the years. And gay characters? I didn't even know what gay WAS until I was like...nine or ten. This seems unbelievable now, and yeah, my childhood was SORT of isolated, but I did read teen magazines from the time I was nine and I recall no mention of gay teens at that point. (When I did find out, it wasn't from books or magazines either, btw, it was a documentary on PBS, probably about AIDS.)
I won't lie that one of my motivations in writing was to write books with the things I perceived to be missing from the stuff available, to reflect the world as I saw it, even in a fantasy novel. I was writing, in part, for my generation, the kid I was and the kids my friends were.
And, in fact, diversity was certainly not my only aim. One thing I desperately wanted to read about was HOT BOYS. I had trouble with that as a preteen and young teen because I liked skinny, artsy, sensitive boys who had angsty pasts and maybe some conflict but were still reasonably good guys, whereas most romance stories, whether for YA or adults, seemed to run more toward jocks and alpha males or bad boys. When anime came along, it blew my little mind because apparently Asian cultures and I agree on boys. Anime and manga are rife with the kind of boys I like. But I still dreamed of writing about them myself, in books.
Now, of course, I'm an adult and there is a new generation reading these books that I and others have written, and I've noticed there are other writers tackling very similar types of themes, characters and settings to the ones I always wanted to read. I can't help but think a lot of the current crop of new writers was born in the 70s and 80s and they must have thought some awfully similar things growing up. No doubt, the kids reading our books are seeing something missing. I don't know know what it will be yet. So, do I always write for my audience? I do listen to readers, but let's face it: probably not. But whatever the gap is, it's for them to fill, in the next decade or two or three. In the meantime, enjoy the relative hot boy diversity.