When my second child was born, I stopped writing for awhile; with two kids under two and the sleep deprivation that comes with it, I just couldn’t focus. Since I was on a YA-writing hiatus, I decided to take a YA-reading break, too, and branch out into the adult section of the library to see what was there. It was a little disappointing, I must admit. While the selection was huge, I couldn’t find any of the books that I liked to read. So I quickly skedaddled back to the familiarity and comfort of the teen section.
This lack of “my kind of books” in the grown-up section of the bookstore has always kind of bugged me. So I’m very excited to welcome T.L. Bodine, who’s going to talk today about why it’s important to write for adults.
Growing up, I read a lot of books. That’s not a particularly shocking revelation for an author, but it’s true all the same. We traveled a lot for my father’s job, and I was home-schooled, so libraries were always the first thing we sought out in a new city. I spent my allowance on new books. I asked for books for all my birthdays and Christmases.
So it’s kind of an understatement to say that books played an important role in my life. They were like friends that I could carry around with me — wise, strong friends who knew all sorts of wonderful secrets. Books taught me about the world. They showed me what love and friendship should look like. They taught me how to overcome adversity. And they gave me a way to understand and codify my experiences.
But once I got a little older, I started to run into a snag. It got harder to find books that reflected my life and gave me the guidance I’d always sought. To be sure, I’d still run into books and authors that really seemed to “get” me, but it wasn’t the same as it had been as a kid. Time and again, the books I’d find would ring hollow.
The best MG and YA books are full of wonder. They hold secrets and teach you new things, and they reach out to hold your hand as you make the transition into adulthood. They’ve been designed that way, and with the ever-growing popularity of YA literature over the past couple decades, they’re getting better and better at doing it. YA books are becoming increasingly sophisticated. The teens growing up today are lucky to be ushered into adulthood with the help of so many talented authors and amazing books.
But once you cross through that threshold — once you pass through the arches and emerge into adulthood on the other side — who’s waiting there to receive you?
In my experience, no one.
Becoming an adult is fraught with confusion and false starts. There’s a lot of questioning: Am I really a grown-up now? Is this when I stop being interested in childhood things? When do I learn how to be responsible? When do I stop feeling like a kid in a grownup costume? How do I relate to my parents as an adult? What do adult friendships even look like? What do I do about marriage, divorce, having babies, not having babies, buying houses, switching careers? What happens after the curtains close on the “happily ever after” and life goes back to normal?
I’ve always been a firm believer that you should write the kind of books you wish you had read. I’m also aware of the therapeutic role that fiction plays in life — the way we writers turn to the written word as a way to delve deeper into our own psyches. So when I sit down to tell stories, it’s not really surprising that the stories that come out deal with these same anxieties and questions.
For a long time, I struggled with this, because the books I was interested in writing (and, for that matter, in reading) didn’t seem to be the books that were selling. As I finished up my dark fantasy novel Tagestraum and set out on the path in search of agents and publishers, I found that my options were limited.
Once I filtered it as non-YA and non-romance, my selection was pretty narrow, and no one seemed to be looking for what I was offering. I joined contests and made friends, but my peers all seemed to be writing different books than I was. At one point, I started thinking of ways I could make Tagestraum into a YA novel just to make it easier to market. The changes required would have dramatically altered the story — not just the plot and characters, but its very heart and themes.
That realization was the first thing that made me turn toward self-publishing, which turned out to be the right choice for me. Curiously, once I’d committed to following that path, the “New Adult” genre started to gain some traction and popularity; I’m taking that as a sure sign that I’m definitely not alone in my hunger for stories about growing up past the limits of YA stories. It’s pretty clear proof that there’s other people in their 20s wondering where to go from here.
And if I had to guess, I’d be willing to bet that somewhere out there, there are people in their 30s, 40s, even their 80s, looking for books that will hold their hands and guide them toward the next stage in life. I can only hope that there are writers out there asking those questions and trying — for themselves and their readers — to find the right answers.
So at the end of the day, here’s my takeaway: When you find your passion, you take hold of it and find a way to make that work, even if it doesn’t seem like the easiest or most lucrative route. You find the stories that you want to tell — that you need to tell — and you tell them the best you can, and let things start to fall into place later. The path you follow might not be the same as what everyone else is doing, but if you’re following your heart, you’re not going to get lost.
And if the books you’re writing happen to be stories for adults…books about facing and overcoming the challenges of learning to live your life…then I can tell you that there’s at least one person, sitting right here, who will be delighted to read them.
T.L. Bodine writes dark fantasy, horror and speculative fiction. She currently has two books available: The Beast in the Bedchamber, an anthology of dark fairytale retellings, and Nezumi’s Children, which might be described as “Lord of the Flies meets Watership Down.” Her next book, Tagestraum, should be available around Christmas.
When not writing, T.L. spends her time playing far too many video games and traumatizing her Facebook friends with an endless litany of philosophical rants. She also runs a small-scale rat rescue from her apartment and dabbles in a bit of urban homesteading.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.