What Makes a Novel a YA Novel?

Booktrope just published Jane Blond International Spy, a YA novel written by my teen co-author and myself. The book’s publication got me to thinking about what really makes a YA novel “Young Adult”. It sounds like an obvious question, but it’s not since adults now routinely read YA fiction.

I would categorize YA novels as falling into four broad categories: There are contemporary novels set in modern times that deal with contemporary problems. Also there are romance novels –these feature teens who fall in love, lose that love, and then usually regain it. The third category is paranormal –this is where you find all the teen vampire novels. Finally, there are the dystopian novels –the novels set in future times where teens battle for survival.

Jane Blond International Spy is a contemporary novel that features a fourteen year-old girl who faces problems at home (a father in jail and a mother living with her lover), problems at school (a popular girl who is a bully), and a crisis when she realizes she is the only one who could save the President from a terrorist plot.

So, what elements do YA novels generally share. First, of course, they feature teens in lead roles. They are the heroes and, sometimes, the villains. Many younger teen books use first-person to help readers relate to the main character. YA novels generally do not deal with subtle shades of gray when it comes to morality. A good character can do something evil, but most YA novels don’t split a lot of hairs when it comes to complex forces within the hero. After all, that’s why they are called heroes.

Dialog is crucial. My co-author is a teen. She wrote dialog and used expressions I never would have thought of using. Teens have their own expressions and their own language.

Also, adults generally are pictured as unable to provide much help. The teen is forced to take action himself or herself. In our novel, for example, the FBI agents don’t believe Jane. She also knows her mother won’t believe her.

Finally, have you noticed how many teen novels are part of a series? Teen readers like to follow a favorite character through several books. From an author’s perspective, it is a lucrative gravy train since earlier books in a series can often be given away to attract and hook readers who will buy subsequent books at full price.

I should add that Joseph Campbell revealed the deep dark secret of western literature a long time ago by writing about the link between heroes and Jungian symbols and mythology. Heroes generally don’t realize they are special; often they are overlooked and rejected while young. They face danger and risk death; they encounter love, etc. Jane Blond follows this well-worn path.

So, why should you like Jane Blond? She’s bright, courageous, analytical, and a very good friend. She doesn’t think only of herself. She has many of the self-delusions that most people have, but she does grow in the novel and learn to recognize her father’s limitations as well as the special qualities her friends have.

I hope you love the book. Electronic copies are now available online from your favorite ebook dealer. Paperback copies will be available around mid-October.

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Working on a Sequel Requires a Delicate Balance

Pen-L will publish A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer on November 15h. This is my sequel to Silent Partner, the paranormal mystery Pen-L published last year. I’ve already begun kicking around some ideas for a sequel to the sequel. What I have discovered, though, is that writing a sequel is a tricky business. It all has to do with the delicate business of the world you have already created in the first book and the introduction of new readers.

How far should an author go in making each book stand on its own feet? Daniel Silva, in my opinion, has run into a serious problem because he has written so many novels with the same cast of characters. He had to spend countless pages in The English Spy simply reintroducing characters and sketching out their back stories. The problem, of course, is that his legion of dedicated readers found the retelling to be boring and unnecessary. The new readers, on the other hand, I’m sure found the sketchy descriptions of key scenes in earlier novels to be too brief and lacking in details.

As I mentioned earlier, writers engage in world building. Silent Partner created two key characters who had relationships with other people. The effect is much like throwing a pebble into a lake. Every relationship is a part of the character’s world and impacts his or her view. So, how many of these does the author need to mention? In Silent Partner it is critical that readers understand Frankie’s prior relationships and marriage because it made her who she is. Her relationship with a horrible uncle also made her who she currently is. Josh Harrell, likewise, is who he is because of some of his prior failed relationships. How much detail do I need to go into for new readers?

I do think that my favorite ghost in Silent Partner can be appreciated in A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer without the need for the reader to go back and read Silent Partner. My hope, of course, is that new readers of mine who pick up A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer will become so enamored with Andy (short for Andrea) that they will want to go back and read the first book. After all, how often do you find a paranormal mystery that includes the closest thing to lovemaking between a ghost and a human?

I’ve been careful not to make my paranormal mysteries into a series because I think that limits readers’ access to them. They can be read totally as stand-alone books. I intend to make my third volume stand alone as well. I hope some of you are looking forward to A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer. I’m currently distributing early reading copies for reviewers. If anyone reading this blog is interested, please drop me a comment with your email address. Here’s a sneak peak at the cover to set your appetite.

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