Please Do Not Send YA

I had a wonderful, inspiring time at the Tin House Workshop in the summer of 2008. So much so, that I considered applying again for this summer. Then I read the application guidelines. They say: “Please do not send newspaper articles, genre fiction, or children’s or young adult literature.” Funny, because the story I workshopped the summer I was at Tin House became the YA novel chapters that got me an agent and then sold at auction months afterward. No one called it YA in the workshop. Why the distinction on their application? I don’t think YA literary fiction is easily distinguished from adult literary fiction, do you?

So then I think, wow, I’d really like to go to Bread Loaf, and I wonder if I qualify for a scholarship since I have a book out and another coming out in 2011. Guess what their guidelines say? “Please do not send children’s or young adult literature, newspaper journalism, co-authored work, or self-help literature.”

Clearly, I am looking in the wrong places. But all these closed doors to YA make me wonder what will happen when I land at Yaddo this spring. What the admissions committee read and accepted was an excerpt from the novel Dutton will publish as YA in hopefully* 2011.

I think the question is why would I want to go to an adult workshop and conference when I am now writing YA. I talked a little about why I’m writing YA for now and for the foreseeable future, and probably forever, in this interview on the B&N Book Club blogs. Here’s an excerpt that speaks to it:

JD: How do you switch gears between YA and adult fiction?

NRS: I used to write only adult fiction, but switching gears to YA was far easier than I expected—and felt so natural. For me it’s two things: Being true to the voice, and the point from which the story is being told. If I’m writing an adult character, I’m writing an adult story. If I’m writing a teenager, it’s likely I’m writing YA. I always write in first person—it’s my favorite voice to try to capture as a writer, and also my favorite voice to read—so it’s my characters who decide what I’m writing more than I do.

But there’s more to it than the voice. For me, when I’m writing for adults I feel more removed—I tend to write those stories as if looking back from a distance. I think I could set out to write the same coming-of-age story about the same girl, but if I decided to write it as an adult story it would have a far different flavor than writing it as YA.

Dani Noir, for example—which is technically tween, not YA—was so in the moment, it came out in present tense. There’s no sense of the future, no perspective, and I think that speaks to my character more than anything else. You watch her make her mistakes as she makes them; only later does she gather any wisdom about what she’s done.

Right now, I’m still all about writing in the moment. The novel I’m in the midst of writing, called Imaginary Girls, is YA and it feels so alive, so exhilarating to put down on the page, that sometimes I think I’ll never go back to writing adult fiction. Not to mention that the YA community is so phenomenal, I can’t imagine living without it. So we’ll see. I’m happy here, so I think I’ll keep my gears where they are for a while.

Knowing that I have a whole new audience now feels freeing to me, more honest, more clear. I’m not writing with any message in mind, I’m writing for the 16-year-old me, from that point in time, from that moment, which is more real to me now than the moment I happen to be sitting in at an age I won’t mention.

But I have to say, I think the craft of writing fiction translates whether you are writing for teens or for adults. Characters are characters. Story is story. Pacing and scene development and dialogue and subtext and all that—it’s in my writing now, just as it was before. It’s fiction, same as before. At Tin House what I learned and absorbed has carried over into my writing in general—Aimee Bender on the different shapes of stories; Peter Rock on character development; Dorothy Allison on setting—and does it matter if my story is YA? I still have a plot, I still have characters, I still have a setting. I actually feel like I have more flexibility now than I would have before. Doors opened to me that didn’t before. And, of course, my audience is different, and as I said above my sense of “writing in the moment” feels different, but my interest in the craft of writing my story hasn’t changed. I am not dumbing down my writing. I’m just writing and being true to my character’s voice.

So why can’t I go to Tin House? Sure, a YA author wouldn’t find an agent there, but that’s not why I’d go. And a YA author wouldn’t be as interested in publishing short stories in litmags, but that’s not why I’d go. What I loved was the weeklong writing workshop and especially the week of craft classes and lectures and readings.

Am I wrong in thinking this way? There must be another place for me that I’m just not seeing. So, please, tell me: Where is the Tin House or Bread Loaf or Sewanee for YA authors? Because I’d love to go.

[ETA: Just to clarify, I’m not seeking an MFA program—I already have an MFA in fiction and I don’t want another. I just want a summer conference that’s the YA equivalent to the ones I mentioned above. Does that exist? SCBWI NYC excluded; I’m already headed there this January.]

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* I say “hopefully” 2011 because I am still writing the manuscript and it all depends on if I make my deadline and how I do with revisions and how good it is and no pressure or anything, right?

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