Sunday, October 4, 2009

Writers Workshop Follow-up

In my last post, I mentioned that our own Sarah Hoyt had been in town to conduct a writers workshop. Not only was Sarah her usual entertaining self, but she imparted some great information. Most important of all, she made those who attended think about what it means to be a writer and how far it goes beyond just sitting butt in chair and writing. We're writers, publicists, mail clerks, accountants and chief cook and bottle washers to name a few. However, as Sarah pointed out, one of the most important things we have to do is know who our market is when we're writing a book, not only with regard to what agent or publisher we're trying to "sell" it to but also with regard to who our reading public will be.

Needless to say, that got everyone thinking, most especially those who are writing for the juvenile and young adult readers. In discussions between sessions, the conversation continued, usually between the workshop participants. One thought the only difference was the language used in the books. Another felt that you had to write the situations in a more simplistic style, not only using less challenging vocabulary but also a simpler sentence structure etc., and then a third felt you should only tackle the really difficult social/ethical/moral situations in books set for the "young adult" readers.

What made me think about this particular topic again was a conversation I had at dinner with several librarians the other night. One works at a junior high school library. The other two at the local library in the children's and youth section. We'd been discussing some of the books that have come out over the last few years and the increasing numbers of junior high and high school kids who are reading for pleasure -- and how the summer reading lists have, for years, done their best to derail this whether those putting together the lists mean to or not.

By way of illustration, when my son was entering the sixth grade, he was given a list of fifteen or so books, of which he had to read twelve. The topics of the books, all of which were fiction, ran from drug abuse to abandonment to rape and incest to sports and vacation fun. Well, needless to say, since reading had been used as a punishment by a teacher several years before and my son still had not rediscovered the joy of reading he'd felt before then, we chose to read the "lighter" books first. The problem came when we had to choose one last book to complete the required number. The book we chose seemed innocent enough. From the cover illustration to the inside flap description and even the on-line reviews, it appeared to be nothing more than a nice little gothic ghost story. Perfect for a boy about to go into the sixth grade. Right?

WRONG! Most of the book was exactly that. The author lulled you in with an easy style and lush descriptions that appealed not only to my son but to me. Then, without warning, she yanked the rug out from under you and yelled "Gotcha!". The nice ghost story suddenly had a very graphic attempted rape scene followed by an equally graphic murder scene. There was no rhyme or reason for it being there, and most certainly not for it to be as graphic as it was. For those twenty pages or so, the author forgot her audience and went from writing for middle schoolers to high schoolers and adults.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating denying that bad things happen to people in books written for middle schoolers. What I am advocating is that we keep in mind who we're writing for and write appropriately. Just as I wouldn't expect an author trying to sell an inspirational novel to fill it with f-bombs, I don't expect an author writing for middle schoolers or younger to put in graphic sex scenes or more graphic violence. The key is, read the market. See what is on library and bookstore shelves for that age group. That is part of the research we have to do as authors.

How important do you think it is that authors tackle the "issues" of the day? For you parents out there, do you want the summer reading lists to be filled with books dealing with nothing but the "social issues" or should there be a mix of the "socially relevant" books and those that are just "fun" reads?


Kate said...


Screw the issues. If the author cares enough about them, they'll find their way out and - usually - do so in a way that's natural to the plot and the characters.

"Socially relevant", with few exceptions, is boring.

Pratchett's YA books are fun reads for any age. They also have a lot of "socially relevant" themes tucked away in there, but they're not there to be socially relevant. They just happened to grow out of the characters, plot and settings.

The Johnny books take a solid swipe at sexism, racism, various other "isms", but you don't notice it because you're having too much fun with the story. The Bromeliad books cover social change and what it does to people - and again, you don't notice it because the story has you hooked. Tiffany Aching, you've got personal responsibility, coming of age and a whole swag of other stuff.

"Socially relevant" happens. None of us write in a vacuum, and the things we feel strongly about find their way into our fiction no matter what we're writing about.

Just as an example on the more adult end of the reading spectrum, my alternate history, Impaler, ended up with a very strong "child abuse is evil" theme. I didn't set out to put it there, although it's something that I have rather strong opinions about. It crept in through the character of Vlad Dracula, who - reading between the lines of the available documentation - was unquestionably physically abused and very likely sexually abused as a child. What emerged - a loathing of any kind of child abuse - was an integral part of his character. It wasn't written as a "child abuse is evil" book, and hopefully the rest of the story means that the book isn't lecturing on that particular topic.

Now I'm rambling. That means it's time I shut up.

Dave Freer said...

Hmm. For a long tim I have suspected that at least some aquisition editors don't know the market they hope to sell into themselves. Ergo, the author who will be bought is the author whose book appeals to them, or what they think will appeal. If you're a childless 40 or 50-something, it's unlikely you will be in close contact with middle grade readers, and let's face it, the exigencies of the job mean that unless you're a sort of publishing Rowena-superwoman, that's quite likely. Or you could go one worse... you could base you conclusions about kids tastes on TV (gee Hollywood is so reliable) or worse, statistics. For eg. I was on the sidelines of a discussion of sex in YA books. For starters no-one there knew what YA meant - it appeared anything from middle-grade to 19 (and at 19 I was coming OUT of the army, and was adult, and not young). One of the folk - childless I believe, contributed the fact that 14 was now the age of 50% sexually active for modern kids, and therefore the books should reflect that. Sigh. That's why stats are so fricking dangerously deceptive. I'll bet when very nearly ever reader here - we all recall that even back in the dark ages there were a subset of kids who were sexually active at a very early age: The jocks and their camp-followers -- who never ever read anything. Ever. The chances are good however that the shy bookworm - our customer - was several years behind them. And they want their reality, not the jocks reality. Besides as everyone lies about sex, any stats in that area are always suspect. Another interesting conclusion was that as more adults were reading YA and even 'children' books more sex, even a bit of BDSM was expected. Er. Why are they reading these books? to find that? I think not. I can't say I think juvenile language (beyond a point) is called for. And I think clear good quality writing is always called for ;-)

Amanda Green said...

Kate, I happen to agree that, if an author cares enough about the issues, they'll find their way into the plot in a natural way. Often, in fact, it is so understated you, the reader, don't realize it until the book is over and you're thinking about it later. Those books, no matter what their audience's age range, are the best ones, imo. They don't appear to be preaching and they don't turn a reader off simply because all you see is the author's opinion about a particular issue instead of the underlying story.

We have enough non-fiction books and articles about the issues. When writing fiction, the issues will be there. There's no way around it since, as you said, they will find their way into the story. However, it is our job as writers to find a way to address the issues without pounding our readers over the head with our personal beliefs or views.

Amanda Green said...

Dave, don't get me going on stats and how they are interpreted where school children are concerned. Back in the dark ages when I was in school and the primary grades met in caves, one of the questions we were routinely asked as part of the surveys we had to fill out was if we drank alcohol and, if we did, how often. Well, gee, every kid raised Catholic or Episcopalian answered "yes" and "at least once a week". Apparently those making out the survey forgot about Communion wine. So, for years, the stats in our district were skewed, and skewed badly, about how early kids started drinking and how often. I guarantee you, it's much the same -- if for different reasons -- about sex.

As for folks not knowing what YA is, you're right. And that is part of the problem. Not only is there confusion about the age range for YA, there is confusion about what books should be classified as YA. Point in fact, how many of us would classify Finnigan's Wake by James Joyce as YA? Well, stroll through the local library and see where it's shelved now. It's the same with Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and The Love Songs of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot. Harry Potter is shelved in "juvenile" and YA and, in some stores and libraries, adult fiction. Yet, most sf/f is shelved in the adult section, including the Pratchett and Heinlein juveniles.

What's the answer, I'm not sure. But it does present a challenge for writers, especially those writing for our younger readers. Rowena truly is a superwoman, not only for doing all she does personally and professionally, but also for being able to navigate the maze of YA publishing and come out successfully on the other end.

Anonymous said...


Atlas Shrugged as YA??? Ye gods! What are they trying to do, scare them off reading entirely? Shoot, if someone had thrown that half-million word monster at me when I was that age, I'd have run screaming from anything and everything with paper slapped between two covers!

Even as an adult, I found that sucker intimidating. Some years ago, I thumbed through the first few pages of it at Barnes & Noble. I put that thing down faster than a hot potato, marched over to the SF section and loaded up on Honor Harrington. I figured that in the time it'd take me to trudge through that bloated behemoth, I could burn my way through the entire Honorverse, gain some actual enjoyment out of the deal, and not be scarred-for-life by Rand's godawful prose.

Amanda Green said...

Bob, not only is Atlas Shrugged in YA now, but it is one of the texts the AEP and IB English classes have to study. Frankly, as overly bloated and, let's face it, issue-driven as it is, I still prefer it to some of the other texts they have the kids reading these days. What does surprise me is that Atlas is in the schools since it most definitely does not fit the general political bent of most of the "preferred" books these days.

T.M. Lunsford said...

As someone very recently out of the lovely public school system, I always preferred the books that were socially relevant, not the ones that threw the issues in our faces. In my junior IB English class, we read books such as "Their Eyes Were Watching God" and "The Color of Water." While these are not the normal fare for junior English classes, they did present us with socially relevant issues, but in an organic, age-appropriate way.
As someone who still reads some YA material and is watching my young cousins begin to read more and more YA books, I think that it is a judgement call on the subject matter. I don't think that kids should be completely sheltered from issues like drugs, rape, and violence, but I don't think that they should be thrown in their faces by schools. There was a great article in the NY Times recently discussing the idea that kids should determine their own school reading lists to a certain extent and I have to agree. If an English teacher is worth their salt, they can find ways to bring in literarily relevant topics into any book. One of my professors is currently teaching "Twilight" to her freshman seminar, so it can be done!

Amanda Green said...

Taylor, books that are socially relevant without throwing the issue, or the author's beliefs, in your face are the best books, imo. You're right also in that the information has to be presented in an organic, age-appropriate way. Frankly, as authors we have to be aware of who we are writing for and we have to keep our fingers crossed that the agents and editors we deal with do the same thing.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Amanda, great thought provoking post.

In Australia we have the children's Book Council, which is made up of librarians (from what I can tell), who look at all the books published that year and decide what is the best. These books go on to be promoted in schools etc.

Harmless you say?

Well, the librarians choose worthy issue related books for the YA section. Books that make me wonder if we aren't contribution to teenage depression.

What's wrong with fun? And, as you say, deeper issues will be in books as a sub text.

By the way, I loved your comment about the survey on drinking in Catholic school!

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, at least it's librarians there making the choices. Here in Texas, the main reading lists that are recommended to all the schools are chosen by a mixture of librarians, administrators, teachers and non-education professionals. so you can just imagine the agendas that these different groups want represented. And as for contributing to teenage depression, my only comment is "YES!" When all they read is about how downtrodden they are, how unloved, how bad the world is, etc., they can't be anything but depressed in some form or fashion. Again, what's wrong with dealing with the issues in a way that isn't in-your-face-beat-me-up? Moreover, what happened to reading for entertainment as well as education?

Anonymous said...

I took a class in Children Literature a long time ago. There's a category, which I can't remeber the name of, for teenagers with poor reading skills. Simple vocabulary and sentence structure, complex material. Other than that, most teenagers don't need the writing dumbed down. As you drop down the age scale, the vocabulary obviously starts to matter more.

But it sounds like we all agree on "fun" as the best way for kids to learn to read very well and quickly. There's only so much "Scarlet Letter" and "Of Mice and Men" that a kid can take. Everyone has different tastes, a reading list needs to incorporate a wide variety of genres. But I had to bribe, threaten and cajole my kids to read. They didn't believe me when I told them that they'd like "this one." Like and Book didn't belong in the same sentence.

"A Warriors Apprentice" clicked for the older one. The younger? I had to bribe and then threaten "And I don't want to hear you repeating any of the bad language in this book, young man!" That of course worked like a charm. He devoured it and hasn't quit reading since. Thank you Dave. Rats, Bats and Vats is an excellent young adult novel. ;)


Chris McMahon said...

I think of writing as storytelling. I see my job as giving something to the reader, entertainment, wonder and hopefully something that leaves them a little richer. I can't stand books that start out trying to ram some issue or viewpoint down the reader's throat - and I think it is an approach that is doomed to failure (except perhaps to a select audience of judges/grant assessors that have the same pet issue).

I just finished reading Neuropath by Scott Bakker. He obvious has spent a LOT of time examining the arguments why we as conscious individuals do not exist, but are merely preprogrammed 'brains'. He had an interesting premise for a story there, but spent literally half the text of the book in contrived dialogue scene to rehash the same damn arguments over and OVER again. Sorry. Book against the wall category.

Amanda Green said...

Matapam, when my son's third grade teacher made reading a punishment, I thought I'd never be able to get him past hating to pick up a book. The first step finally came with audiobooks and, of all things, the Diane Mott Davidson "Goldy" mysteries. By the time we worked our way through them, he'd discovered Manga and then, thankfully, Rats, Bats and Vats. Around the same time, he had an English teacher who managed to do what I'd been unable to -- he got the kid reading Terry Pratchett. Now, while he doesn't read as much as I did at that age, he doesn't feel like all books are a punishment. There is a special place for teachers who do that to a kid's joy of reading and for authors who confirm it by writing books for no purpose but to push their own personal agendas.

Amanda Green said...

I think of writing as storytelling. I see my job as giving something to the reader, entertainment, wonder and hopefully something that leaves them a little richer. Chris, I couldn't have said it better. And I hate when I pick up a book with so much promise that turns into a diatribe for one thing or another, forgetting the story along the way.

Anonymous said...

Amanda: Reading as a punishment?!?! That's just plain wrong. I can only imagine that this "teacher" (and I use the term very loosely) has an entire pantry packed floor to ceiling with Mason jars, each one filled to the brim with flies that have had the wings torn off of them...

Amanda Green said...

Bob, I wish I was kidding, but I'm not. That was NOT a good year for any of us where my son's schooling was concerned. That, followed so closely by him being given reading lists that were filled with "message" books that felt like punishment to read did more damage that you can imagine to his love of books.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I believe you Amanda -- it's just that the mind recoils at the sheer wrongness of the concept. It's kind of on the same level of wrongness as going to the bathroom at 3am, running into Great Cthulhu on the way there, and him telling you that he used up the last of your toilet paper and you're out of bathroom spray wrongness.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Heinlein said serious issues SHOULD be addressed to twelve year olds. That said, most current YA writers aren't Heinlein.

My kids keep telling me I should write the perfect middle/highschool reader book: it would be about an alternately gendered, multiracial girl, who is as handicapped as Helen Keller, and who never finds a way out, but just goes through the book being the VICTIM of everyone around her and having thoughts about how evil society is. Having seen some of the stuff they read... eh... probably. But I couldn't write that.

I have books I recommend to kids, particularly smart kids. Most of them walked off our shelves after years of my handing them to visiting kids' friends who used our house as the public library. Weirdly, few of these would be called YA. And yeah, some have (some) sex. But few of them have a lack of "can do" spirit and the sense that the future is better than the past. Because... historically, that's been true. And we shouldn't lie. Not to the young.

And now I'm rambling too. So I'll shut up.

Dave Freer said...

Matapam I've always felt that providing your son's first reading pleasure almost justified my existance. I find it it awkward to talk about my own books, but it is mildly amusing to me that RBV -- which was intended to be fast, funny (and tragic - because good funny is) and easy to read, first and foremost, is probably my most philosophical/socio-political issue rich book, and, um, I consider it a deeply moral book with a number of intrinsic 'messages' about the value of loyalty, and of what 'humanity' really is. About the real meaning of courage - which is to know fear and defy it IMO. And, er, it's actually a romance (which too is a value that is vital to learn, IMO). But I honestly hope that readers thought it was fun and fast moving and not about message. Typical 'message' books tend to use a sledgehammer on the armor of the reader. I prefer to think the misericord alternative cloaked in humor is more effective.

Kate said...


It is! RBV's stealthed messages stick. People remember the wonderful characters and how Chip & co kept going despite being scared because it was the right thing to - for various flavors of right, given the different mindsets of the Rats and the Bats, but nevertheless...

Pratchett does more for understanding other cultures with the Discworld books than any number of 'message' books about how evil racism is, and he does it by stealth.

You, and he, and Sarah, will convert more people than the reams of waste paper (not even good enough to use in the loo) devoted to thinly-disguised sermons.

Amanda Green said...

Sarah, you're right about Heinlein. Unfortunately, you won't find many, if any, of his books on a school library shelf. As for the book your kids want you to write, that would fly through the selection process for summer reading books. That is exactly the sort of thing Sean had to read, and the sort of thing that made him hate having to read anything for school. Again, I thank the English teacher who introduced him to PTerry, just as I thank you and Dave and other Baen writers for showing him there are books out there that can entertain and educate without being painful to read.

Amanda Green said...

But I honestly hope that readers thought it was fun and fast moving and not about message. Typical 'message' books tend to use a sledgehammer on the armor of the reader. I prefer to think the misericord alternative cloaked in humor is more effective. Dave, this is exactly why RBV works and why I add my thanks to Matapam's for what you have given to our kids.

Amanda Green said...

Kate, I love how you put it: stealthed messages stick. This is true, in most cases, whether we're talking about Dave's RBV or another author's works. I think a lot of the problem is that educators and authors think our kids aren't smart enough to get the message if it's stealthed. That's a disservice to our kids in that it fails to recognize just how smart they are and in assuming they can't tell they are being sledgehammered with something. Of course, I do my bit for the environment -- and yes, the snarkiness is turned to high here -- by not buying those books that use the sledgehammer. After all, I'd be afraid to recycle them in case they simply resurrected themselves and once again tried to take over the world.

Dave Freer said...

stealthed message... yes well, while this is another subject entirely, but we need to think about WHY it works better (and on whom). There are various reasons IMO but to be really touchy-feely-new-age ;-) it often works because the reader likes and identifies with character/s which are actually alien to their own life/situation/viewpoint. Ergo, what someone like Pratchett does so well is to identify common threads of humanity. Ergo you like that dwarf/werewolf/troll/cop enough to enter into their point of view - and care about them and what they care about. IMO the direct bludgeon approach is still needed - on the ?20% of kids who are emotionally insensitive and/or stupid. But for the other 80% the reader empathises too well anyway. So they defend themselves by shutting it out.
More weird ideas by Dave: but Ineeded hope and optimism as a child not misery. I could see and be horrified by and oppose misery quite easily without being subjected to repeated deep immersion in boiling oil. That was more likely to kill nerve endings, and encourge retreat, than stimulate and encourage engagement. Cough. sorry. got carried away.

Amanda Green said...

Dave, no apologies. I learn more from reading your comments and your weekly posts than any book on writing. So thanks!

Francis Turner said...

My best friend in school was dyslexic (actually I suppose he still is, but I digress) and since reading was really a challenge for him hated it with a passion. Then some genius of a dyslexic needs teacher found out that he liked John Wayne, Clint Eastwood & co and handed him half a dozen JT Edson westerns.

I think my friend bought every single JT Edson book in print or in second hand bookshops that he could find and that got him over the hump of "hate to read" ...

Me I was weird. I liked "the Pearl" and "To kill a mockingbird" but I suspect in both cases and in other related ones the main reason was I read the book in one swell foop instead of in indigestible weekly mouthfulls. Of course since by about halfway through the book I'd forgotten where the class was I got in trouble for snerking

Amanda Green said...

Francis, I applaud your friend's teacher. Not only did she recognize what the problem was, she found a way to help him work around and through it. Unfortunately, here that option is too often taken away from teachers these days. Too much paperwork and justifications for any action they take that deviates from the approved lesson plan often prevents them from taking that extra step to help a student.

As for what you did, lol. I remember doing much the same. Of course, there were also those books -- coff: The Great Gatsby: coff -- that Cliff Notes saved my bacon on.

Anonymous said...

There are two ways to learn something. (Well, probably more, but . . . )

You can be lectured all about it, Good or Bad.

You can go do it, and fumble your way to some sort of competence. You may not have learned all the technical terms a lecture would have given you, you may not be able to articular the lesson very well. But you'll know it much better than any lecture could ever impart.

I think that's what a stealth message is, in reading. Between the reader's identification with the character, and how the message is delivered to the character, it can have something of that same impact.

Umm, for mental/emotional/intellectual stuff. Honor, love trust that sort of thing. No matter how well done, it can't teach you to play the violin or ride a horse. But it might make you want to give it a try.


Ori Pomerantz said...

I wonder if I can get my kids excused from reading any of the really bad message books on religious grounds.

I truly don't believe God wants us to despair, or to act as victims. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that on religious grounds I am not willing to have my kids learn despair.

It might help that we're probably the only Jewish family in that school, and that people's interpretations of Judaism vary widely anyway.

Ori Pomerantz said...

I think part of stealth vs. sledgehammer is also a question of what you are teaching.

We are naturally resistant to learning attitudes that are preached to us. We all have the experience of preaching that is to the preacher's benefit, especially kids. Therefore, attitudes need to be stealthed.

Skills, on the other hand, can be sledgehammered. For example, Tom Kratman(1) teaches a lot of military-relevant skills, such as practical insubordination(2), realistic training, etc. It looks like he's managing to reach people in his intended audience.

(1) I know, I keep bringing him as an example - but his books do teach things, and have all the subtlety of a nuclear device. This makes him a valuable counter example.

(2) The art and science of doing the right thing despite being legally required to follow the orders of an idiot, and getting away with it. Tom Kratman considers it a very valuable life skill for people in the military, which makes sense given his opinion of officers above a certain rank.

Amanda Green said...

Well said, Matapam. The problem with lecturing at is that so many kids tend to turn you off and tune you out. Lecturing to, be it in person or in a book, can be done in such a way that it engages them and by adding in the stealthing of the issues, you can get a great deal more across to them.

Amanda Green said...

Ori, if your kids are given a reading list from a Texas school that has books on it you disagree with, you should raise the issue with their teacher. Unless things have changed recently, there are alternate books you can choose from. Now, that doesn't mean they will be any less objectionable, but it does give you the opportunity to try to get them something else to read.

What I wound up doing was getting the reading list as soon as I could each year and then reading the books myself before my son read them. That way I could decide if there was a book I was going to challenge. Also, it gave me a chance to decide how to discuss the book with him. So, while he read some books neither of us agreed with or enjoyed, we had a number of discussions that allowed me to reinforce and explain our own beliefs and points of view on the issues the books raised. Sometimes that is as important, or more so, than trying to protect our children from reading books we wish they didn't have to.

Ori Pomerantz said...

Amanda, thank you. What I'm planning to do is have my kids read the beginning of each book, and if they truly detest it they can make the case to me why they shouldn't have to read it.

I'm doing my best world-proofing my kids instead of the other ways around. It helps that we're Jews, living in a Christian environment - we watch VeggieTales and JellyTelly together, and discuss what we agree with and what we don't.

Amanda Green said...

Ori, a word of advice -- and I know you didn't ask for it but I've been there and done that already -- some of the books do start out fine. Case in point, the book that finally sent me over the edge. It wasn't until the last few chapters that things went downhill fast. I know you're as busy as the rest of us. Still, if possible, you (by which I mean parental units) need to read the whole book before the kids do. This is especially true if the books come from the Bluebonnet Books list or any of the other statewide reading lists that seem to be so in favor with Texas schools during the summer. Please feel free to email me off-blog if you want about this. My email is the same here as it is on the Bar.

Ori Pomerantz said...

Thank you for the advice. I'll try to read the books assigned to my kids, or ask my wife who reads a lot more quickly to do so.

However, I'm still not sure how much I should intervene until the kids ask for it. My worry isn't about what they read in school - I've been forced to read books in school too, and I quickly forgot about most of them. My worry is for them to develop mental antibodies for when they get the same messages in a more attractive form.

Maybe I'll make sure my kids know that parental help is available should they need it, and tell them about particular books that I don't like them, and why.

To get back on topic, I think there's a market for YA literature that provides those mental antibodies. I'll want my kids to read the RBV series, but I suspect it won't be very subversive for them.

Amanda Green said...

Ori, I agree completely about wanting to give your kids the tools to deal with the issues presented by these books. However, imo, the best way to do it is to read the books first, or at least to read them with the kids, so you can discuss the topics with them at the time. Yes, there are some topics I feel are inappropriately handled for certain age groups. That is when I will stand up and demand an alternate assignment. However, most of the time, I use these books, or short stories, as learning experiences for all the family.

There is absolutely a market for the books like those we all seem to like in the YA market. I think the issue is to remember that, if we entertain our readers, we can still educate at the same time. But the key is to entertain so the reader wants to continue with the book and, gasp, pick up the next book or story we write.

Anonymous said...

you know what. i had a YA fantasy story i was writing and since i was inspired by joe abercrombie and george r.r. martin, i basically said FUCK YA and twisted everything around. so yeah its YA but it goes against every "safe" instinct you would have. my main protagonist drinks, rarely eats, and is a hardcore cynical person. he also has a psychotic bent (from things he did in the past as a gang leader and having brutally beaten, tortured and even killed his opponets). he also has no problems using guns (he carries two buntline revolvers) and is formidiblein hand-to-hand combat. unlike most YA's where problems can be solved by 'just throwing a few fireballs or flicking a wand' he has to solve crimes and fight hard battles. the world its set in is a steampunk quasi-futuristic crime-infested city modeled after blade runner and sin city. there are also a LOT of brutal action scenes and even a few torture scenes (plus some sex scenes that arent too explicit but are visceral)

yep. im pretty damn tired of the 'witches, wizards and wands' subgenre that seems to have been crapped out of HP's seccess. what im trying to say is, cant YA authors be more confidant and UPFRONT than hiding behind the curtins. you might not think that this kind of stuff would fly but given the advent of dark YA, i dont see how.