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Book Related Banter > Internal vs. External stories?

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message 1: by Damon (new)

Damon Suede (damonsuede) | 8 comments I have a question about YA romance.

I was discussing the recent explosion of YA romance in mass market fiction and I notice that many titles capturing the world's imagination tend to focus on paranormal or speculative worldbuilding (Twilight, Pretties, Evermore) often as a way to push internal crises into external adventure.

In contrast, older YA novels now considered classics tended to be very introspective personal journeys and coming of age books (partially because that's what was popular in 1970s and 1980s publishing). In addition, current YA novels get more racy and provocative because cultural shifts and the pop culture temperature.... does that trend splash into YA M/M?

How much do you think the recent YA explosion was kickstarted by the paranormal boom of the early aughts? And though the abovementioned titles are mass-market MF, do you think YA M/M has the same *ahem* bent? Do YA M/M titles have the same pressure to explore other worlds or is the same-sex component dramatic enough without adding "trimmings" to a story? For that matter, are YA M/M and YA gay romance the same thing?

I'd love to hear people's takes...


message 2: by Lori (new)

Lori  (moderatrixlori) As someone who started reading again after reading the Twilight series, I'd have to say that I definitely think the increased popularity in YA was kick started by not just the paranormal boom, but by Twilight in particular. Twilight got a lot of adults reading again and a lot of us went on to search out other popular YA series like The Immortal Instruments and the Gemma Doyle series. It also prompted a lot of us to move on to adult paranormal books, The Sookie Stackhouse series, Black Dagger Brotherhood, etc... I would never would have picked up a YA book if not for Twilight.

Just like adult paranormal M/M books are still very popular, young adults want paranormal Y/A M/M books to read too. How many of us wanted Edward and Jacob to hook up and dump Bella? I don't think kids always want to read contemporary "coming of age" or "coming out" stories. I think there will always be a demand for paranormal, fantasy, sci-fi books regardless of whether it's m/f or m/m.

I use the term "Gay" in a generic sense so to me, gay romance could include lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered characters. M/M pertains only to two men/boys. If the question was "is there a difference between gay romance and gay literature?" then I'd say that a gay "romance" book has to meet certain criteria that a book classified as gay fiction or gay literature does not. Mainly that the main focus is the relationship between the two gay main characters and that there is a HFN or HEA ending.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm also one of those adults who got back into reading fiction because of Twilight. And Twilight fanfic got me into reading m/m romance.

I think there is a definite emphasis on paranormal in YA. Whether that is due more to reader demand or publisher desire to have "the next Twilight," I'm not sure. It's there, though, no denying it.

There is also an ongoing debate on how much sexuality is appropriate for YA books. I follow several YA authors on Twitter, and the topic comes up all the time. One author in particular is Maggie Stiefvater, who wrote Shiver. She has sexually active characters in her books, and she's discussed that a few times on her blog.

A lot of publishers who are looking for GLBT YA say they don't want coming out stories but rather stories about young adults who happen to be gay. I just don't know. Maybe it's because when I was a young adult (a very, very long time ago) the overwhelming issue for my gays friends was coming out or not. Can you write a realistic contemporary YA m/m romance without coming out at least being part of the story?


message 4: by Lori (new)

Lori  (moderatrixlori) Kerry wrote: "Can you write a realistic contemporary YA m/m romance without coming out at least being part of the story?..."

Coming out or becoming sexually active is one of the most angst inducing issues kids go through. I think it would be very difficult to write a contemporary romance without addressing that. In genres other than contemporary, the focus can be on other issues...like avoiding getting sucked dry by your hot vampire boyfriend (and not in a good way) or becoming kibble for the sexy wolf next door.

How much sex in appropriate in a YA book is such a hard question to answer because it is so subjective. I really struggle with knowing which books are appropriate for the group bookshelf. I have not been able to find any clear cut guidelines at all. There may not be any.


message 5: by Damon (new)

Damon Suede (damonsuede) | 8 comments Great points all...

Kerry, I do think coming out is overrepresented because of the part t plays in the lives of young peopel today, but at the same time, it IS such a massive part of the landscape.

And Lori, the issue of sex is another one I tink about. Twilight and the other paranormal YA titles sidestep some of the issues of explicit intimacy by refuguring it as paranormal experiences (being bitten, converted etc) I wonder if there is room in YA fiction for somethign similar: a paranormal handling of distinctly gay issues which sees them through an imaginative lens.

Meyer managed to make virginity and abstinence sexy by adapting vampire mythology. s there something similar in the wings for YA M/M?


message 6: by Darkm (new)

Darkm | 171 comments I think that the new paranormal trend has been started by Twilight mostly. I read the series and didn't liked it to be honest.
To me virginity and abstinence in Meyer's books was something a bit senseless, at least to that extent.
I understand that in Y/A romance books there can't be too many sex but I don't know how close to reality would be total abstinence today.

Coming out and becoming sexually active are two things that shape people's life, I think books should address those issues.


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Damon wrote: Do YA M/M titles have the same pressure to explore other worlds or is the same-sex component dramatic enough without adding "trimmings" to a story?

Maybe, to some extent, there's some pressure, especially from kids who're coming out to a society that's growing more tolerant. I'm friends with one sixteen-year-old gay kid who loves reading, and while his family life isn't quite perfect (their acceptance of his sexuality is something akin to a tightrope walk, and his parents still blurt out insensitive things here and there without realizing it), he's not really fond of reading contemporary realistic fiction for kids like him. He loves historical fiction, fantasy, paranormal - just about every genre out there, as long as gay kids like him are front and center and well-represented as main characters and heroes.

Another gay teen I'm friends with is more fortunate with his family's acceptance (they even let him go with his friends to the recent SF Pride celebration), and while he's read coming-out stories, he much prefers gay teen romances as well as gay teen fantasy. One bisexual girl whose mother I've met through fandom has never experienced problems with her parents, who also happen to be very religious, and she loves reading anything and everything, as long as young gay characters are represented well in fiction.

And if those are just three kids, how many more out there feel the same way about LGBT YA novels they read?

When I first started publishing, one of the things people said to me was "Please, no more dead gay kids!" and "Please remember that not all parents of gay kids are monsters!" I've taken those to heart, which is why I write the kinds of novels I write (genre fiction for LGBT teens), and I prefer to leave coming-out stories to those who can do a far, far better job at addressing those issues in their books.

I mean, I'm straight, and I've never gone through what these kids go through. I don't think I'm in any position to take on their heartaches and their hopes effectively. So I prefer to offer them alternative, escapist reads that, hopefully, make them feel good about themselves in other ways as well as enjoy going outside what's familiar. And I know that other writers of genre LGBT YA fiction have their own reasons for choosing the subjects that they specialize in.

What I noted above is mine. :)

I don't think that coming-out stories will go away. They shouldn't because they fulfill a very important role in kids' lives in every new generation of readers. But LGBT YA fiction should also reflect shifts in social values. And that's why we're starting to see more and more publishers take on genre fiction with LGBT teens (or books that are sometimes described as "stories whose main characters happen to be gay"). The foci of these stories go beyond what we've long expected from LGBT YA fiction. From the fears of coming out and rejection to the strange ghostly apparitions upstairs and the magical world caught inside a mirror, for instance, we're starting to see a widening range of fiction that LGBT kids can enjoy.

If anything, genre stories have become necessary complements of realistic contemporary coming-out fiction. How else, for instance, can gay kids see themselves as normal people to counterbalance their daily experiences that most of their peers don't share or understand (i.e., their sexuality)? One good method is to be represented in popular fiction in ways that aren't any different from their straight counterparts, IMHO. So with every heterosexual wizard out there, there's also a gay wizard growing up with his own adventures. Now whether or not his sexuality actually dictates the nature of his story is up to the writer himself.


message 8: by Lori (new)

Lori  (moderatrixlori) Great post Hayden. Do the publishers give you any guidelines on how explicit the sexual content can be and still be considered YA? Does the fact that the two MC's are gay make even a kiss something more than a kiss would be between a boy and a girl?


message 9: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 28, 2011 09:22AM) (new)

Moderatrix Lori wrote: "Great post Hayden. Do the publishers give you any guidelines on how explicit the sexual content can be and still be considered YA? Does the fact that the two MC's are gay make even a kiss somethi..."

I've only published with Prizm and Cheyenne so far, and Prizm is very strict about on-screen sex. There can be very indirect references to the sex act if the characters do it, but they're definitely aware that this is an issue that can be explored - just not in the level of detail as adult M/M fiction. I make several references to used towels sometimes. They made me take out one line that went "I came in my pants." The most "adult" treatment of sex that I managed to get away with with Prizm was a scene where the characters have already done it, and they're lying in bed, one of them sleeping.

The closest I've come to being sexually explicit was with my book with Cheyenne, where the character fantasizes over someone and masturbates to that. I was allowed to skirt the limits with that book, and I think a couple of reviewers found it more explicit than usual in YA, but most didn't.

I think by and large, small presses will work with the individual writer as to how far sex scenes can go, but for legal reasons, I think, they're not allowed to go far.


♥Laddie♥ (Lee Lee) The issue of sex in any type of YA book is an interesting one.

I recently went to a retreat and on one of the panels there was an adolescent physician. She made a wonderful point that ignoring sex where teens are concerned is more harmful than helpful.

Basically, teens are having sex whether adults want to acknowledge it or not. If we just ignore it in real life, on television or in literature then how are these teens supposed to learn how to be sexually responsible?

Should books and media make it seem like having sex at a young age is the thing to do? No, but there are ways to write a book with sexually active teenagers and make it clear that if a teen is choosing to have sex that they need to be safe and responsible about it.

Explicit sex scenes are not necessary when writing a YA book with sexually active characters. Personally, I don't want to read the details of teens having sex. It would make me uncomfortable. I can see where parents would not want their child reading something like that. You can teach responsibility without crossing over into titillation.


message 11: by Darkm (new)

Darkm | 171 comments Laddie I totally agree with you. Read explicit scenes would make me uncomfortable too but there are ways to hint at them without crossing the threshold to adult books.

I believe that teens have sex regardless if their parents agree or not and It's way better to have them informed and able to be in a safe environment that just have them do it hiding.


message 12: by Pickles (new)

Pickles (angstypickles) Laddie wrote: "The issue of sex in any type of YA book is an interesting one.

I recently went to a retreat and on one of the panels there was an adolescent physician. She made a wonderful point that ignoring s..."


Well said, Laddie!


message 13: by Anne (new)

Anne Tenino (annetenino) Damon wrote: "Great points all...

Kerry, I do think coming out is overrepresented because of the part t plays in the lives of young peopel today, but at the same time, it IS such a massive part of the landscap..."


I've only read about half the comments here, but I find this whole discussion fascinating. What I think is interesting is what M/M YA books I read, and what I get out of them. I read lots of coming out or religious struggle books. I can't help thinking, though, that if I were a young questioning (or certain) kid, I would read the fantasy for the escape.

And I also think not putting sex in YA books is unrealistic. Maybe I'm nuts. Or a defeatist.


message 14: by Justin (new)

Justin South (justinsouth) | 79 comments Laddie wrote: "The issue of sex in any type of YA book is an interesting one.

I recently went to a retreat and on one of the panels there was an adolescent physician. She made a wonderful point that ignoring s..."


So true Laddie. Avoiding the topic, as Anne stated is unrealistic, and unhelpful.


message 15: by M.J. (new)

M.J. O'Shea (mjoshea) I think it's not a matter of it not being there at all, it just has to be innuendo, fade to black, or very glossed over. I spent four years teaching junior high school and have read pretty much every mass market YA book up to the end of 2006, which I stopped teaching, and they pretty much all have sex in some form, if not in the story itself at least alluded to.


message 16: by Anne (new)

Anne Tenino (annetenino) I think innuendo is fine, but pretending kids don't have sex is nuts. I say this as the mother of two kids, 9 and almost 12. Sex has very clearly entered the building. Not actual, physical sex, but the 12-year-old in particular is starting to understand the "adult" comments we make (might need to curb that...) and I know she and her friends are talking about it.


message 17: by Darkm (new)

Darkm | 171 comments Anne wrote: "I think innuendo is fine, but pretending kids don't have sex is nuts. I say this as the mother of two kids, 9 and almost 12. Sex has very clearly entered the building. Not actual, physical sex, ..."

I agree.


♥Laddie♥ (Lee Lee) Also, if YA authors are going to put sex in their books then they need to not only need to stress sexual responsibility, but to show all sides of what can happen when you're sexually active.

Things like unplanned pregnancies, STDs and abortion shouldn't be ignored either. They also shouldn't be used as a scare tactic. The full reality of sexual activity needs to be represented in the YA genre whether the characters are LGBT or heterosexual.


message 19: by Anne (new)

Anne Tenino (annetenino) Laddie wrote: "Also, if YA authors are going to put sex in their books then they need to not only need to stress sexual responsibility, but to show all sides of what can happen when you're sexually active.

Thing..."


So true. One of my favorite M/M YA books is
Screwed Up Life of Charlie The Second. The sexual content in there is somewhat explicit, but it's not romanticized. Actually, I'm not entirely sure you can call this a YA book.


message 20: by Zach (new)

Zach M (zachm) | 28 comments i think having explicit sex in a YA book is kinda crazy. I mean I would be so disappointed if a book i was really enjoying suddenly turned into a big old porn. I think the author can imply the sex without being graphic or make sure they approach the subject with some dignity. we don't need the dirty details just the point that the characters have reached that point in their relationship.


message 21: by Lori (new)

Lori  (moderatrixlori) Thorny wrote: "I'm thinking Something Like Summer is not YA at all. It might start in high school when they're both (I think) 18, but it ends like 10 years or more later. And all the explicit sex ..."

Thanks Thorny. For now I've added it to the "sexually explicit" shelf but let me know if you think it should be removed all together.


message 22: by Sunjay (new)

Sunjay Hauntingston I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that in some way literature requires some basis in the experience of real life.

Based on that, I would suggest that YA romance-containing fiction (regardless of the main characters' gender identities) would include both stories with and without sexual encounters. Not every real relationship for teens involves sex, so it's perfectly reasonable that the relationships within fiction include both sexual and non-sexual romantic relationships.

(I'd back up my impressions with data but the internet doesn't seem to care about facts as much as vague opinions.)

IN ANY CASE as a reader of young adult fiction (I guess since I recently turned 18 I'm not actually a young adult reader), I think there would be a market for paranormal teen romances that happened to feature same-sex couples. I have yet to hear of any that fall under that description apart from manga, though.


message 23: by Anne (new)

Anne Tenino (annetenino) Stereophonic wrote: "I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that in some way literature requires some basis in the experience of real life.

Based on that, I would suggest that YA romance-containing fiction (regardl..."


Some of Mark A Roeder's Gay Youth Chronicles have paranormal story lines, in particular Altered Realities and The Vampire's Heart. Unfortunately, those are probably my two least favorite of his books.


message 24: by K.Z. (new)

K.Z. Snow (kzsnow) Weeeelll . . . I just wrote one, and it seems to me (since I was once, back in the mists of history, a young adult), issues like sexual identity/activity, self-image, and shifting relationships are paramount. Ben Monopoli did a superb job of exploring these in The Cranberry Hush.

I've recently read a number of GLBT YA or coming-of-age novels (is there a difference?) and the most insightful and affecting ones did't cloud the waters with paranormal storylines.


message 25: by [deleted user] (last edited Aug 06, 2011 11:29PM) (new)

Stereophonic wrote: "IN ANY CASE as a reader of young adult fiction (I guess since I recently turned 18 I'm not actually a young adult reader), I think there would be a market for paranormal teen romances that happened to feature same-sex couples. I have yet to hear of any that fall under that description apart from manga, though."

As a writer of genre fiction in LGBT YA, I can attest to the fact that paranormal (or any other "non-realistic") fiction for LGBT teens remains a tiny niche, and the only standard-bearers we have seem to be limited to writers whose books are published by mainstream presses (Malinda Lo, Perry Moore - with Perry Moore's untimely death, we only now have Lo for the most recognizable name).

The main "purveyors" of fantasy/sf/horror/historical fiction for gay teens are mostly small presses, and they suffer a great deal of stigma among mainstream YA review blogs. I've gone through the rounds, looking for people willing to review my new releases, and except for maybe three people I know off the top of my head, everyone won't touch anything that's published outside the big name presses from New York.

So if no one's heard of books from, say, K.L. Richardsson or Dakota Chase or Jon Wilson, etc., it's because of the marketing struggles we small press authors constantly face.

There's some movement, to be sure, in the direction of recognition and - dare I say it? - respect for genre fiction for LGBT teens lately, but the debate continues in some corners. Over at Twitter, a recent discussion about coming-out novels and their place in contemporary LGBT YA fiction brought out a great deal of hand-wringing among some folks who were afraid that realistic fiction for gay teens is on its way to being usurped by genre fiction in which issues surrounding the characters' sexual orientation aren't front and center.

I guess my main beef in these discussions is the weird notion that fiction is a zero-sum game, i.e., that with the acceptance of genre fiction for gay teens comes the fading out of coming-out novels. Why is that? It doesn't make any sense. If anything, realistic/contemporary coming-of-age stories tend to receive more attention (among reviewers) as well as outsell genre fiction for gay teens. In addition to that, there's always, always room for anything and everything for gay teens of every taste.


message 26: by K-lee (new)

K-lee Klein | 40 comments K.Z. wrote: "Weeeelll . . . I just wrote one, and it seems to me (since I was once, back in the mists of history, a young adult), issues like sexual identity/activity, self-image, and shifting relationships are..."

You wrote a YA book, KZ? Is it out yet?


message 27: by K.Z. (last edited Aug 07, 2011 01:00PM) (new)

K.Z. Snow (kzsnow) K-lee wrote: "You wrote a YA book, KZ? Is it out yet?"

The novel is The Zero Knot and it's coming out in mid-October. I'm not sure how to categorize it. The main characters have all recently turned 18 (with the exception of a 16-year-old girl), and, because it's erotic romance, maybe could more properly be called a coming-of-age story. I'm still foggy about the distinction, if there is one.


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