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Thursday, June 23, 2011


Turns out maybe I have been revising too much?

I don't care if my books are considered "literary" fiction, though I do kind of hate the "YA" designation -- my characters at ages 14-16 may not know everything about themselves but one thing they are all pretty certain about is that they are NOT young ADULTS.

Maybe people in the book world realize that and that's why we don't say Young Adult anymore; we say YA. Which maybe just means YA now, kind of like we're all cool Canadians ironically questioning (Why, eh?) or like the SATs. SATs stopped meaning Scholastic Aptitude Tests a few years ago when everybody had to agree the tests didn't test aptitude. So then SAT was retrodefined and suddenly stood for Scholastic Achievement Tests, but then people were like, wait, do these tests actually gauge scholastic achievement? Urgh! So everybody gave up and said, okay fine, it means SATs. SAT stands for SAT and just shut up and sharpen your number 2 pencils, wouldja, ya smartalec kid thinking you're smarter than other people?

I'm actually not a big fan of the "Middle Grade" designation either, which to me sounds more like a type of gas somewhere between Regular and Premium ("fill it up please with the Middle Grade") or a porn category ("No, Aunt Tillie, what I write isn't really Hard Core; well, no, not exactly soft focus romantic either; kind of, well, Middle Grade.") Or, most devastatingly, it sounds like a value judgement -- like, at a dinner party if Jonathan Franzen started declaiming about how what he writes is firmly in the High Art Literary Tradition, and then the host turned to me and said, "Hey Rachel! Are your books in the High Art Literary Tradition, too? Or do you write a bunch of crap just to kill trees and brain cells?" I would have to mumble, well, neither I suppose, my stuff is more, um, middle grade.

Okay, well, maybe that's fair, on second thought. Because that is totally what I would say whether I happened to be writing for kids or not.

Because while I think it's important to write the best sentences you possibly can, and to revise them as much as necessary until they are as good as you can make them (and please, no hiding behind well it's just for kids, doesn't matter if I don't get the exact right word YES IT DOES MATTER!) your words and sentences and characters and most importantly your stories should be sharp and fine and exactly right, whether your intended reader is 10 or 50, a pimply ninth grader or a gorgeous brilliant New Yorker Editor -- I also think it sucks to be a pompous ass.

Rachel Vail

1 comment:

  1. Agh! I've missed these posts. I'm catching up, I promise.

    I, too, have been thinking about the labelling of YA and middle grade and once again, you're totally right! I have stories that are about girls in high school, but their stories are adventurous and clean--- a "middle grade" read for young adult readers. Well, that's what my eldest sister referred to it as when she read the first draft. I had to stop myself from screaming "Are you kidding me?!" because, isn't it unfair that the YA category seems to only belong to the books about sex, drugs, and rock and roll? Isn't it unfair that a book about something daring and, essentially, just for fun has to be labelled something else?

    I honestly want someone to point out the statistics that ALL young adults act like X, Y, and Z. Someone to tell me that a middle grade book isn't just as phenomenal as a book written for adults. Because the last time I checked my local Barnes and Nobles, Harry Potter was hanging out in the 7-12 year old section of B&N Jr. And look how far that "middle grade" birdie flew.

    Great post, Rachel,
    Deserae McGlothen