Today Steph Sessa is here to talk about YA and why teen stories have such a profound effect on people of all ages. Enjoy!
Hello, Steph, and welcome! Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
Hi! Thanks for having me! I’m a Philadelphia-based writer with obsessions in linguistics, music and ultimate frisbee. When not writing, I work part-time as a linguistic researcher and go to grad school for education. I write primarily YA, particularly speculative fiction, though recently I’ve been dabbling in NA contemporary.
What made you decide to write for young adults?
I think I’m one of the few people who loved high school. Like absolutely loved it. Yes, at times it was tough. But the experiences I had there are some I’ll never forget. It’s the time when everything matters and there’s so many emotions and you feel everything. All the emotions are amplified and part of the reason to read is to feel, so YA was just the obvious choice for me.
You also describe some of your work as speculative fiction — what exactly does that mean?
Speculative fiction is just a broad term for the fantastical genres, so fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, horror, scifi, dystopian etc.
What types of stories does young adult make possible? How about speculative fiction?
So many! YA is the time for self-discovery and new relationships (whether it’s boyfriends or just new friendships). It’s about finding out who you are and how to navigate relationships with other people. Speculative fiction allows the reader to get lost in a different world and to take a break from reality for a second. Readers can discover new worlds and situations that they can’t get in their every day lives. It’s an escape.
Aside from the obvious, what audience do you think YA attracts? Why do you think so many adults love to read YA fiction?
With YA it’s all about the feeling. As I said above, emotions are amplified so everything is terrible or amazing. Insecurities come out in the characters and all readers can relate, because everyone is insecure about something. I think adults like YA because it reminds us of a time in our lives when everything mattered, but we weren’t bogged down with car payments or rent or other boring things like that. It’s about relationships, which really are the most important things in life, and I think young adults and regular adults like to see that.
How does the audience alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?
Everything has to be intensified. Since teenagers tend to have shorter attention spans (as do I!) things have to get going right from the beginning. Tension in the first page, first paragraph, first line. Hooking the reader early on is incredibly important because they might not give the book a chance otherwise. So the plot has start early on or the characters have to be interesting enough for the readers to want to spend 250+ pages with them. The characters have to change from the beginning to the end more prominently, because YA is about growth.
How does YA affect the stakes for your characters and your audience? And speculative fiction?
The problems aren’t going to be the same things I face on a day to day basis. For YA, they’re going to be problems that sixteen-year-olds usually have, so a fight with a friend, boyfriend, parent. They’re inter-personal problems. But including speculative fiction means including scenarios that you might not see everyday because of the setting. So maybe there are different species living in that world that’s hostile, or there’s a dystopian government that affects every aspect of life. So it’s the relationship problems plus a big picture problem.
How do you think your genre affects your audience?
My audience is going to be the people who read to feel and read to get lost in a world. Speculative fiction tends to have a lot of world building which can be a lot to take in sometimes. But it also has the chance to enhance the story significantly. It’s growth and emotions of the main character, with a fantastical plot.
For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?
I read almost exclusively YA, and usually it’s either fantasy or light scifi. I do like contemporary YA as well.
Where can readers track you down?
Thanks for stopping by, Steph!