Why Write: YA with Steph Sessa

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?

https://twitter.com/stephsessa
http://stephsessa.blogspot.com/

Thanks for stopping by, Steph!

Why Write: Urban Fantasy with Emmie Mears

Said familiar face; Photograph by Colleen Barrett of Blue Tree Photography.

Said familiar face; Photograph by Colleen Barrett of Blue Tree Photography.

Hey readers! As promised, here is the very first Why Write interview! Because Emmie Mears is my critique partner, query-trenches comrade, and generally buddy, she gets to open this (hopefully) entertaining and enlightening series and set the bar for the rest of us. Plus she’s a fantastic writer and keeper of a fabulous blog, so you should listen to what she has to say.

Hello, Emmie, and welcome! You’re a familiar face around these parts, but go ahead and tell us a little about yourself and your work.

I was that kid who moved around all the time. No, we weren’t military. No, I can’t give any great reason for it, other than that we were excessively poor and usually searching for better economic climes. Because of all the moves, I was a child with a painstaking level of shyness, and I escaped into books more often than not. I fell in love with fantasy and horror first — R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike practically raised me to be this nuts. Sprinkle in a bunch of teen babysitters and L.J. Smith’s Night World series, and I can pretty much see my writing preferences forming in front of my eyes.

I first attempted writing sci-fi, then gave up because I really had no idea about space (I was 9). After that I tried epic fantasy, but found my own work so naive that I almost threw it into the woodstove. Finally, I settled into urban fantasy, and I’ve made a nest there. I love grit and darkness with a healthy addition of quirk and humor. I adore writing female characters who rise above their circumstances in some way and who are more concerned with saving the world than finding a boyfriend.

What made you decide to write urban fantasy?

I don’t remember hearing the name of the genre when I was growing up, but a lot of L.J. Smith’s books would probably fit into that genre (though an argument can also be posed for paranormal romance). I love both the ideas of worlds within our own and the supernatural among us, and I’m lazy, so this way the basic structure of our world remains intact (usually).

What types of stories does urban fantasy make possible?

I think that this genre has a very interesting ability to allow for human stories to be told through a supernatural lens. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a perfect example — many of the episodes use demons and apocalypses to personify the struggle of reaching adulthood and beyond. That’s not to say the same isn’t possible in other genres, but there’s a candor to urban fantasy that I like. It’s not afraid to get messy, and it gives me the freedom to explore all sorts of “what if” scenarios. What if you drank a serum that was supposed to cure your boss’s daughter of terminal cancer? What if that boss already had it in for you? What if she was involved in a political conspiracy against your country?

See? FUN.

What audience do you think urban fantasy attracts? How does that audience influence the types of stories you tell and characters you write?

I think urban fantasy readers (like most fantasy readers) want an escape. There tends to be a common element of “chosen-ness” within the fantasy genre as a whole. A protagonist is the only one who can fight XYZ Evil. I think growing up it attracted me because I (the painfully shy) desperately wanted to be chosen for something majestic and terrible and awesome. At the same time, these characters are often deeply flawed, which is something I think people relate to. Most humans don’t like themselves all the time.

I try to write urban fantasy with that in mind, because I don’t think I’m alone in that mindset. If people want an easy escape, they’ll read something less gritty. But urban fantasy readers want that darkness, that gray area. I try to let that breathe in my characters and like to give them problems that challenge what they’ve thought in the past and push them into territory that makes them uncomfortable — and that makes them have to face their flaws head-on.

How does urban fantasy affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?

As you know, *laughs* I tried to write a magical realism novel this winter. I’m so used to the stakes being primarily physical (if you don’t succeed, you and a bunch of other poor sods will DIE HORRIBLY!) that I struggled writing something where most of the stakes were emotional. In urban fantasy, the stakes tend to be very physical AND emotional, but the physical stakes usually drive the plot. When there are literally creatures that want to eat you, well. Stakes. You’ve got them. And you might become them. Or become steaks, anyway.

Why do you think people love to read urban fantasy? How do you think urban fantasy affects its audience?

I think there’s a certain amount of wish fulfillment involved. Urban fantasy protagonists tend to be badasses in larger-than-life conflicts. And who doesn’t want to be a badass hero from the safety of your living room?

I think urban fantasy as a genre can really allow readers to question themselves in a healthy way. I still remember the effect Buffy had on me when I first watched it, or how I felt about Anita Blake’s development and how it challenged how I thought about my own power and my sexuality, or how I could empathize with Rachel Morgan as she discovered things about herself that made her squirm. I’ve grown up in a lot of ways as a direct result of my imagination coming into contact with these characters and these stories. I think other people feel the same.

For funsies, what is your favorite genre to read?

Erm…urban fantasy. Well, any fantasy. Give me magic and creatures and gray areas, and I’m a happy Emmie.

Thanks so much for having me around today, Kristin! *waves to readers*

If you want to track Emmie down, you can reach her via the following links!
Blog: http://www.emmiemears.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/emmiemears
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/emmiemears

Student of history. Gamer. Language nerd. Displaced Celt.

Emmie spends at least an hour a day preparing for or thinking about the zombie apocalypse.

Future calamity notwithstanding, Emmie hunts stories in dark alleys and in stone circles and spends most nights listening for something that goes bump.

Emmie lives outside D.C. with her husband, a husky puppy who talks too much, and a tabby who thinks she’s a tiger.

She is currently mucking up the lives of demon-hunters and mythology professors for her current projects. Emmie is represented by Jessica Negrón of Talcott Notch Literary Services.

Why Write: A Kristinish Kick-Off

As the responses to the Why Write genre questions have trickled and poured in, I’ve been thinking a lot about genre and why I define myself as a fantasy writer.

And of course, if I ask other writers to torture themselves with difficult questions, it’s only fair that I try to do the same. But since I’m queen of this little corner of the internet, I get to take a slightly different approach to the process.

I can’t quite remember how my love affair with fantasy started.

I embrace my own nerdiness.

Actually, that’s not true. I remember exactly how it started, but I can’t remember which particular book kicked it off. It was either Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong, first of the Harper Hall of Pern trilogy,  or Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragons of Autumn Twilight, first in the Dragonlance series—yes, novels based on Dungeons and Dragons modules. I was a nerd in the womb, I suspect.

I was between eight and ten years old.

Barbarians are sexy.

I don’t actually remember which of these books I read first, but I vividly remember coming across Dragonsong in the library of my gifted program. I read it in a couple of days, and then, completely book hungover, wandered down to my fantasy-loving older brother’s room in search of other dragon-filled reading material.

There, on his crowded bookshelves, I found the entire Harper Hall trilogy.

I was a goner after that. I think Dragonlance must have come next; Pern was my gateway drug. From that time on, I read mostly fantasy. I went through that long dragon phase, and after that it was King Arthur, and for awhile it was epics, and lately it’s been urban fantasy.

In discussing Why Write shenanigans on Twitter, I found myself saying, “The need to write is a part of me, like my blood type. I couldn’t not write. But what genre to write—that was more like choosing a friend or a lover. It’s part of me, but it could change.”

For me, that’s true. Maybe some day I’ll write historical fiction. I’ve always thought I might like to try. Or perhaps someday my fantasy tales will cross into horror. But for now, I want to write all across fantasy: epic, urban, romantic.

And in the coming weeks, I’ll tell you why.

Look for a Why Write post from Emmie Mears on Wednesday!