Wrestling with Themes – Part 3

Judging Appropriateness

There are a number of factors that work against me as an author of mostly Young Adult fiction. That can impact acceptable themes in a big way. First of all, I have been inundated with criticisms about portraying nude people and kids who are talking about both nudity and sex.

I suppose this comes about for two main reasons.

Number one, I portray real people I knew during my career as a school teacher. They are portrayed in a way that if they personally read my stories, they will never recognize themselves. I am careful about naming characters, describing characters physically, and portraying real events as they actually happened. All of those things are fictionalized and made unrecognizable through imagination’s magnifying glass.

But the emotional plots, character thoughts, and basic motivations behind real events are accurate assessments of things I was told, things I witnessed, the highs and lows that people really go through, and the discussions I have had about what people, and especially kids, really think about.

Some of the people who read and comment on and even review my books are taken aback at what I am saying kids actually think about and want to act upon. They are comparing kids to an unrealistic, idealized picture of what they believe kids should be. And they don’t want to accept them as they really are.

I write books for the twelve-year-old me.

The Young Adult category of books is written not for children, as many of my critics would have it, but for YOUNG ADULTS. I foolishly believe, then, that I am talking to an audience of teens and preteens who desperately want to read stories about people just like them, confused about the adults they are swiftly turning into. And not all the issues and secrets and desires they are contending with daily are simple, cute, and funny.

I myself was dealing with being a sexual assault victim when I was twelve, not having at that point been taught where babies actually come from, or accurately being told what sex factually was. Misinformation I had in abundance. And everything was colored by a self-hatred that made me burn myself on the heating grate every time I had any sort of sexual urges that I didn’t understand and believed would send me directly to Hell.

Nudity and Naturism are Natural to me

So, as a bookish boy, I really wanted to have a book, or even multiple books that spoke to me about the things that I feared and fed my manic-depressive behaviors.

My life was literally saved by the Methodist minister who was also the father of my best friend when I was twelve. He was the one that presented the facts of life to me and the members of my class who were between the ages of eleven and thirteen. He explained the facts about what sex was, how it worked, and how it could be a good and loving thing. And most importantly, he answered my question about whether thinking about sex would send you to Hell. Midwestern Methodists in the 1960’s were progressive about teaching kids the truth about sex.

I feel now an obligation to treat the subject the same way when it comes up as a theme in some of my stories.

Sex is a serious subject even for young teens.

I got a scathing review on Sing Sad Songs because, while talking about sex, young characters actually admitted to experimenting with sex. The reader was so offended she felt the need to tell everyone who reads Amazon reviews that I was practically a child pornographer. KDP scrutinized this and kinda punished me, lowering the number of stars given by reviewers on two different books, even though punishment is not what their policy indicates is appropriate. This, in spite of the fact that there was no graphic sex scene or concrete descriptions of sex acts in the text. I edited the offensive part out by changing a few words. But it was a thing that shouldn’t have been a thing. Other YA novels, even classic YA novels, do more explicit things than I talked about in the unedited version of the story. It was a prude having an overreaction. And I would’ve loved to have a story with what I wrote in it back when I was a child burning the skin on the back of my legs and lower back over the thought that having sexual thoughts made me a monster.

I am aware that in a book-banning climate currently, my books could be banned.

I am aware that having a transgender character and numerous nudist characters, including a book, A Field Guide to Fauns, set in a nudist park, opens me up to having my own stories become controversial and the subject of book-burning conversations. But this is a thing all authors have to deal with in any case. Popular authors, classic authors, hard-working mid-level authors and other mostly-ignored authors like me all deal with the same thing.

What I write about is not evil and not unprecedented. Others write about the same things I do, some of them better than me, some of them not.

Obviously I need to return to the Hometown Novel timeline to complete the 1990’s in Part 4 if this essay. So, you have been warned.


Filed under autobiography, good books, humor, novel writing, Paffooney, publishing, writing

3 responses to “Wrestling with Themes – Part 3

  1. When I hear young adults, I think 18 to 20s. They are young and they are adults. Hence “young adults.” Logical, right?

    However in the bizarre alternate reality that is the academic literature community, “young adult” stops at the age of adulthood. Those people are adolescent, not adult. Maybe the young adult literature label is really to make them feel grown up when they aren’t. “Adolescent lit” doesn’t sound as interesting.

    Of course adolescents think about issues thought of as adult. That’s because our thinking is wrong. Sex and drugs and booze and violence are NOT exclusively adult topics. (I never thought about sex MORE than when I was between 12 and 18.) It’s our repressive Puritan heritage that falsely tells us that if we do not mention these things to minors they won’t be aware of them and therefor not tempted to them.

    It is our refusal to talk honestly about such topics that leads many kids into disastrous situations.

    • Thank you. I think you hit the nail right on the head. It should be called”adolescent literature” instead of “young adult.” And that last sentence you wrote sums it up perfectly.. They want to read stories that help them figure out how to become an adult, not protect them as if they were all innocent and helpless children.

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