Why YA?

Yesterday I celebrated a birthday that puts me ever further away from my books’ target audience: teens. (There’s a ‘two’ in my age, and let’s leave it at that, shall we? 🙂 ) Despite this, I’m in no way ready to leave high school behind me. Nor am I quite ready to see Young Adult, the 2012 movie in which Charlize Theron plays a jaded, drunken teen fiction ghostwriter:

Even though I’ve been at it since I was about thirteen years old, I’m far from jaded when it comes to writing Young Adult fiction. Why do I love it so much? It’s like the universe. There’s still so much to explore. To infinity and beyond, as the great philosopher Buzz Lightyear once said.

When I was a tween, my eldest sister got me started on Bantam’s Sweet Dreams romance series. (Kiss Me, Creep by Marian Woodruff is on my keeper shelf.) Sister moved on to Barbara Taylor-Bradford’s family sagas and Shirley Conran’s Lace, which I read also, but you couldn’t tear me away from the antics of the Wakefield twins in Sweet Valley High. I happily devoured Judy Blume (Forever – OMG! LOVE!) and Christopher Pike within hours. Not literally, of course, but nonetheless, these books were delicious reads. The writing was so authentic I could swear the authors were teenagers, too. I read those books over and over, and when I got semi-tired of doing that, I picked up a pencil and started writing my own stories.

Tales from the keeper shelf...

Tales from the keeper shelf…

Back then, writing not only kept me out of trouble. (Okay, I was a goodie-two-shoes, anyway.) It was a great escape from the everyday high school horrors. A chance to fix up those real-life situations where I coulda, shoulda, woulda done things differently.

Today, I write YA because it still fits me like a comfy cotton T-shirt. There’s a lot of give in it. You can stretch it, rip it, cry into it. Lord knows I can stink it up, especially in first drafts. Historical, sci-fi, dystopian, contemporary, paranormal—YA can take any direction. Most of all, it’s fun to write YA. Like authors in other genres, you put yourself in your characters’ shoes. In YA, you’re seeing the world through their hormone-affected filters, experiencing first kisses, first heartbreaks, first tastes of independence. Finding a way to put a fresh spin on age-old teen trials and tribulations keeps me young, so I guarantee I’ll be writing YA forever.

 On this day in 1973, “Love Train” by the O’Jays was number one on the Billboard charts:


Are you on the YA love train? What’s your favourite genre and why does it fit you best? Do you know which song was number one when you were born? 🙂



46 responses to “Why YA?”

  1. Vanessa, so glad you found YA. You have such a wonderful fresh, funny voice – and you still manage to pack in stacks of emotional punch too. As you know, I absolutely loved THIS IS YOUR AFTERLIFE! I could tell you what was number one when I was born, but then I’d have to kill you – and as it’s the day after your birthday, that would be a bit mean. Let me lie and say Tainted Love!

    • Ah, there are two versions of Tainted Love that are quite famous, Anna, but I’m thinking Soft Cell’s 1981 recording is most likely! 🙂 I adore that song, btw. You know, one of my keeper books in the pile above is Ally Carter’s I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You.

      Thanks so much for always dropping by and saying lovely things even when it’s not my birthday!

  2. By the way, that film looks AWFUL!!!! Did anyone see it?

    • It got mixed reviews when it was first released. I’m not sure I’m ready for it yet! I did see another film about a writer a few nights ago that I *did* rather like, even though it was uncomfortable at times: The Words, starring Bradley Cooper.

  3. Annie West says:


    Isn’t it great to be writing the books you love? Thanks for sharing the pic of your keeper shelf, btw. It’s always fun looking at other people’s books.

    Through you (I adored ‘This is Your Afterlife’) and others I’ve developed a taste for YA stories but I confess my favourites have to be historical romances and passionate contemporaries (like the Harlequin Presents I love to write). I think it’s the passionate stories, and particularly the strong emotion that makes the HEAs so satisfying for me.

    • Thanks, Annie! I did have a very brief flirtation into women’s fiction, which poor Anna Campbell might remember. She’s glad I stuck with YA, and so am I.

      You’ve got me really curious now, because while I love your contemporary stories, I would love to read an Annie West historical. Please tell me you’ve got one in the pipeline — unless of course it’s another “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you” kind of secret. 🙂

  4. Happy Birthday Vanessa!
    I’m not exaggerating when I say you really don’t look a day older than when first met you which was quite a few years ago! Maybe the reason you are so in tune with YA is that you have sipped on a wondrous youth potion…

    Although I read very widely across a range of genres and sub genres, including YA written by clever people like you, contemporary romance and women’s fiction suits me as a writer.

    • Awww, you are so good to me, Kandy Shepherd! I owe it all to good genes, sunblock and a steady diet of YA books. 🙂 Seriously, contemporary romance and women’s fiction suits you and your voice to a tee, and I love that you always find a way to bring a four-legged character or two into your stories. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  5. Happy belated birthday, Vanessa! 😉
    Loved this post. I completely agree about YA keeping you young. That’s one of the reasons I not only write it but read it. There really is something special about all those firsts–first friends, first kiss, first love. It’s a world filled with such possibility.
    I have never seen that movie…really have to put that on my list.

    • Thanks for the birthday wishes, Kim!

      Your comment takes me back to a line I’ve always loved in your bio about living each day as if something wonderful is just around the corner.

      How about you watch that Charlize Theron movie first and then tell me whether or not I’ll find it too scary. You know, like you did for The Conjuring…which is too scary to watch. 🙂

  6. June Love says:

    Happy belated birthday, Vanessa!! Honey, as long as you’re young in your heart, then who cares what the numbers say. At least, that’s my story. 🙂

    I admire anyone who can write YA. I can barely remember high school, much less be able to write about those teen years. My small graduating class had a reunion last year, our first in XX years. It’s amazing how much age can blur those lines that are drawn back then. No distinctions whatsoever. And, don’t even get me started on perceptions. lol.

    You are one talented YA author, Vanessa, and YA is lucky to have you in their corner.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, June! You sure know how to make a girl feel extra special on her belated birthday. 🙂 I agree with you about staying young at heart. I’m certain reading and writing YA helps with that. 😉

      I do remember reading about your high school reunion. It reminded me of my XXth reunion a few years back! It’s funny — I slipped back in with my old gang and it was just like being in high school again. Fortunately it was in a good way!

  7. Vanessa, fun to have a peak at your keeper shelf! I adored anything with a horse in the story and science fiction/fantasy when I was in my teens – boys and romance were low on the reading list! I devoured Thunderhead and My Friend Flicka and the Dune books and Lord of the Rings. These days though I’m an equal opportunity romance reader – all genres!

    I’m with Anna on sharing the number one hit for the year I was born – I could tell you but I’d have to kill you! But out of curiosity I had to go and have a look – it was surprising to see how many of the top 25 hits we still hear occasionally today!

    • “Equal opportunity romance reader” — LOL, Sharon!

      The songs that were in the top 25 when you and Anna were born in the ’80s are still being played today. 😉 I was in a hipster bar last Saturday night, and the DJ played Duran Duran’s Hungry Like the Wolf. Bliss.

      I never got round to Dune, I’m right with you there on the horse stories! Before I turned boy-crazy, I was totally horse-crazy. 🙂 It’s hard a bit to see, but at the base of my keeper pile pic, there’s a copy of the Black Stallion. It’s a newer hardcover edition, but with the original 1947(?) dust jacket design. I’m champing at the bit to re-read it for the 1,947th time!

  8. jbrayweber says:

    So proud of you, Vanessa! I think it is so very important to find the genre that you love and that best suits you as a writer, and run with it! And you’ve done just that!

    The number one song when I was born? Tear of a Clown by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. That was a looooong time ago.

    Happy birthday, m’dear!!! (((hugs)))

    • Jenn, that’s so true. Half the battle is finding your genre. It’s closely interlocked with finding your voice as a writer, too.

      I absolutely adore Smokey Robinson and Motown in general! That song’s going to be my lullaby tonight.

      Thanks for the birthday wishes and kind words. x

  9. Happy Birthday, Vanessa!!

    Even though I myself don’t write YA, (and am waaaaaay to far away from it chronologically to grok that mindset) I LOVE to read it. I started reading YA so I could stay up on what my tween daughter was reading, and then, like her, I let myself read for pleasure’s sake alone. 🙂

    Even though my daughter is now chronologically more “new adult,” she prefers YA, mostly because, like you, it’s been her touchstone and ‘safe place’ during those tumultuous teen years.

    So keep writing your marvelous YA tales. They are so important to the kids who read them!

    And for information’s sake, the #1 song when I was born was “Poetry in Motion” by Johnny Tillotson. There’s one from the vault. 🙂

    • Ooh, Poetry in Motion is such a cute song — teen pop of its time.

      I think it’s wonderful that you and your daughter shared YA books in this way, and that you still love reading it! I can relate to YA as a safe place, both then and now.

      Thanks for the birthday wishes, EE!

  10. Tamara Hogan says:

    I’m so old that YA didn’t exist when I was young – unless you count Judy Blume’s first books, which I…somehow didn’t get around to reading. 😉 I hopped right from Nancy Drew/Trixie Belden/Little House on the Prairie to the adult stacks at age 10, where I read everything I could get my hands on. Fantasy, romance, science fiction…there were fewer genre distinctions back in the day, and frankly that’s something I miss.

    I think the book that clicked for me as a future paranormal author was Anne Rice’s “Interview With the Vampire”, which was released in 1976, when I was in junior high school. I was…enraptured. The world-building, in particular, just blew me away.

    The number one song when I was born? “Walk Like a Man” by The Four Seasons.

    • Tammy, I *loved* Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew. Again, I was influenced by my older sister — I owe a lot to her. Today’s teens are so lucky to have a genre aimed squarely at them. I was lucky to catch that initial wave of teen fiction when I was young. Or younger. 🙂

      Thanks for sharing a number one song from your birth year! Just for you, here’s a little clip of Robert Downey Jr and co singing Walk Like a Man in one of my most fave ghost-ish films, Heart and Souls:

  11. Kim Law says:

    OMG…the clothes, the hair…the DANCING in that video!!! It all reminds me of the Charlie Brown Christmas show when they’re dancing toward the end. So fantastic!!! And no. No, no, no, no, no. You’re NOT saying that that’s the year you were born, correct? Because…just…no!

    And now I want to go read Judy Blume again. I was a big fan, but there weren’t enough books like that when I was a teen. Or I couldn’t find them! I’ve thought about trying to write YA, though. If I’d had a good story idea I might have tried it already, but so far nothing has come to me. Also…I’m not sure I *want* to relive all those emotions. There were just so many. And all over the place!

    But I would enjoy the challenge of it.

    And now I must go look up what song was topping the charts when I was born…

    • Kim, isn’t that video super cool? I’d love to know where all those groovalicious dancers are now. I actually do love that song, so I’m glad it was number one the day I was born in 197…….

      Oh, Judy — I re-read her books every couple of years. Her stories stand the test of time. I think you would do GREAT in YA. You’ve got the voice for it, plus you’re fun and youthful. Go for it!!!!

  12. Elisa Beatty says:

    Happy, happy birthday, Vanessa!!!

    I work with teens everyday, and that phase of life, halfway between childhood and adulthood, really is a fabulous, energetic, hopeful, anxious, imaginative, pure-potential time of life.

    And lord knows they need wonderful authors like you to help them process life and growth and pain and love….

    Young adults are wonderful, and so is YA!

    • Thank you so much, Elisa! And the world needs wonderful educators like you!

      I love writing YA for exactly those reasons — testing that blurry boundary line between childhood and the rest of your life. You’re excited, petrified, curious, experiencing all kinds of heightened emotions all at once. At least, that’s what it was like for me, and I remember feeling that way like it was yesterday.

  13. I hadn’t heard of that movie, but it certainly strikes home with all those fears of growing older too fast. I confess, it’s a fear I’ve been tackling lately, trying to take every day one day at a time and enjoy life.

    And OMG, Sweet Valley High – loved that series! But by high school, I had moved into mysteries, thrillers and horror novels like Stephen King.

    And (I had to look it up), “You’re so Vain” by Carly Simon was number 1 when I was born. I had a good laugh at that one, especially considering my first comment above. ;P

    Happy belated birthday!! We’re only as old as we feel, right??

    • That’s right, Anne Marie! And thanks to YA, I’m feeling half my age. Maybe YA books really are the fountain of youth!

      Sweet Valley High — oh, that was such a fun series. It had a huge impact on me. Years later I came across a tribute blog called the Dairi Burger (which, you might recall, is also the name of the Wakefield twins’ favourite hangout.) The blog has some very funny reviews/recaps of the books —

      You’re So Vain is such a great song. I always wondered who she had in mind when she wrote it!

  14. Laurie Kellogg says:

    I must confess I only read YA for about 30 seconds in sixth grade because there wasn’t that much written for teens in the seventies, so graduated right to Harlequins, Victoria Holt, and other adult novels.

    My freshman year I remember attending a special homeroom session at the end of the day for report card distribution. I was immersed in reading the end of Erich Segal’s Love Story and started sobbing my heart out, never realizing the teacher had laid my report card on my desk. The guy who sat in front of me picked it up and said, “What the hell are you crying for, idiot? You made the honor roll!”

    By the time I finished high school I’d graduated to Harold Robins, Kathleen Woodiwess, and Rosemary Rogers.

    I think it’s wonderful there’s so much literature available targeted for tweens and teens today thanks to authors like you!

    • Laurie, I simply can’t imagine growing up with out YA fiction, so I really feel for your teen self! Still, it sounds like the books you could get your hands on were a good foundation for your future career as a writer. I feel like such a philistine — I’ve not yet read Kathleen Woodiwiss. So many romance authors have told me they started writing because of her. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  15. Elizabeth Langston says:

    I’m like Laurie; I read Victoria Holt and Harlequins in my teens.

    My high school years sorta slipped past me without me noticing them–and that’s why I write YA (I think.) I’m creating the high school years I didn’t have. (Every YA that I write has a high school dance in it–because I never went to one.)

    And Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” was number 1 when I was born (’cause I’m really old!)

    • Thank you for sharing the number one song at the time of your birth! A fine year and a mighty fine tune. 🙂

      Ohhh, you never went to a high school dance? I love that you get to live them out in your books now. Isn’t that the wonderful thing about writing, not just in YA but in general?

      Today I write YAs set in the US because I *dreamed* of living there when I was a teenager. In Australia, in my school at least, there were no Friday-night football games, no dances except the Year 12 formal, no school newspaper. You couldn’t get a driver’s licence until you turned 17. The world seemed very grey compared to the colourful high school microcosm I read about in Sweet Valley High!

  16. Pintip says:

    Happy birthday, Vanessa! It’s one day later, and we’re still celebrating.

  17. Kate Parker says:

    Happy Birthday, Vanessa. I know you write such super YA because you’re so close to those days yourself!

    I have no idea what was playing on the radio when I was born because they didn’t have lists back then. My kids would say they didn’t have radio then, but that’s not true.

    • Aw, that’s very kind of you to say, Kate. 🙂

      LOL to your kids’ comment about the radio! I’m sorry to say I’ve made cracks like that to my mother. Isn’t it weird to think that there’s now a generation of young people who were born after the internet was invented? That blows my mind. #Randomthoughtoftheday

  18. Amanda Brice says:

    This is a great post. Happy belated, Vanessa!

    I write YA bc it’s fun. I love all the firsts. Teens wear their hearts on their sleeves in ways that adults never do.

    My high school class is organising our 20th reunion for this summer. I started writing YA (switched from Chick lit) not too long after our 10th. At that time, hs still wasn’t too far back. Now? Well, sometimes it feels like I’d do better to write picture books, since that seems to be most of my reading these days with two preschoolers in the house. LOL

    As for the #1 song the day I was born was Hotel California by The Eagles!

    • Thanks, Amanda, my YA friend! YA *is* so much fun to write.

      Why not try your hand at picture books while your kids are enjoying them? Then you can move on to writing middle grade when they’re in middle school, YA when they’re in high school… You can see where I’m going with this! 😉

      Have a great time at your reunion.

      The Eagles toured here a few weeks ago — they’re living it up and still going strong!


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