Why I Write YA

Youth is wasted on the young.

~ George Bernard Shaw (maybe)

If you Google: “What would you tell your younger self” you’ll find literally hundreds of articles written by people of all ages and professions. You’ll see articles written by 65-year-old astrophysicists and articles by 26-year-old postdoctoral students all wishing to speak to some version of their past selves. You’ll see photographers, and writers, and presidents all with a message to send to a version of themselves they wish they could go back and nurture.

Writing young adult fiction is a bit like that. I’d like to sound romantic and say my writing is a love letter to my younger self, but if you’ve read my writing, you’ll understand why that’s not actually very romantic (or true). What my writing really is, or what I strive to make it, is a quiet narrative of reality. From the fantasy author, yes, I know.

I was recently asked by an interviewer if I had things I wanted to say with my writing. My answer to this is emphatically yes. I think every writer does, whether he/she/they knows it or not (arguably, not knowing it is much more dangerous than embracing it). And because what I want to say with my writing has so much to do with things I believed as a teenager, it only seems to make sense I would write young adult fiction.

This is also probably why I have such a fascination with trope bending. Tropes, to me, feel a lot like stories that aren’t fully fleshed out. A little like me as a teenager. As a teenager, I was a plot-driven story. Lots of things happened to me, but I didn’t have much agency. I wasn’t driving my own story. As a consequence, I fell into a lot of tropes (and I’m not talking about the fluff tropes like love triangles and enemies-to-lovers, I’m talking about the big, problematic tropes).

Rejecting tropes flat-out, however, seems like avoidance. I’m kind of tired of avoidance. I’m driving my own story now. I have agency. I want to confront the beasts I had to battle during adolescence, and I’m encouraged to see so many young adults in the community rattling sabers as well. Tropes may never be a part of their stories, and that’s an amazing thing to witness.

But for me, there are still things I need to address. There are things about myself I’d like to go back and change but can’t. Truths I wish I’d realized sooner. These ugly realities, while not romantic, are what you’ll find in my writing. My writing is not a love story to my younger self, nor is it a pep talk to young adults. My writing is ugly and scarred. It’s about battling the beast inside of you. It’s taking an incomplete story and filling it out, then turning it upside down.

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Broken Girl Cured by Love: On Tropes and the Lies They Tell

Author’s Note: For the past few days I’ve been in Tennessee at a workshop hosted by Madcap Retreats about writing cross culturally. It was an incredible, eye-opening experience, and I’m only sharing a snippet of what I learned there, so I highly recommend you participate in one of their workshops if you ever get the chance to. 


There are ways to create narratives of hope that don’t feel like a lie.

~ Leigh Bardugo

To fully understand this post, you’ll need to watch this video (there’s also a transcript, but if you can watch I recommend doing that).

The idea of a single story is (obviously), not mine, but over the weekend, it was one of the concepts that hit nearest my heart. There are single stories for every marginalized group of people. In the video, you’ll hear some of them. During my workshop, I heard others. I’m not going to talk about the stories of others, because you should listen to their voices for that. What I am going to talk about is what the single story for me has been, why it’s hurtful, and why that matters to your writing (and mine).

For those who might not follow this blog regularly, I’ll start by telling you that I’m a self-published author. My debut novel, The Wheel Mages, is a young adult high fantasy. I’m a twenty-nine year old, cisgender, heterosexual, female. I was raised outside of Philadelphia. I’m privileged. Most people would not think of me as part of a marginalized group. Mostly, I don’t think of myself that way.

I do, however, suffer from complex post traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia. I have an invisible marginalization which I can usually hide, but it affects every aspect of my life.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined as a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional or physical trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape. (Source). PTSD and CPTSD are slightly different in that PTSD can result from single events, or short-term exposure to extreme stress or trauma whereas CPTSD is generally associated with long-term trauma. That said, most people don’t know what CPTSD is, so I typically tell people I have PTSD.

When I do “out” myself, the most typical question that follows is, “What war?”

This is the single story in action. (If you haven’t watched the Chimamanda Adichie video or read the transcript yet, go ahead and do it now. Here’s another link. Seriously, it’s that important.)

PTSD is most often associated with veterans. That’s the single story literature, television, and film have created for us. And because of that single story, my experience somehow seems less valid. When I don’t play into people’s perceptions or expectations, my experience is diminished. Surely, I must be faking it. Surely, I must be overly sensitive. Surely, nothing can be as traumatizing as war. Surely, my experience doesn’t matter.

For years, I resisted fighting against this narrative because it felt like fighting against veterans who have PTSD. The single story of PTSD made me feel like I had no right to voice my own experience because by telling my story I was challenging their story. This is not, however, the case. I’m not challenging the narrative at all. There are veterans who have PTSD. But there are people who are not veterans who have PTSD as well, and their stories deserve to be told too. We can tell multiple stories without threatening others. We, as people, deserve more than a single story. We deserve more than two or three or ten stories. Every story gives us a fuller life experience.

The above example is contemporary, but the single story concept extends beyond as well. It permeates every facet of literature. In fantasy, especially young adult fantasy, there is another single story narrative pertinent to PTSD that’s repeated over and over, and it is this: Broken Girl meets The One and is fixed through the curative power of Love.

This narrative hurts me. It is a dangerous lie.

Growing up, I often escaped to fantasy worlds to help me cope with what was unraveling around me. I still do. But especially as a young reader, I internalized much of what I read. And this narrative, the “Broken Girl Cured by Love” narrative, buried itself deep. So deep I didn’t realize how much it had shaped my behavior until this weekend, and to be honest, I’m still trying to untangle a lot of it.

What I have realized, however, is that I truly believed I could be cured by love. In fact, up until recently, one of my primary criterion for a partner was that I could spend a night with him and not suffer nightmares. I was sure that somewhere out there someone existed who would save me from my nightmares. This internalized narrative that I picked up from fantasy books is harmful to me in real, tangible ways.

One of the ways my PTSD manifests itself is through touch aversion. When I’m touched (especially by a stranger), I experience physical symptoms. My heart rate rises, my breathing shallows, I become dizzy, I grind my teeth, I sweat, my pulse hammers in my ears so I can’t hear properly. Often, I freeze, completely debilitated by terror. Sometimes, I lash out, verbally or physically. This is not a comfortable feeling.

Yet, because of the Broken Girl Cured by Love narrative, I’ve put myself in this position time and time again. I’ve retraumatized myself  while I search for The One To Defeat The Nightmares. I’ve spent nights with men I was revolted by hoping that this time I’ll find him. This time, the Magical Cure Love will save me from my PTSD. I’ve numbed myself with drugs and alcohol while I try to find The One Who Wields the Cure Love, hoping that when I do I’ll be able to be touched without the need for chemical alteration.

It has not and will not ever happen. Love is not a cure for PTSD. That doesn’t mean there isn’t hope; it simply means this narrative is not the “hope” people like me need. The lie of this single story has damaged me, and I don’t think it takes much extrapolation to understand it could damage other people, or to see the damage done could be more extreme than it has been in my case.

One of the main takeaways from my weekend workshop is that words are powerful, more powerful than we might realize. As writers, we have a responsibility to our readers and that is to tell the Truth as best we can. It’s not easy, and it’s not always pretty, but it is our duty to try, to put in the work, and to hopefully do no harm.

There is no such thing as a single story of the human experience, and it’s far past time we stopped trying to tell one. As Daniel Older told me over the weekend, “It doesn’t have to be sexy.” I suppose the Truth hardly ever is.

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