Monday, August 15, 2011

Welcome YA Author, Jo Ramsey

Writing young adult fiction isn’t easy. I’ve heard from people who believe it’s easier than writing “real” fiction, or who think that it’s simple because “you’re writing for kids.”
First of all, young adult is real fiction. I’ve read young adult novels with plots much more complicated than what I’ve seen in adult fiction. Some books deal with issues that adult fiction doesn’t touch. And as for writing being simple because it’s for kids? Trust me, teenagers don’t want “simple.” They want something realistic and authentic. They’re looking for stories that catch their attention and keep it, and for characters that sound like real teenagers even if they’re being written by a forty-one-year-old.
I’ve seen some authors of adult fiction say that they plan to write a young adult novel, and that it won’t be hard because they just have to make the characters younger than the ones they usually write. Wrong again. Teenagers are more than just “younger than adults.” Their brains work completely differently from adult brain. (I’m not just saying that; it’s science.) They have their own subcultures that may or may not have anything to do with the adults around them. They talk and think differently from adults, and if you take an adult character and say he’s fifteen just so you can call your book young adult, teens will notice. And they won’t be happy about it.
I’ve been writing young adult fiction since I was a young adult myself. I wrote my first book-length manuscript—longhand in a spiral notebook; I didn’t even own a typewriter at that point, and this was before computers were widely available—at age twelve, and wrote nineteen more from then until I graduated from college. I haven’t forgotten what being a teenager is like, but that doesn’t mean I rely on my own memory to create convincing young adult characters.
I taught in high schools for a number of years, which gave me an opportunity to observe teens in the wild, so to speak. And now, even though I no longer teach, I have a 16-year-old daughter, and she and her friends are more than happy to give me “teen tips”, and to tell me when my characters just aren’t cutting it.
Not all of my characters are typical teenagers, though. Jonah Leighton, one of the main characters in my Reality Shift series, is a sixteen-year-old boy chronologically, but he talks and thinks like a centuries-old guru. He’s what you might call an “old soul.” But that’s part of his character, and the teens who have given me feedback on him like him better than “normal teen” Shanna Bailey, the other main character. They don’t mind that Jonah doesn’t sound like a typical teen because he isn’t supposed to, and because that’s a consistent part of him.
If you’re curious about how well I do in writing books for young adults that young adults will actually enjoy, please check out my Reality Shift series and my series The Dark Lines, both urban fantasy series available from Jupiter Gardens Press. Currently books one through four of Reality Shift are out. Book one of The Dark Lines is out, with book two coming in September.
To find out more about me, including my Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube links, check out my website at


Margaret West said...

I think writing adult books is hard full stop. So well done you for writing YA. I enjoyed reading about you.

Morgan Mandel said...

You do have to own a certain mindset to write YA. I don't have it myself, but when I read a great YA, I enjoy it as much as one aimed at an adult audience.

Morgan Mandel

Kim Baccellia said...

I totally agree. I hate when I hear people say that YA books are dumbed down. That's insulting to teens. I love writing for this market and also love reading and reviewing this genre.

Jo Ramsey said...

Thanks for hosting me yesterday, Ginger! I apologize for not getting here for comments; I came home from a convention with a cold and "brain fog" and didn't have much chance to be online.

Just a small brag: I found out late last week that Midwest Book Review recommended The Black Bridge and called it "a compelling work of modern fantasy." I'm kinda flying high about that!

Thank you, Margaret :)

Morgan, sometimes I think I write YA because my mind has gotten stuck in the teens. LOL

Kim, exactly. I've heard too many people say that (one is too many!), and there are so many great YA books out there that are more complex and engaging than some adult fiction. Last night I started reading Alex Sanchez's Bait, planning to read just a chapter or two before bed, and couldn't put it down till I finished it. It's been a long time since an adult novel did that to me.

J Q Rose said...

I think YA books are entertaining and action-filled. They appeal to me. I tried reading a few after Kim B. suggested titles and was happy I did. Expanding my reading horizons...

Cheryl said...

Great article, Jo. I enjoy YA books, and many of them deal with tough issues. It's a great market to write for.

Best of luck,


Andrea said...

Great post! You are so right about what it takes to write for the YA audience. They will definitely tell you when they don't like what you're writing, or when a character just doesn't seem like a "real teen." Thanks for sharing :)

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