Brave New World

As a new-fledged YA author, I’ve recently started doing school visits and kid events. It’s been – if I may use the word with aforethought – an education.

I found that I have entered the toughest market of my life – and also the most heartwarming one.  Kid readers will let you know in no uncertain terms if they hate your writing – they haven’t acquired that politeness filter yet that adults will use if they didn’t really like what you wrote but don’t want to offend and end up using words like “nice” or casting around desperately for something – ANYTHING – that they can use to give you some sort of half-sincere bacckhanded compliment. A kid reader will not struggle to finish a book they don’t find congenial. A kid reader will toss the book aside with no compunction whatsoever, and will use words like “Boooo-rrrrriiing!” if they think that the work merits it. They vote with their whole personality and with the trash can, if they believe it’s warranted. You will never get lukewarm from a child.

If they do like it, they will also let you know. They will come up to you with smiles as wide as the sky and these bright glowing eyes and they will breathe, “That was so COOL!” and you feel a hundred feet tall, basking in the warmth of their admiration.

On a recent school visit with a couple of friends of mine – three authors writing YA series sitting there at the head of a gaggle of a mix of fifth- and eighth-graders, one jack0in-the-box kid sitting behind a bunch of shelving and popping up every now and again to offer questions or comments leapt up to tout one particular series of books that she had read and enjoyed – “It was the BEST series, EVAH!” – and then, glancing at the three visiting authors none of whom had written the series in question, added quickly, “No offence!” But then a kid on another school visit came up and shyly told me that she was reading “Gift of the Unmage” for the third time, and man, if you snag them for the re-reads, you HAVE them. I remember favourite books, when I was myself 12 or 13 years old. They were the BEST books, EVAH, and I would return to them like old friends over and over again until they were dogeared and crumpled from being loved… and every now and then I would buy newer, better copies of the books, not to replace my old loved friends but to have a copy in reserve in case one of the true friends really did fall apart on me and disintegrate. I currently own a beat-up compendium paperback copy of “Lord of the Rings” which has been read, oh, I honestly can’t tell you how many times – and I have a nice paperback edition with colour plates by Alan Lee which lives next to it on the shelf and is a testament to the fear that I have that one day my ancient copy will fall into itself in a pile of dust and ashes smelling vaguely of dragons and Middle Earth and my household might find itself Lord-of-the-ring-less. Which is unthinkable.

But although I still do these things as an adult and understand them now from an adult perspective it’s been a rediscovery of the joy of reading to go back to the origins, to see and to talk to kids who might have been me once upon a time. To figuer out what moves a young reader, what leaves one cold, what kind of kid likes to read me and what kind of kid gravitates more to Christopher Paolini or to Twilight (for the record, I seem to attract those who don’t have much to say about Twilight. I’m not sure what that means…) To sit in a classroom or a school library and answer eager questions about things I haven’t thought about for years.

I can see how YA authors stay young. This is a drink from the fountain of youth, and the emotions and responses are still factory-fresh, their colours bright and unfaded by the passing years, their enthusiasms left to run free without check from bit or rein – wild horses on wide plains, where everything is still possible and anything can happen.

I have never had children of my own. I might have thought that I could find myself being awkward with these (other people’s) children, that I did not know how to handle them or that I would be afraid of them and of their candour. Instead, I find myself rejuvenated and re-infected with the power of a child’s enthusiasm. It’s a brave new world, and I am enjoying it hugely.

Perhaps I’ll go on to write that other YA series that’s simmering quietly in the back of my mind.

To the kid-readers, I want to say, thank you. You’ve changed my world. More than you know.

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  1. 1. Phil

    I loved this post! Ms. Alexander, you are a fortunate author, and the kids are even luckier to have you. I teach middle school English, and it’s brilliant to read about young kids enthusing over books. If only more of them did!

  2. 2. Alma Alexander

    Thanks! If you ever decide to try throwing my stuff at your class, there’s now a teachers-and-readers-guide on the http://www.WorldWeaversWeb.com website that you might want to take a gander at…

    And say hi to your kids, from a writer who finds them and their peers inspiring!

Author Information

Alma Alexander

Alma Alexander is a novelist, short story writer and anthologist whose books include High Fantasy ("Hidden Quen""Changer of Days"), historical fantasy ("Secrets of Jin Shei", "Embers of Heaven"), contemporary fantasy ("Midnight at Spanish gardens") and YA (the Worldweavers series, the Were Chronicles). She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two cats. Visit site.

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