What's On The Web: The Contemps - Author Interviews

Yesterday RT spotlighted a newly launched YA website, The Contemps, which is run by a group of twenty-one authors who love contemporary YA fiction. (Learn more here.) Today we go in-depth with some of these authors to get their take on what’s going on in the YA sub-genre that they love so much. Authors April Henry, Denise Jordan, Mindi Scott, Courtney Summers, Melissa Walker and Sara Bennett Wealer share why they write YA novels, which titles introduced them to the genre (ahem, Judy Blume, ahem) and they list their favorite recent contemporary YA reads!


Why are contemporary YA stories so important? What do they offer that readers may not get from other genres?

Denise Jaden: Part of the reason I'm a writer is because it helps me connect on a deeper level with others. I think contemporary books are perfect for doing that, as they hit at areas that are very real to us all.  

Mindi Scott: Paranormals and such can be great for using metaphors about growing up, whereas contemp books just give it to you straight!

Courtney Summers: They're important because they ask and explore the kind of questions and situations we all ask and go through at some point in our lives. There's something very powerful and personal in seeing that reflected in a book.

Melissa Walker: Books are such a safe space where readers can "experience" new things that may come up in their lives (heartbreak, love, death, substance abuse, etc.). When you're looking at people who are facing real-life challenges and dealing with them in a human way, that helps create a skill set for you to deal with the same things. For example, I read Sarah Dessen's The Truth About Forever right after my dad died suddenly, and I just felt like it helped me grieve in a totally tangible way. 

Each teen's journey is so different, when writing how do you find common ground that large groups of teens will be able to relate to?

April Henry: Realistic YA lit has great built-in obstacles: falling in love for the first time, coming of age, prom, homecoming, cliques, finding out who you are, peer pressure, family dynamics, dealing with parents’ divorce, etc.

Denise Jaden: We may all have different situations in life, but emotions, the ups and downs of life and how we process them, those are universal. Even though I don't often write from my own history as far as experiences, I definitely do write from my own emotional history, and I believe that's what keeps my stories authentic and easy to relate to.

Mindi Scott: This is kind of mysterious and unintentional, I have to say. I think the reason it happens--when it happens--is because even if a reader's personality and experiences are vastly different from the character's, the emotions are still universal.

Courtney Summers: I think to find that common ground, you have to be as emotionally honest as possible.

Melissa Walker: The details are different, but the epicness of teen emotions and experiences is very universal. It's a time of the highest highs and lowest lows, a time of firsts and impulsiveness and adventure. Though the situations and specifics vary, there's something very universal about that "coming of age."

There are many different types of contemporary YAs. The spectrum runs from very sweet coming-of-age stories to books that delve into the gritty and hard core plots including themes of abuse, sex, drugs, rock and roll, etc. What types of books do you write and why is this your chosen style?

April Henry: I write mysteries and thrillers, so there might be some violence and definitely some tense situations.

Mindi Scott: My writing falls more in the gritty category simply because I find that those are the stories I need to tell. 

Sara Bennett Wealer: I tend to write about relationships between girls, and often the tone is sort of brooding and wry. I tackle topics like rivalry and the way that friendships can get tricky, sometimes ugly. I write about these things because they’ve stuck with me from when I was a teen. I don’t write about events that actually happened—it’s more like I’m exploring how and why something might have happened. Fiction is a great way to tease apart an issue and look at it from all sides.


When you write more "mature" types of books, where do you draw the line as far as your topics go? As a writer for teens, do you ever find yourself walking that tightrope trying to figure out how much is too much for your audiences? 


April Henry: I was doing a school visit in Texas when a kid asked me why I had used "the B word" in Shock Point. I realized I didn't have a good answer for him. Since then I have made a conscious decision to not use swear words. For one thing, librarians and teachers might have to choose whether to fight for these books - and maybe even risk their jobs


Don't get me wrong, I think there are times authors should be more blunt. There are important books that deal with tough issues - like teenage pregnancy - that have vivid, evocative language. I write books that are predominantly meant to entertain, so I draw the line to include as many readers as I can.


Mindi Scott: I definitely find myself questioning how far is too far. In the end though, the characters and story have guided me. I leave it up to my editor to tell me if I need to tone things down, but so far that hasn't happened. 


Sara Bennett Wealer: My books have some swearing and drinking. A couple of the books that aren’t published yet have some sexual content. When I’m writing, I don’t really think or worry about whether what I’m doing is “too much.” If it feels right for the story, I put it in. I know what teens are doing. Even if they aren’t doing all of that stuff, they know people who are doing it, and that’s just part of life for them. I don’t write about really gritty things, like drug use or suicide or eating disorders, so I’ve never had to ask myself whether something crosses the line. I just try to be true to what I know a regular kid experiences on a typical Friday night or as she navigates relationships with friends and guys.


When you were growing up, what book solidified your love of the YA contemporary novel?


April Henry: There actually wasn't a lot of YA around when I was growing up, at least not in my tiny hometown. My first job was at a public library, and when I was supposed to be shelving books I would sometimes hide in the stacks and read Judy Blume novels


Denise Jaden: I didn't read much when growing up, but the only books that still stand out in my mind from that era are by Judy Blume. Are You There God, It's Me Margaret is probably the most memorable.


Mindi Scott: Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt


What is the contemporary YA novel that you are currently loving?
April Henry's Pick

Denise Jaden's Pick   Mindi Scott's Pick   Courtney Summers' Pick  
by DL Garfinkle
Laurie Halse Anderson
  Looking For Alaska
by John Green
  The Lighter Side of Life and Death
by C.K. Kelly Martin

Get More Information About These Authors:

April Henry's next novel Girl, Stolen will be available at the end of the month. Learn more at AprilHenryMysteries.com.
Denise Jaden's first YA is titled Losing Faith and is available now. Learn more at www.denisejaden.com .
Mindi Scott's debut, Freefall, will be available in OctoberLearn more at Mindiscott.com.
Courtney Summers' third title, Fall For Anything, will be available in December. Learn more at Courtneysummers.ca.
Melissa Walker's next novel, Small Town Sinners, will be available in March 2011. Learn more at www.melissacwalker.com.
Sara Bennett Wealer's debut novel, Rival, will be available in February 2011. Learn more at www.sarabennettwealer.com.