When I was a kid, my two favorite authors were Judy Blume and Lurlene McDaniel. In fact, it was these ladies who inspired me to want to write in the same genre. Both wrote realistic young adult novels but were vastly different which is what I loved about them.
The first novel I remember reading from Judy Blume was Are You there God, it’s me Margaret? From then on, I read everything written by Judy Blume. I loved the way Blume was willing to tackle sensitive issues without sugar coating them. When I read her novel, Forever, I was thrilled with the fact that she was willing to portray teens having sex in a way that I thought was realistic yet tasteful.
Lurlene McDaniel novels never depicted teens having sex or even swearing. Instead, they focused on tough issues teens were facing, typically having to do with an illness or death. One thing you could usually count on in a Lurlene McDaniel novel was that someone was probably going to die, often a teen character. Her novels took readers on a journey with the characters, showing teens how to cope with a crisis.
When I became a writer, I pursued my passion of writing realistic young adult novels like the heroes of my teen years. By the time I produced my first novel, I was told realism was out and fantasy was in. Though I wrote some fantasy novels, I never let go of my desire to write realistic novels. I wanted to give teens characters and stories that reflected their feelings and struggles, and I wasn’t going to shy away from the realism. Teenagers kiss and cry and curse and sometimes they have sex and do drugs. To omit those issues in a novel targeted toward teens meant omitting the ability to connect with them. That’s not to say every novel I write contains graphic sex scenes with wild orgies or out of control parties where the booze and drugs overflow. Instead, I let the story be my guide.
Such was the case with my first young adult novel, Like You Mean It. The story was actually written seven years before I uploaded it to the internet, and it was a bigger hit than I expected. Readers felt a strong connection to the characters of Darren and Danni and their struggles to find love in the face of adversity. Since the crux of the story centered on Darren losing his arm after spending his entire high school life as a popular jock, I felt it was important to show how he learned to overcome the resulting body image issues and insecurities. While Darren and Danni didn’t have sex, there was an intimate scene.
Most readers embraced and understood this scene. A few have not. Just the other day, the novel got a one star review on the grounds that it was a “nasty” book. With the anonymity afforded by the internet, I don’t know the age or gender of the reader or what they took exception to. The review was too vague and didn’t explain what made it nasty. For all I know, it could have been a generalization about my writing, but I have to assume it was the reader taking exception to my teen characters being intimate.
As a writer, I stand by what I did. I won’t apologize for it. All I can do is forge ahead and hope that there are more readers who are understanding and accepting of what I do. Those are the people I’m going to focus on because they’re the ones who can appreciate what I do and what I’m trying to achieve. Whether it's a one star review or a five star review or somewhere in between, I stand by my work.