Monday, July 24, 2017

#RebelliousWriting -- What's it All About?

You may have noticed this little badge in the sidebars of both my blogs.  If you have, you may have wondered what it means, aside from obviously being a call to writers to write clean YA books.

Basically, it's a movement started by a couple of bloggers.  A couple of US, in other words.  A writer called Gray Marie started the ball rolling in this post by calling for others to join her in praising and supporting clean books, especially those aimed toward teens and young adults.

I first learned about #RebelliousWriting from this post of MovieCritic's, which led me to this post from Farm Lassie, then to Gray Marie's original post, and that very day, I added the badge to my sidebars.  But, having been so busy with my Gatsby read-along and so on, I haven't had time to talk about all this until now.

I have three kids.  My oldest is nine, and he loves books.  His reading level is somewhere around 5th or 6th grade, but I have a hard time finding him books that he likes that I'm okay with him reading.  Happily, he loves the Chronicles of Narnia and the Boxcar Children and Beverly Cleary's books, and he loves to re-read, so most of the time he just re-reads a book he loves or reads another one by an author I know we can trust.

But other times he wants to try a new book, and I'll have to flip through it first because... even in junior fiction and middle-grade fiction, I sometimes run up against things he's not ready for!  Or things I object to!  I mean, I picked up Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor in the junior fiction section of our library a couple of weeks ago because I wanted to read it myself, it just looked so cute.  And in my review, I discussed how I loved that book a TON... but I won't let him read it yet.  Partly because it has a girl dealing with the onset of puberty, and I'm okay with that being in a book, but I think it would gross him out -- he's NINE, after all.  But mostly, I won't let him read it because there's an adult male character who has a boyfriend.

In a book aimed at grade school kids.

What even?!?

And I think back to books I loved in my tweens, like The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks -- I adore that book, it's still one of my faves.  But it has several bad words in it.  Several!

Then when you get to YA books, it's like hey, let's just open the floodgates and let all the sewage in, shall we?  Just this week, I quit reading the book The Espressologist by Kristina Springer, which is about high school students and presumably written for them to read, because it had too much bad language in it.  And folks, I read grown-up books.  I can handle bad language in them.  I very much enjoy Lee Child's books about Jack Reacher, which are full of adult stuff.  Very adult stuff.  (But not graphic sex, I don't go there.  Keep that door closed, thanks.)  But in a YA book, if it's got adult stuff in it of any sort, I will probably quit reading it because... it's almost like I'm retroactively undermining my own innocence.  Which probably doesn't make sense, but there it is.  Also, the language in The Espressologist was primarily taking God's name in vain, and I am NOT okay with that.  In fact, I will put up with all manner of obscenities far more tolerantly than I will a "mild" case of taking God's name in vain.

I always think of myself as a clean writer.  No cussing.  No sex scenes, though I do imply sometimes that consenting adults go to bed together -- that's in some of my Combat! fanfiction, which can also get violent, though I try not to write anything they wouldn't have shown on the original show in the mid-1960s.

But I now also write YA fiction.  I mean, I hope adults enjoy it too, but I do write with teens in mind. "The Man on the Buckskin Horse," my story in Five Magic Spindles, was basically YA-level.  And clean.  My new book Cloaked has a sixteen-year-old girl as a protagonist (because "Little Red Riding Hood" ought to be Not An Adult, don't you think?), and I rather expect that most of the people reading it will be in their teens and early twenties, just because that's probably who will be most interested in a book about a sixteen-year-old.  And I'm keeping this book clean, too.

So this whole #RebelliousWriting movement is important to me as a reader, as a mom, and as a writer.  And if clean books are important to you too, get involved!  #RebelliousWriting is getting its own website in a couple of weeks.  You can find details here for now, and you'll also find lots of links to cool blog posts and so on from the official Pinterest account.


  1. I don't know if my writing is YA or adult. I kind of feel like it's YA? Because the characters tend to be in their teens or twenties? But I don't know for sure. I don't know how one defines the genre.

    I do know some of my writing can be quite weighty as regards tone and subject matter--like, in my WW2/Holocaust novel, grief, depression, PTSD, and suicide are running themes throughout. It's not violent, but it's really dark.

    I definitely agree with you about graphic sexual content--it is Not Necessary, in either a YA book or an adult book.

    I do include mild swearing, sometimes, if I feel it's appropriate for the scene and the characters. I haven't put any in my Rooglewood Press story (there I'm relying on vague descriptions like 'he cursed'/'he swore,' because of the stricter age guidelines), but I have put some in my WW2 novel; because it's so intense and dark anyway, trying to keep it completely clean as far as language goes doesn't seem like a logical choice. Also, I don't want to hamper my characters--there are times when I think to myself, "okay, he/she WOULD say this, in this situation," and then I let them say it. But again, it has to stay mild; it can't get too dirty.

    1. Jessica, the two easiest ways to tell if your story is YA are 1. there's a teen protagonist, and 2. there's a coming-of-age element. Either one of those might mean it's YA. There's not really a "definition" for the genre. Weighty subjects abound in YA. Teens have Big Problems too, after all.

      I try to keep my books to the level of a 1950s movie. If you wouldn't hear it or see it in a '50s movie or a '60s TV show, I don't include it. That's my own personal standard. I've seen plenty of war movies with zero cussing in them that were plenty realistic, so I don't generally buy the "oh, this is what real soldiers talk like, so it's fine" reasoning, to be honest. Do real soldiers cuss? Some of them, yes. Some of them, no.

    2. Yeah. That's what I was sensing, too, that there's really no clear definition, although there are general guidelines. "All the Light We Cannot See," for example, is definitely a coming-of-age story with teen protagonists, but I can't see anyone classifying it as YA; I think it very much belongs in the adult category; although I couldn't clearly tell you why. Same for "The Chosen." (Maybe it's really just a "feel" thing? Maybe a book either has to FEEL like it's YA, or FEEL adult?)

      I definitely respect that standard. I don't think I'd use it, myself, because I . . . don't really like any 50s movies or 60s shows I've seen so far; they are GOOD in their own way, but they're not for me (judging by my track record so far). I love 80s films and 90s shows, essentially.

      Yes. I agree that you don't actually need cursing to achieve situational realism for a war movie, etc. Because you're right--not all real-life soldiers curse. I've never seriously written anything about soldiers in a military situation; all my "war stuff" so far involves Jewish fugitives and off-duty Resistance workers, and both parties swear at certain moments--but it's not because "they're soldiers and they need to," it's because I feel that these particular CHARACTERS, as characters, would say these things. And it's not a male/female divide, either; both the women and the men in my stories have been guilty of cursing on occasion.

    3. Jessica, I think in the end, the subject matter and the marketing campaign often are what determine whether a book is YA or not. And that "feel."

    4. Hm. I think I'm gonna go with my gut instincts, then, and say my current novel is probably not YA. It just doesn't "feel" like YA to me.

  2. Thank you so much for writing a post on this! And thank you for the shout out!

    I definitely agree with all the things you say here! I can stand some bad language, but I, too, cannot stand it when people take God's name in vain!

    It is so crazy that there are things in junior books that are adult level, I am fine with some of those things, but like your son, I just don't want to get there yet. When I am comfortable with those things, or prepared I will read books with things (Never the graphic sexual content!) then I will.

    Thank you again so much for doing this post!!

    1. MC, thank YOU for bringing this movement to my attention!

  3. Sounds like a really neat movement. I've had a lot of trouble finding good, clean books from the library YA section, and admittedly I've read through some questionable stuff because I figured it was still better than the other books on the shelf. As for your son, has he read Farmer Boy? It might be an easy read already, but it's a good story. I think The Door in the Wall was a good book too.

    1. Abby P., yeah, I'm pretty excited about it. I'm working on a post for my book blog about clean, YA-friendly books, and I'm thinking I might do a page there where I start keeping a record of them too, just for people who want ideas of new things to read.

      I LOVE The Door in the Wall, and Farmer Boy was my fave Little House book when I was a kid. Sam has read the first, but didn't like it. I read the second aloud to the whole family last fall, and we all enjoyed it :-)

  4. I am so impressed by this post! As a grandmother and teacher of middle school students I am appalled by some of the books out there even in our school library. I hope this movement spreads among you young authors.

    1. Thanks, Mom! Yes, it's really crazy that these books are just deemed "okay." Time to change that.

  5. This probably deserves to be a post on a blog rather than a comment. First, I congratulate you on sticking to your principles. One can only hope that the proverb is true about raising your children in the way you want them to go.

    I don't recall what I was reading at age nine, but I can tell you it was a bit more hard core than "Dick and Jane". My mother told me that when I was in Head Start (something similar to kindergarten) that I read at a 6th grade level. I know by the time I reached jr. high I was reading adult fiction. I don't remember a whole lot of that either, though. My parents let me read, and didn't govern too strongly what I was allowed to read and what I wasn't. And I grew up OK... I guess.

    I do remember, once, looking up from reading a book when I was about 10, and asking in all seriousness... "Mama, what's a whore?" My mother just about freaked and yelled "WHAT ARE YOU READING?!!!" (I was reading "The Cross and the Switchblade", BTW. A book about the true life ministries of a Christian preacher witnessing to the gangs in New York.)

    So yeah, a good conscience in what they read is important. My take might be a bit more lenient, but I admit to not being as deeply ingrained in my faith as you seem to be.

    1. Quiggy, it works as a comment too.

      I was a fairly sheltered child, but I remember clearly one instance when I was a preteen where a book I got from the library made me so uncomfortable that I felt the need to tell my mom I wasn't going to finish reading it, and why. I sailed through an unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo when I was 11 with nary a quibble (but most of the stuff about drug use and so on flew over my head at that time), but there were some things that made me say nope, I don't want to read that.

      I read The Cross and the Switchblade when I was in high school. I don't remember much about it besides being disappointed that it wasn't more like The Outsiders.

      In the end, everyone has a certain sense of what they're comfortable with, what they can in good conscience read. As I have become an adult, my standards have become much different -- maybe lowered, or expanded, or whatever. But when it comes to movies and books aimed at kids... I want them to be cleaner than they often are. Plenty of time when you're an adult to encounter distasteful things and figure out what you think about them.

      Thanks for discussing this!

  6. YAY!! You've officially joined!!

    Yikes! Some of that stuff is now in MIDDLE GRADE literature??? Good about indoctrination.

    Thank you so much for this post, I'm putting it up on the team Pinterest as we speak!


    1. Indeed, I have, Catherine! Yes, I was so saddened and annoyed by finding that. Especially because I loved the book so much. Sigh.


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