Monday, October 3, 2011

Peeta envy, or why I'm a jealous old fogey.

Now that we’ve shared those cringe-worthy teenage rites of passage, I get to kick off our next topic: how inspiration from our youth still shapes the fiction we write today. And since every decent writer is also an avid reader, I’m going to discuss the maturity level of what I read as a teen.

Kids today. They don’t know how good they’ve got it, what with their newfangled smarty-phones and their computers and their iPods and shit. Don’t even get me started on the internet—wish I’d had Professor Google at my fingertips to help me find the answers to those pesky US Government questions.



Okay, I jest. I don’t really envy the absence of technology in my youth, but I’ll tell you what teens today have that I would have given my left boob for a couple decades ago: a plethora of modern upper YA titles.
For real, teens, do you know how lucky you are? I strolled through Barnes & Noble last week and realized the YA section dominated the store, rows upon rows of dark, sexy covers promising enough mystical, romantic adventures to provide a decade of escapism. YA existed back in my day, but it hadn’t blossomed yet, and teen readers like myself had two basic choices: read up or read down.

I chose up. Way up. At thirteen, I started reading JRR Tolkien, Stephen King, and *gasp* Jackie Collins. I can distinctly remember huddling around a copy of Hollywood Wives with my prepubescent friends, giggling and groaning “Ewwwww!” during a rather graphic oral sex scene.  Okay, so maybe I wasn’t mature enough for adult romance at the time, but there was no Edward Cullen or Jacob Black, no Etienne St Claire, no Gale, and certainly no buff-n-sensitive, flour-sack-tossing Peeta. If a girl wanted some fictional lovin’, she didn’t have many options.

So I spent my teen years reading bodice rippers, and I graduated to Cosmopolitan magazine while most of my friends were still reading Sassy. (Is that still in print?) You could say I gave myself the kind of education they don’t provide in health class.
So what does that have to do with my writing? Well, it probably won’t shock you to hear I write racy romance (under the pen name Macy Beckett). While my YA is more age-appropriate, it’s definitely for upper teens, and during revisions, my agent suggested I…ahem…tone it down a little. Oopsie. Old habits and all that jazz.
Anyway, I wish I’d had teen protagonists like Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen to keep me young a little longer. What was my hurry, anyway? Growing up is overrated.


Now it's your turn: What did you read during your upper teen years? If you’re still a teen, what are you reading right now?

27 comments:

Jessica Lemmon said...

I know what you mean! I read Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and a ton of YA murder mysteries by Christipher Pike. I tried to get into Sweet Valley High (meh) but much of what was YA then didn't do it for me. I write contemporary romance now, but never read it as a young'un. Bet I would've loved it then, though. I was 23 when introduced to romance. I was at my grandmother's house on vaca when I finished my latest Koontz novel. Desperate for something to read I picked up one of her Harlequins with a skeptical brow raised. I loved it and it set me onto the path I'm on today. :)

Melissa Landers said...

I couldn't get into the Sweet Valley High books, either. Same for Judy Blume's stuff. I remember reading "Forever" and being permanently scarred because the MC's boyfriend named his penis Ralph. Who names it Ralph?! That detail still gives me the willies. (No pun intended!)

Lea Nolan said...

For reals! We didn't have the plethora of awesomeness that's around today. After I'd plowed through all the Judy Blumes, Dahls, CS Lewis' and Tolkeins I could find, I had no where else to turn but Jean Auel, VC Andrews, Stephen King and Anne Rice. And as great as these were, they were largely for adults and really inappropriate for a thirteen year old - hello, incest rape? And then falling in love with said brother rapist? Yuck. Yet incredibly addicting. If I were a teen today I think my head would explode with all the the great offerings that abound. Dang, kids. They don't know how good they've got it!

Lea Nolan said...

Heh, heh, Ralph! Didn't he know it's proper name is Big Red?

Tonya Kappes said...

I was picking up my mom's Harlequins at thirteen. It was the first year she went to work and I had the house all to myself after school for FORTY-FIVE MINUTES!! I looked forward to that 45 minutes all day long!!

Zeki said...

I read Christopher Pike in grade school and by 5th grade I was reading Stephen King. I pretty much stayed with his stuff all the way through my upper teens, adding in some Dean Koontz and Issac Assimov. My BFF was into Harry Potter (I graduated HS in 2003 so the books were still coming out) so I picked those up my junior year to please her and loved them.

There is definitely a lot more YA available now than there was when I was in HS.

Melissa Landers said...

Grr! Blogger keeps eating my comments. Testing, testing.

Melissa Landers said...

Okay, take 2.

@Lea: When I did a quick-n-dirty Google search on the history of YA, they'd classified VC Andrews as young adult! Um, exqueeze me? Flowers in the attic was SO not intended for kids! Also, Big Red makes me visualize diseased peen, so thanks for that. ;-)

@Tonya: As a mom of teens yourself, wouldn't you be thrilled if the worst they did when you left them alone was read your books?

@Zeki: I didn't read the Harry Potter books until a couple years ago. On the one hand, I'm sorry I waited so long, but on the other hand, I was grateful to have the whole (completed) series at my fingertips. I tore through the whole shebang in less than a week!

Lorie Langdon said...

I totally feel your pain, Melissa! After reading a few, extremely predictable, Sweet Valley High books and rereading all my Judy Blume novels, I went through almost a year that I didn’t read anything but what was required for lit class. Then one rainy afternoon in junior high I was home sick. Bored with daytime soaps, I searched my mom’s room and found her copy of WHITNEY, MY LOVE by Judith McNaught – and I never looked back. I became a historical romance freak for life!
Great post Melissa! :D

Melissa Landers said...

Ah, Lorie, you're a romantic like me. Can you imagine if we'd had access to modern YA as teens? I would have been the BIGGEST Twihard. Team Edward all the way...unless I'd seen the movies first. Then team shirtless Jake.

Monica Zepeda said...

I had an hour bus ride to and from school, and when I wasn't doing homework, I read Harlequin romances. I estimate I read about 400 Harlequins during high school. Then when I was 17, I discovered Jane Austen, and that kind of changed my life.

Suz Korb said...

You're so right! When I was a teen I read trashy romance novels and Cosmo too.

No wonder YA books today are so romantic and adventurous. They're written by women who spent their adolescents immersed in smutty novels and sex tip magazines! lol

Melissa Landers said...

@Monica: Whoa! 400 Harlequins? And I thought *I* was a romance enthusiast! And ditto on Jane Austen. Sigh...

@Suz: That made me SOL (snort out loud). Excellent point!

PaigeTurner said...

After I graduated from the children's section, I would sneak my grandmother's "adult reading" books while she was napping. Fear of Flying, The Godfather, Once is Not Enough, Valley of the Dolls, The Stepford Wives--that's how I learned about sex!
Beth W

Melissa Landers said...

Paige Turner! Love that name, Beth! It seems many of us were enrolled in the Romance Novel College of Sexual Education.

Micki Gibson said...

Want to know how naive I was? "Forever" was shelved with the rest of the YA books in our local library which was one side of one shelf all the way in the back. I didn't know those books were meant for me in junior high. I mean, the way they were shelved so far in the back was like it was porno or something. I felt so daring checking out THOSE books. There weren't many, but I recall "Forever" was constantly checked out. I'm sure if I ever met Judy Blume, I'd probably drop to my knees a la Wayne and Garth and do the "I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!"

Melissa Landers said...

Ah, Micki, if you read "Forever," then you probably remember Ralph, too!

Jessica Love said...

I think I NEEDED some of this upper YA in my life because this is when I pretty much STOPPED READING. I think because there was nothing I could really relate to anymore.

Melissa Landers said...

Exactly, Jessica. I couldn't relate to the Sweet Valley High books, but I couldn't relate to the adult romances either, so I chose what was more interesting.

Jen J. Danna said...

I look at the choices that teens have today and it just boggles my mind! We definitely didn't have those kind of choices so we totally jumped right into adult books. And I *ahem* definitely remember passing around 'Wifey' by Judy Blume. Spicy! Otherwise, I had very eclectic taste for a teen - everything from the Earle Stanley Gardner kick I was on for years to Ann McCaffery to Anne Perry and many others. Looking back, it was all pretty tame wasn't it? Hmmm...

PJ Sharon said...

I jumped from Nancy Drew to Stephen King and then went straight to self-help books. I didn't find romance books until I was in my twenties. It's one of the reasons I write contemporary YA romance. I wish I'd had the choice to read the kind of books I'm writing.

Melissa Landers said...

@Jen and PJ Sharon: exactly! There was very little middle ground back then. More like children's lit and adult lit. I, too, wish I'd had the choice to read the kind of books I'm writing.

Anonymous said...

So funny! When I was twelve I read THE THORN BIRDS and HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE - neither are tween appropriate. In Jr. High I read a lot of Dean Koontz and Stephen King. Judy Blume is the only YA appropriate material I remember reading.

From carey - Google's not showing me love at the moment.

rockyriverteenlibrarian said...

I, like most of you all, spent my teen years reading adult novels. I guess I didn't know about or wasn't interested in the things classified as YA 20 years ago. I have vivid memories of reading Stephen King and John Irving in high school. I also read whatever my mom had around. I had read and loved Trinity by Leon Uris at least once in high school and again in college. I have gone on to read it twice more. Now almost all I read is YA! I love it.

Melissa Landers said...

@Carey: Google has been wonky for me, too. And I'd forgotten all about The Thorn Birds!

@Rocky: I love today's YA, but I have to read it in small doses. After a while, I start feeling hungry for the adult stuff again.

Kimberly said...

Oh, Melissa!
I totally know what you mean. There was absolutely nothing in my teen years that I wanted to read that involved, well, teens. They were boring, predictable, and mostly an after-school special set to the book.
I wanted steamy. I wanted dark. I wanted things that allowed escape.
And so I bypassed the teen books and went straight to VC Andrews (which are NOT teen books) and horror books and steamy romances. I remember reading a book called The Debutantes when I was thirteen (with several of my good friends) that was about four rich friends at school....well, let's just say that it wasn't meant for high school girls, let alone eighth graders. I remember they used the phrase "The Marines have landed" as code for losing their virginity. I do the same thing in one of my YAs. LOL.
But, I completely agree that teens today are so lucky. Heck, most of what I read is YA, and I think it's because there has always been a hole in the those reading years. I whole set of books that SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE for me. So, now I can't get enough of them.
Thanks for a great post!
Kim

Tameka said...

I think as a teen I was just interested in escaping my life as I knew it so I read whatever I could get my hands on. I do recall reading Harlequin romances, Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts, and Jackie Collins before I had ever even kissed a boy so my view of romance in general was incredibly distorted.