In college I cracked out a string of postmodern existential short stories that had their own type of allure, and I whittled away at two novels that, honestly, were pretty awful. Part of the awful-factor stemmed from the fact that I was just learning how to write, but there was also a very basic error in my process—I wasn’t having any fun.
Maybe it was the subject matter, maybe I was taking myself too seriously, maybe I just hadn’t found my groove. Whatever the issue, I was cranking out unpublishable, unmarketable novels that weren’t even making me happy. A few years and a string of well-deserved rejection letters later, I was ready to admit that I was not a writer.
Which was when my sister called me and said that the associate librarian position was opening up at the high school she worked at. I was cool with that—being surrounded by books seemed awesome—but I couldn’t exactly see myself handing out copies of Anne of Green Gables or Where the Red Fern Grows with the fervent enthusiasm necessary to motivate teens to read.
Oh silly, silly disillusioned Mindy.
YA literature had changed so much from when I was a kid (read as, “it actually existed now”). Twilight was just starting to blow up at the time. Ellen Hopkins was writing about drugs in a manner that didn’t read like your doctor’s waiting-room handout. Some guy named John Green had characters that talked like real teens, and Chris Crutcher wrote sex scenes that … well, they uh … read like real sex scenes.
Goodbye, Sweet Valley High.
About two years into the experience of feeding good books to great kids and continuing to receive rejection letters for pontificating novels that I could use as a footstool, I said—“Hey, Mindy, you’re actually kind of stupid. You’re surrounded by your target audience 40 hours a week and immersed in the market. Why aren’t you writing YA?”
Hey, great question.
So I did. I wasn’t hampered by the illusion that YA had to be didactic, cautious, or insipid. I didn’t have to write about a shrinking violet hiding a stray puppy from her clean-freak mom. I could write about … it seemed like I could write about anything.
Even a poetry-quoting rifle-toting girl defending her pond in a world where water was almost nonexistent.