Janette Rallison on YA Market
In the emails I've been getting and posting bits and pieces for you, I have been learning a lot about myself and habits.
I really enjoyed these emails from Janette Rallison (I asked her permission to reprint her emails here and she said "go for it!"):
This is a soap box issue for me. So many of my fellow national market YA authors put sexual content in their books. Maybe they don't think it's a big deal to have their 16 or 17 or 18 year-old have sex, (sometimes the characters are much younger though. My son picked up a book where the 13 year-old characters had sex) but the fact of matter is that it generally isn't 16-18 year olds who are reading these books. It's 11-15 year olds. Once kids are 16, they've pretty much left the YA market and read adult novels.
Yes, we need to have a variety of books that deal with a variety of subjects--even difficult subjects like date rape and incest. Some kids need those books. But even they can be written tastefully. Personally, I don't want sex normalized for young kids. I don't want my kids to have those images and thoughts in their minds when they start dating--and although it's unfair of me to push my beliefs onto others--I don't want the teenagers my kids date to have those thoughts or images in their minds while they're out with my kids.
But even more, it bothers me that so many authors portray sex as okay as long as you use protection. STDs are rampant in our society. According to several official websites (that I didn't believe until I talked to my gynecologist) 80% of sexually active people over the age of 14 have at least one STD. Protection doesn't stop many of the STDs. No where in these YA books is this fact being talked about. I feel that by normalizing it and making kids feel that everyone is doing it and it's okay to do, those authors are not telling kids the truth and they're putting kids at risk.
Which is why I write G-rated books. For now--I'm sorely tempted to write one where the heroine thinks it's okay because she's in love and then the guy breaks up with her because, hey, he's 17 and has less maturity than blue cheese, and she's stuck with a life long painful disease.
That would probably not be my usual type of romantic comedy . . .
Since the subject came up about censoring things in YA books, I thought I'd put in that editors always censor things in your books--it's just a matter of what they are censoring. A lot of times they're things you wouldn't think would be censored. In Just One Wish I had a scene where the heroine lost a pet snake on a movie set. I had to add in later that someone found it because someone who read the advanced reading copy got offended that the heroine had been so thoughtless of the animal's safety. I pointed out to my editor that it was a fictional snake and therefore quite capable of catching mice on its own, but no dice. It had to be changed.
In It's A Mall World After all I had a little girl who sat on Santa's lap and told him, "Say hello to baby Jesus for me." That had to go because the editor didn't want anything religious in the book. (Hello, what is Christmas about?)
Here are things I had to cut from My Fair Godmother:
The sentence where I described Savannah's Snow White outfit. I said it was a simple red gown, thankfully lacking the collar in Disney's version, which made Snow White look like she was wearing a megaphone around her neck. My editor cut that because she didn't want Disney mad at us.
I also had to cut some of the religious references about the Middle Ages. My editor didn't want any mention of religion in the book because religion, at least Christian religion, is a taboo subject in young adult literature. I know, it doesn't make any sense. Especially since we are dealing with the Middle Ages. Is it a surprise to anybody that the people of that time were Catholic? No matter, I cut the scene where she went to church and the mention of her reading in her history book about popes and bishops.
My last example of cuts: I had to cut all the parts that dealt with leprechaun drinking. Originally I had a leprechaun who'd accidentally come to Virginia with Savannah's Irish neighbors. He had one too many Guinnesses and crawled into a box to sleep it off. When he woke up he was in an airplane cargo box, wedged between a bunch of knickers, and flying over the Pacific ocean.
Really, now that I think about it, he was sort of a lush.
My editor didn't want any mention of alcohol in the book. Which is ironic because I don't drink at all. So yeah, you'd think I'd be the last one to encourage any young, impressionable leprechauns to start downing whiskey. Plus, it was probably a good idea to cut those parts because the drinking-leprechaun is sort of a stereo type, and I wouldn't want a bunch of angry leprechauns banning my book.
Censorship is just part of the writing process