community, entertainment, family

The YouTube Discussion

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So, many of you are probably aware that there’s this website called YouTube, where you can find EVERYTHING — clips from movies and TV shows, often whole episodes of cancelled or long out-of-production series, extended trailers for upcoming films, music videos, and plenty of original content by contributors who might be your neighbor down the street, or world famous in their own right.

It’s an interesting cultural shift, one that most likely never would have happened without the internet. Remember just 20 to 30 years ago, when your relatives invited everybody over to watch their vacation slides, and we all groaned and grit our teeth and wracked our brains for something polite to say? People came up with excuses ranging from, “I can’t, I’m having my wisdom teeth out,” to, “I’d love to, but I just sat down in this comfy chair.” Now suddenly, random strangers from around the globe put their home videos of their family getaway to Cancun on YouTube, and it hits 15,678 views in less than 24 hours.

The major difference between YouTube and the sharing-of-home-videos-of-olden-days is the fact that YouTube can make overnight celebrities. I think pretty much everyone and his dog knows by now that YouTube will pay people whose channels reach a significant number of subscribers and/or views. It’s not a foolproof instant way to hit a high salary and quit your day job; there are only a lucky few who make it to more than 10,000 subscribers, and fewer still who actually have a million or more people regularly tuning in.

But this is now an established, accepted part of American entertainment, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

And we’re certainly feeding the beast — YouTube is among the top pick for media platforms regarding movie trailers, music videos, original videos, and lots of artists (in traditional corporate contracts as well as indie) release production news via their YouTube channel. The public finds the free features extremely appealing (myself included), and so do indie artists who can’t afford thousands of dollars for a marketing campaign that could reach potentially millions of people.

However, for all that’s good, just like with anything else, the scope and scale of this phenomenon have created some dark sides.

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For example, there’s no rating system, G, PG, etc., so it’s criminally easy for your 4-year-old to stumble on recorded game play of Doom or Five Nights at Freddy’s. (And for those of you who claim, “Well, parents should be watching their children,” let’s see you stick by that argument when it’s either race to the bathroom or wet the floor, and your misbehaving, headstrong preschooler will climb the furniture to grab the stashed remote while you’re literally indisposed.) While plenty of contributors do keep their uploads clean and family friendly, there are just as many who don’t consider that necessary, nor do they leave a note on their channel that what they post may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Yes, there are parental controls available on a variety of devices, and we don’t have to let our children watch certain things; but as the “parent network,” YouTube should bear some of the responsibility. After all, the major broadcasters — NBC, PBS, FOX, HBO, etc. — either relegate more mature viewing to hours when small ones are in bed, or they advertise all over the place that particular shows aren’t meant for those of us under age 18. We genuinely can’t say we weren’t warned about The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones.

YouTube doesn’t appear to have the same concerns about their viewers that traditional TV networks do. The trad folks are very aware of lawsuits and fines and even threats of jail time. And, yes, they’re doing “the right thing” primarily to keep their business earning money; but at least they’re following a code of values that most of us feel pretty good about — and if we don’t, we always have the option not to watch.

Do we have the option to block or turn off YouTube as well? Of course. Though with this platform becoming ever more prevalent, that’s growing slightly difficult.

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Because YouTube is now featuring many “regular people” contributors who have hit it big on their platform, children especially are very attracted to the “kids just like me” they see in a lot of these videos. One of Muffin’s favorites is Ryan’s Toy/Family Review, which is run by an Asian-American family in California, that has gone from posting 10-minute videos of their son playing with new toys to a multi-million-dollar empire of several channels on YouTube, a line of toys and clothing being sold at major retailers, and enough income for the parents to quit their jobs and build a new house. Yes, you read all of that right. As a parent myself, I have some serious moral qualms about what this level of fame at such a young age (the “star,” Ryan, is only 7 years old!) might do later in life, but I’m evidently in the minority. Lots of families are coming up with concepts for their children to film and upload, and actively help them do so. The hope, I’m sure, is that one day they all end up with a similar situation to Ryan.

All Muffin knows about Ryan is that the kids are playing with lots of fun toys and seem to be having a blast, and there’s no swearing or violence or anything that Mummy finds objectionable, so he is allowed to watch it as often as he wants.

And when faced with the alternative of something horribly inappropriate, I know I will keep letting him choose Ryan.

I’d be lying, though, if I didn’t add that I pray this family knows what they’re doing.

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What happens if, one day, YouTube executives wake up and decide they don’t need certain channels anymore? What happens to the celebrity families who have now made this platform their career and sole form of wages? How hard would the transition be back to an “average” lifestyle? For the kids as well as the adults?

And, as a child of the 1980s, I remember all too well hearing about former “child stars,” young actors and actresses and musicians that my generation grew up with and admired, getting arrested or checking into rehab, again, or dying from some tragic, preventable occurrence. In another decade or so, will that be the fate of the current YouTube-famous tweens with 1.1 million subscribers?

Unfortunately, only time will tell. But if we hit the year 2025 and all of today’s YouTube kid stars are happily married with a rescue dog and tons of security guards around their inground pool and giant Lego playhouse, then I’ll thank God.

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I let White Fang start his own YouTube channel a couple of years back, and it was mostly to post videos of himself playing Minecraft to share with his friends. He has around 200 subscribers, last I knew, and while he hasn’t updated it in a long time, it still exists, and he may go back to it one day. He’s proud of what he did accomplish, in terms of learning how to use his camera to film the videos, upload them, and be brave enough to share his passion with others.

He’s also found some of the most inspiring and talented individuals by getting involved with the Minecraft and Warriors fan communities on YouTube. Captain Sparklez, anybody? TryHardNinja? And Rainimator has taken the Minecraft community by storm (his work even inspired a character White Fang helped me design for The Order of the Twelve Tribes world.)

And many famous YouTubers are kind and generous; ToyLabTV (they make Jurassic Park styled less-scary dinosaur videos for younger kids) recently hosted a family whose sick child’s “wish” (through the Make A Wish Foundation) was to film a video with them. (Just thinking about that gets me choked up.)

So, YouTube itself is far from evil. But in a world that didn’t even imagine it would be in all our homes until, suddenly, it is, I think we’re still in the infancy of learning just how all this may go.

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Autism, community

Autism and Mental Health Treatment (Trigger Warning: The Most Serious Post I’ve Ever Written Here)

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And because it’s me, here are plenty of cute cats to break up the (sadly) quite serious nature of this post.

Advanced news: After composing this, I shall be an utter wreck for a bit, so send the cake and kittens now. And probably some vodka.

Also, necessary disclaimer: Because of the sensitive nature of some of the information here, there are some details I can’t (or won’t) provide. Some things you’ll just have to wonder about.

Okay, 3, 2, 1…here we go.

The week of Thanksgiving, I had to be without my oldest son; he was in the hospital, at the pushing of a social worker who did not understand that he was suffering from an emotional shutdown, and that, as an autistic teenager, this is in fact somewhat normal and does not mean he’s about to go jump off a bridge or throw a bunch of people off a bridge. Neither did she understand that this would pass (most likely within hours), and that he’d find a way to keep going (as he does), and that transferring him to a locked ward in the hospital — a situation that he would then not be allowed to leave, regardless of his or my own wishes — was not the way to handle it.

White Fang is 15, and a couple of traumatic instances have occurred in his young life (no offense, but bugger off, you’re not finding out what), but suffice it to say, it took a toll on his emotional processing recently, and he is rubbish at dealing with it on his own (despite his valiant efforts to do so). So he reached the point a lot of ASD adolescents do — he became despondent, morose, and overall struggling. What’s the best thing for families to do? With ASD teens, maintaining their routine and a secure, familiar environment is PARAMOUNT. Being in a locked hospital unit for 4 days hardly fits this description.

Now, as a parent, I was stuck in between wanting what was best for him, knowing what was best for him wasn’t necessarily what many medical professionals would recommend, and my heart aching for his aching. For the first and second day, he was very cooperative, and did everything that was asked of him, even when it went directly against his sensory input or an introverting need.

And I prayed that this experience would be a positive one, and that he would feel he got some help on the particular tough issues he’s facing. He wasn’t aware when the initial social worker told him that going to the behavioral sciences unit at the hospital would mean becoming nearly a prisoner; he actually agreed to go have an evaluation, hoping that he’d be out of there quite soon with a solid plan for how to proceed and start feeling better.

But by Thanksgiving Eve, he wanted me to get him discharged, as quickly as possible, by whatever means. It was a combination of the environment not being ASD friendly (constant bright lights, not being allowed to go outside, the uncomfortable bed), and having his personal belongings taken away and a number of protocols enacted around him that prevented him from doing such regular things as wearing shoes or asking to use the phone — and NONE of this being explained to him that it would go this way.

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Meanwhile, I was at home, not receiving frequent updates on his treatment, his regular activities, what the prognosis was, what tests they were running on him (for example, I knew he’d have a lot of blood drawn, and never did find out all of what they looked for) — just that they’d conducted an initial evaluation with him, and were double checking in with me to see if he had a history of being delusional (lovely to have that trust), and if it was okay if they started him on a medication.

Oh, and all of this was told to me 2nd or even 3rd person via a nurse or some other staff member on the unit. The doctors assigned to White Fang’s case didn’t actually speak to me. Didn’t call. Didn’t ask questions, update me on what they thought, planned treatments, possible outcomes. Didn’t try to meet me when I came for visiting hours. Until one of them was apparently forced to at a family meeting the morning after Thanksgiving Day.

By then, I’d already had some very unpleasant and upset conversations with some quite unhelpful people, and — praise God — some very helpful people at the hospital. And I had my legal rights issues ducks in a row, regardless of the particular safeguards for mental health exceptions — since White Fang had proven he wasn’t a danger to himself or others, and that the unit had never taken the crucial step of establishing that early on in his admission, which meant that they had to discharge him after he and I had asked for it and filled out the correct paperwork.

Long story short: We were successful. The day after Thanksgiving, I took him home with me.

Pause for cheers. And tears.

Side note: The first thing we did was go to Starbucks.

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Soon after, I was able to make him an appointment to get started with counseling (though I had to call around, and the first place never did get back to me). We’ve met with his primary doctor (who was, pardon the language, pissed off), and I know we’ll have the GP’s complete support on whatever treatment we want to pursue. There have been other issues as well in the last couple of weeks, such as the medication prescribed didn’t work at all for White Fang, so we’re back to the drawing board on that, and I’m really debating how to handle the first social worker who really read this so wrong and didn’t give White Fang the information he needed so that he wouldn’t suddenly find himself in a bad 1970s movie about behavioral health wards.

Now, before I go any further, I need to say this: As a former psychology major and a previously mandated reporter in daycare, I do understand that when it comes to mental illness, doctors and nurses involved have specific policies and procedures to follow, and sometimes they aren’t pleasant for the patients, and sometimes they are necessary to keep people safe. I’m not saying any of that is evil. It’s a tragic truth of living in a fallen world where some individuals do need to be locked up so they won’t hurt others. Here’s my problem with it: The psych ward is, most of the time, NOT the place for autists who are simply having a meltdown, shutdown, or a series of either.

And here’s my other major problem with it: Too many medical professionals do not realize this. They don’t know enough about autism specifically, or have preconceived notions about ASD. They look at the common symptoms of a meltdown/shutdown (raging anger, intense brief sadness, inability to comprehend others’ perspectives or advice in the heat of the moment, headbanging or some other form of hardcore stimming that may be mistaken for intentional self-harm, rather than a desperate need to blow off steam), and see a crazy person. We’re as sane as a stack of hats; we’re simply experiencing the lowest point of an overstimulation crisis.

On top of the grave misunderstandings still surrounding autism, in this particular, personal instance, the lack of communication I — and White Fang — received from the staff on the unit was disturbing. It made them look like they could’ve cared less about our feelings regarding the treatment — and in the 21st century, in a civilized society, there should be no excuse for that. Indeed, it shouldn’t even happen.

I’ve also met with some of the administration at the hospital, who (thankfully) took my concerns (and complaints — of which there were a lot) seriously, and I was informed that staff involved were spoken to, as the administrators agreed with me that what occurred wasn’t acceptable. They also concurred that my ideas about unit-wide education on how to work effectively with autistic patients were valid and were, in fact, going to happen soon at their facility.

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So, that’s the story.

Give me a moment, please.

… … …

So, what can families of autists who may be experiencing depression and anxiety — as a result of something, or just as part of being alive on the spectrum — do to help their loved one? As long as safety isn’t an immediate and true concern (like, if you find them standing on the roof of a 3-level building, do call 911), leave them alone during a meltdown or shutdown. Make sure they’re somewhere secure and familiar, where they’ll calm down more easily and faster. Block out the yelling and screaming and crying and swearing and throwing things. Don’t try to restrain them (unless they’re physically hurting someone else, or about to leap off that roof).

Take them to therapy. A counselor that understands autism — and ACCEPTS it as a condition that simply makes for a somewhat challenging and unique life experience. Go to therapy yourself. Form or join a support group for parents or guardians or caregivers in your situation.

Even if you really don’t want your child taking medication, if it’s prescribed, try it. During certain stages of hormonal surges in our lives — for example, puberty — our already-struggling emotions will feel overwhelmed, and some anti-anxiety or anti-depressant meds could really help.

Don’t punish them for going through this. Let them stim as much as possible. Don’t take away computer time or force them to socialize more, because it won’t get them out of their slump. Soooo many autists’ lives have become SO MUCH BETTER by the invention of social media, because we communicate SO MUCH BETTER in writing and not directly face-to-face. Our support groups are more often than not online, with people in different time zones or even countries.

And if you — God forbid — find yourself in a situation like White Fang and I, don’t take flack from underperforming hospital or facility staff. Go to administrators and Patient Relations departments. (Even on a holiday, you can find someone to help you. I used the hospital’s Facebook page to accomplish my task.)

Don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel you or your loved one received unfair or poor treatment. Hopefully it’s resolved quickly and to your satisfaction; if not, keep finding authorities and people — media, Congress, autism advocate organizations — to talk to.

And NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP. You will all get through this. It will get better.

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Okay, I can’t anymore. Invisible moth signing off.

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community, reading

Stretching Your Wings: The Importance of Readers (and Writers) Trying New Things

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I could’ve just as easily called this post: Why Genre Matters, and Why It Shouldn’t Have To. But that feels a bit tongue-twisty, and mind-bendy, for this early in the morning.

Anyway. So, here we go: When you tell someone you like to read, or you announce you’re a writer, the next question is inevitably — Which genre? Which genre do you read or write? And, yes, there has to be a classification, a distinction — Mystery? Romance? Thriller? Historical? Fantasy? Science fiction? Biographies? People are persnickety about it.

Here’s the part where it gets a little confusing (in an existential crisis way): I don’t necessarily disagree with the finnickyness — and yet I do. Because I think it does — and at the same time doesn’t — matter what genre(s) you read and write. As a writer, if you’ve declared a genre for your work, it should fall into the guidelines of that category, at least for the most part. And I’m not talking tropes or cliches; I’m all for originality, so I think crafting a ghost story or a chick lit with fresh characters and an unexpected ending is excellent. But readers are also looking for certain things from genre works, and they will reward authors (financially, by buying their books, and with praise) for delivering that.

However, as an author myself who likes to stretch the boundaries of the genre I have loved my whole life and do write in, I will put forth that being able to cross the category divides is a good thing. My YA fantasy series has garnered some high praise from middle-aged (and above) adults who may not be well-versed in speculative fiction. In my view, this is an absolute plus. When I started on Volume 1, I wasn’t intending to create a novel that would immediately be granted status among the classics of epic fantasy; I simply wanted to tell the story I wanted to tell.

And, yes, it was one hundred and ten percent going to have pixies and talking cats and references to Doctor Who in it.

Some readers take issue with that.

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SFF authors meet them everywhere we go — those few that literally turn up their noses when we answer the genre question. As if speculative fiction isn’t as worthy as other types of novels. There are a bunch of excuses — we’re avoiding reality by delving into myths and legends and implausible theories; we’re only in it for the money, and we aren’t crafting anything that will be taken seriously a decade from now; we need to bite the bullet and grow up already.

Well, let’s see: Who wants to be in touch with the current reality? Turn on the evening news for 5 minutes and you’ll be wishing you were on a rocket to Neptune in the year 2100. Or that dinosaurs would come back and just obliterate entire societies. When we write about what could be, not simply what is, we’re doing our part to make the world better for our children.

And what money? How many of us are Neil Gaiman and Maggie Stiefvater? Neil Gaiman and Maggie Stiefvater. There are reasons Tolkien and CS Lewis held down professorships, and classic sci-fi authors were also journalists or teachers or worked in some other field. Making a ton of cash as a SFF writer is a new thing, and still quite rare. If we wanted an instant bestseller, we’d choose a different plot, characters, and themes. Nope, we do this because it’s where our hearts are.

And growing up is overrated. Everybody knows it; they just won’t admit it yet. What period of life do adults get all nostalgic about? The grueling early days of being at the bottom rung of their career ladder? No! Their childhood! The carefree afternoons frolicking in meadows barefoot. This is precisely why Narnia and Middle Earth and Hogwarts are places people in their 30s and 40s still love to visit. (So much for the “what you published will be forgotten in a decade” bit.)

So, why isn’t spec fic as “important” as other types of literature?

It is as important. Full stop.

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How do we change the minds of those readers who claim differently?

Get them to actually read SFF. Take them out of their comfort zone. Stretch their limits.

They might, in fact, like it.

The same people who insist on drilling into their children: “You won’t know unless you try,” really need to abide by this themselves.

On the other side of the coin, SFF readers (and some writers) could stand to be a little less snobbish about other genres. How can they be sure that “traditional mystery” is a bore without having skimmed a single page of it? Or that they’ll despise the characters in that historical romance they never checked out of the library? Yes, we all have personal taste, and there’s nothing wrong with that — key point: nothing wrong. If you want to draw more unconventional SFF readers to your own work, try branching out yourself.

In the end, genres do exist with good reason; but we really shouldn’t be judging each other as people based on what we like to read.

And since we unfortunately already do this, how about we stop?

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blogging, community

Drawing the Line: Internet Life and Real Life

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Has anybody else noticed this sort of odd thing about online life, where we don’t actually spend in-person time with all these other screen names, that are in fact also real people…and yet, we feel that some of them know us better than the humans we see face to face every day?

On the other side of the coin, we’re in this interesting paradox of wanting to share most of the parts of our “real” lives with our online friends…and sometimes we can’t.

For example, the week of Thanksgiving my family experienced a very surprising and unpleasant twist, and while it was (thankfully) resolved quickly, at the time it was going on, I was dying inside, and really wanted to be able to get stuff off my chest — but because there are now legal issues involved in it, I wasn’t sure just how much I could or should say.

And what makes such a situation even more frustrating is the fact that often I rely on the people I know either only online or that I know in person but live far away from me for support and advice.

Not that I don’t trust the people in my everyday life. But my relationship with them, or their sphere of influence, can be limited when it comes to certain circumstances. You wouldn’t go to the local librarian with your legal concerns. Or reveal details that directly affect someone else’s privacy. (Well, some folks would, but definitely not me.) So, if it means putting some slightly delicate matter on private pages in social media, to get some much-needed suggestions from people that I know have the information or resources I’m after — and also that I trust not to overly share with the random population — then I will do just that.

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But again, it’s tough, because while we feel close to specific individuals we’ve had consistent contact with through various online platforms, we do have to face the reality: How well do we actually know someone we’ve never met in the flesh?

And when the situation involves a loved one who may not want all of their deepest darkest secrets splashed across our own Facebook or Twitter, we really should respect that.

But when we need help, and we aren’t getting anywhere in our in-person lives, being able to turn on a computer or a phone, type in a few lines, and within possibly minutes get potentially a multitude of replies that tell us exactly what to do next, this can be invaluable.

If we get the desired outcome, does it really matter which route we take?

All the naysayers of the early 21st century who claimed that the internet would drive people farther apart really don’t have it right in this regard.

With a few keystrokes, I can be making direct contact with people half a country or half the globe away. And it makes our lives richer. I can increase my knowledge of different places and occupations and lifestyles without needing to spend a bunch of money I don’t have to travel long distances.

I can find a community of like-minded individuals who share my taste in books, movies, TV, and music, and become part of something bigger than myself. It can be isolating when you’re one of about 6 total geeks in your small town. But after half an hour online, discussing who’s your favorite Doctor and whether you’d choose to fight Daleks or Cybermen, I don’t feel alone.

And sometimes, that matters more than the deep, dark stuff.

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So, I decided where to draw the line based on the feelings of other people involved in a complex event, but I don’t regret for a minute revealing what I did to get the help and support I needed. And honestly, I don’t know if I would’ve gotten through without all the people online praying for us and encouraging me forward — no prying, no judging.

In the near future, I’m really hoping I can share more overtly regarding this particular matter, since I think it would be beneficial to other families to explain some of what I learned by being put in a situation I never thought I would. There are still some issues to review and see what occurs next. But I know that whenever I choose to open up, about whatever, there will be plenty of other screen names who I’ve never been in the same room with that totally have my back.

And that, blessedly, crosses every line.

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community, reading

The Future of My Reading Habits

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So recently, I explained my decision to leave Goodreads as a user. This meant that my reviewer and reader account was closed and removed from the site, and although my published works remain there, I won’t be making any personal comments or updates anymore.

I went into the details in “Explaining My Recent Decision to Leave Goodreads” (sorry, it’s been a big week and I’m too lazy right now to attach a link), but it also relates very strongly to my post a few months ago, “It’s Time to Stop Being So Neurotic About Goodreads.”

Even before I reached the point of feeling completely overwhelmed by the toxicity of some of the reviewers, I was beginning to lose it when it came to GR. The way the site seems to turn reading into a competition just becomes suffocating.

Before I joined GR, my TBR was anywhere from 1-10 books at any given time, and this changed frequently depending on what else was going on in my life.

For example, if it had just been Christmas or my birthday, and I’d bought a bunch of new books, those came to the top of the list.

If I’d checked a bunch out from the library all at once, those came first.

If things had just gone bat guano crazy (like this week did), then my reading material would definitely be limited to either a trusted and beloved re-read (for comfort, and that I could pick up in small chunks), or nothing at all for a few days.

After I joined GR, my TBR swelled to as many as 60 titles I hoped to read in the next several months. I’m aware this seems like nothing to the folks who regularly have at least 100 books on their TBR, and find themselves constantly adding to it. But for me — a mom to special needs kids, who’s trying to work from an already-busy home — anything upwards of 20 feels stifling.

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And I was starting to lose the joy of reading. I’d frantically run to the library every week, to grab all the hot new releases before anyone else did, so that I could read them and review them as quickly as possible. Even if I hated them. Even if I DNF’ed them. Even if I was only reading them because 1,000 other people on Goodreads were.

That’s where the stress came in. Almost all the excitement of picking up a brand new title was being sucked out of my soul. The thrill of being able to add higher numbers to my “finished” list was providing more emotional juice than the wonderful story I’d just absorbed.

Especially since it often wasn’t wonderful. In the past 16 months, I read a LOT of books I never had before, and I have to say, probably 80% of the time, I was disappointed.

There were also some really awesome finds, including fellow indie authors, and titles in genres I’d usually shy away from. And I learned a TON about myself as a reader, and this is important. I learned what I really can’t stand, what I’m okay giving a try, and where I need to draw the line.

I have decided I do not care what my friends are reading, how fast they’re finishing, or how many books they complete in a year. I support their life goals, and if they’re happy, then I’m happy for them.

My personal reading goals will be much different from now on.

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I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, but these circumstances called for it.

So, here are my priorities for reading starting now:

It will be fun. As soon as a new title (borrowed, bought, discovered in a rubbish pile) stops being enjoyable, I will put it down and not pressure myself to keep going.

It will fit into time I already have. Usually in the evenings, there isn’t much on TV that I’m interested in, so after Jeopardy! I crack open a book. This is also a good way to wind down at the end of the day, and relax. Since I generally need some time to focus on something that is not children or everyday-life-related before I attempt to settle down enough for sleeping, spending an hour or so diving into Maggie Stiefvater or Warriors or Beaumont and Beasley easily accomplishes this.

I’d found myself devoting massive chunks of time (when I could have been doing something else) to 500-page books that I wanted to finish only to be able to say I finished it. Not recommended.

I will not force myself to plow through genres/authors/content I find objectionable or just plain tedious. Everybody has different tastes, and that’s why there are so many options out there for readers. There’s nothing wrong with my preferring certain subjects and genres, styles and levels of content. So what if it means I’m much more likely to choose a MG or YA fiction, when I’m an adult?

I will not have a set time limit, nor a goal for how many books I’ll read in x amount of days. Part of the stress of feeling like your TBR is going to crush you if you don’t get through, say, half of it before 2020, is the sensed impending doom of that deadline. The fact is, the world will not end if I only read 15 books in 12 months, or if I only add 8 more to my TBR.

All of this combined should mean that I keep my sanity, and my love for reading as a hobby, and as a writer. After all, that’s what it’s really about.

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community, family, reading

New Discussion: Who is YA For?

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Note: I’ve chosen to feature the original art of Maggie Stiefvater in this post. Please remember to give all the credit for these gorgeous pieces to her.

Extra note: Why Maggie Stiefvater? Other than she’s one of my favorite authors? Well, the fact that she was part of the catalyst of this discussion that started on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been thinking about what she and others said, and about the post that really got the ball rolling on this topic.

So, here’s an interesting question: Who is Young Adult fiction actually for? It may seem like a “duh, Captain Obvious” answer — Young Adult fiction is for those under 21 — but the data behind sales, library checkouts, and online reviews proves, no, it isn’t.

The majority of readers of the labeled (and marketed) YA genre in the 21st century are women ages 18 to 45. That’s right. Women with children of their own. And yet…most of us wouldn’t necessarily recommend most YA titles to our adolescents.

Once upon a time, there was something called “New Adult,” a genre that targeted women readers approximately 19 to 30, people who were just starting out on being financially independent, having to manage an apartment or house, an exclusive relationship, and just being a grown-up. “What a great idea!” so many of us currently in that stage of life exclaimed (myself included, as then a new wife and mother). I enjoyed some of those books, sometimes a lot. When you’re about 25, most of us are past the point of relating to your biggest problem being whether to cut math class or not. That was what most YA was like back then.

However, two distinct things happened. One: There was a shift in what NA was, from real plots and discussing relationships and life to little more than pornography (which many readers were not happy with, myself included). Two: YA changed from being about the actual issues teens face to focusing on world-weary 16-year-olds living in dystopian settings that forced them to become the breadwinner or the chosen one or the next queen of the realm.

And this altering of dynamics resulted in some tricky situations. Real high school students ate up The Hunger Games and Divergent and The Maze Runner — but so did parents, for very different reasons. Actual teens were drawn to the escapism of dystopia: it was so far removed from anything they know that it was all about action and adventure and good guys versus bad guys. Parents, on the other hand, considered these series, and others like them, important cautionary tales, for what can happen to our civil liberties and democracies if we get complacent.

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So, in the wake of the demise of NA, a new type of “YA” emerged: the kind where any novel featuring a protagonist who was 15, 16, or 17 — regardless of the content, subject matter, or genre — was automatically marketed to real life adolescents.

Many parents do not want their kids reading it. There’s too much profanity, casual alcohol use, cutting school, fornication, and little to no consequences for unwise behavior.

And actual teenagers don’t want to read it, because the wild parties, skipping class on a whim, having sex without worrying, and paying all the bills on time so your irresponsible parent doesn’t forget to sounds like no one they know.

Recently I read a blog post written by a current adolescent, who stated many of these (and other issues) as reasons why she doesn’t read much “YA” anymore. And I agree with her — not as a teen, obviously, but as the mother of a teen who’s having a hard time finding reading material that he can relate to.

And as a mother who’s trying to raise a gentleman, I’m having a hard time finding reading material for him that encourages not swearing, not picking up random girls, and not getting blasted on a Friday night.

(That is a whole post unto itself. Anyway.)

A lot of the issue is this: Publishers saw a goldmine by getting the parents — the people with salaries — to purchase overpriced “YA” novels. Again, who’s mostly reading “YA” these days? Adults. Are kids reading the new releases by “YA” authors their parents are bringing home? Maybe, maybe not.

But here’s the other thing happening while all this is going on: Teens are much more likely to stick with MG fiction, or switch to not reading for fun at all. In English class, they’ll suffer through Shakespeare and the classics, and in their everyday lives, avoid them like the plague. They’ll just check out graphic novels or manga from the library, or skip reading anything and go straight to the movie version.

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Is this all teens? No. But is it becoming more and more prevalent and should we be worried about it? Yes.

When I was White Fang’s age (he’s 15 now), YA was just coming into its own. Too many teachers and librarians had complained that kids were expected to leap from Charlotte’s Web to A Separate Peace, and adolescent minds weren’t receiving proper nourishment. So some really smart people decided to create a market specifically for the 14-year-olds who weren’t “into kids’ stuff” anymore, but not ready for highbrow literary analysis.

And there is no denying that series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson did what seemed the impossible at the cusp of the millenium — they turned kids away from computers and back to books, boys and girls, ages 8 to 18.

Now, though, we’re facing the reverse. And it’s because, once more, publishers are shutting teens out of the market. Kids who have a $10 a week allowance can’t afford $35 new hardcovers. They aren’t going to spend that money on stories that don’t make them feel connected or impacted, anyway.

Authors who write “YA” branded books but are aware their audience is mostly adults can be torn as well. (Enter Ms. Stiefvater’s Twitter thread on the subject.) They want to write about these characters, who happen to be adolescents. They want to write deeper, grittier stories than what you’d find in MG. Do some of them feel they’d be compromising their creative vision by “scaling down” certain things to gear it more towards “real” teens? Yeah, they do. Is that wrong? Hmm. No?

So, what’s the solution?

Well, here are my ideas: We need to go back to writing and publishing a market that teens can relate to and learn from. We also need to be aware there are plenty of adults who want to read fun, adventure-filled novels with a minimum of graphic violence and sex and language, and produce more fiction like that — just with 32-year-old protagonists.

And we need to try to drive down the cost of books to begin with — reading will become an elite past-time if we don’t consider the budget of 90% of working Americans.

Maybe we should also stop looking at the almighty dollar as our number one goal, and think more about the expression on someone’s face when they’ve found their next favorite read.

After all, that’s what literature is meant for.

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