What the Hell is a YA?


So. I went to a writers’ group here to Austin in an attempt to connect with that whole commonality-of-interest dealie. Both Dixie and Dr. Sam I. Am preach at me to understand and practice the concept in its full width, and breadth.

They seem to feel that I spend too much time with my own ADHD-addled thoughts, and don’t put enough effort into understanding other people. They have been beating this concept into my head for months now, and I think I’ve got it.

If I grasp the practical aspects of the concept, they are that:

  1. Commonality of Interest is the foundation of human nature which says that people will connect easier and quicker, and form tighter bonds, with other people who appear to share their same interests.
  2. Finding common ground with another person, and therefore the implicit support for your own thoughts and ideas, helps with your sense of self worth. This is the basis for Dr. Sam I. Am’s psycho therapy support groups.
  3. As a salesman, you can get prospects to feel comfortable with you if you can find some common ground to discuss. Show the prospect that the two of you could be buddies.
  4. Said another way- people like people who are like themselves.

I think I get the idea. The problem I keep having with this commonality dealie is this: the harder I try to find things I have in common with other humans, the more differences between us crop up; the more differences I discover between us, the more likely it becomes that a situation could unravel; the more things unravel, the more likely it becomes that I will spend some time in jail.

Take last night, for instance.

I was excited to be meeting with a group of local writers, and some of them actual authors. I distinguish the two in this way. I am a writer- I’m full of shit and find myself compelled to put thoughts to print. An author is a writer who doesn’t realize he’s full of shit, and feels compelled to use big words and confusing literary concepts to distinguish himself from us writers.

But, I harbor no resentment for writers or authors, either one. I can either like or dislike both with an unprejudiced eye. Same way that I like Carta Blanca beer and detest Dos XX.

However, I think I’m an amateur at getting along. For starters, as soon as I arrived at the meeting, the commonality of interest I sought was divided down the middle. Half writers and half authors. Then, I discovered that we word-smiths require additional layers of separation beyond writer vs author. Are we fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir, biography, children’s or young adult? Young adult is the infamous YA category.

In last night’s group, we had four writers and four authors. We had one fiction writer, me, and seven non-fiction. I have always thought of myself as a biographical memoirist. The group decided that I am a fiction writer after reviewing my webber and bloggie.

Of the seven others, one was self-help, four were memoirists (memoirators, maybe?), one historian, and the last a biographer. And each and every one of the seven was a Young Adulterer. Young Adulterator? I’m something like two minutes into the meeting and I realize that I have almost nothing in common with this group.

So, basically, I was a group of one, and segregated from the others by several invisible barriers. Confused? You should have been there.

These guys were all in their late twenties and older. Average age, I’m guessing, was maybe forty-three. And even with all of the commonality of interest they shared with their YA cohorts, these silly guys are fighting over everything.

“You simply cannot categorize vampire themes as anything other than YA,” this one guy says. “I’ve done the research.”

He was maybe fifty and was dressed like my college lit professor back to 1967. Long mop of stringy hair, thick black eyeglasses, tan cord pants with those shiny spots where they get rubbed with use, and this vintage wool blazer with elbow patches. This guy I had pegged as an author.

Now me, I’m thinking, “What research?” and, “This yahoo has his head totally up his ass.” That’s when I hear, “Oh, pull your head out of your ass, Johnathon. Last year when you were writing adult sexual fiction, vampires were for adults only. I appreciate your attempting to fit in, but try to say something smart. Stop being such a yahoo.” This from a writer, a handsome younger woman who said she writes for the lesbian and gay YA audience.

I have met her several times before, when I attended Sister and Anna’s lesbian meetings. Lisa is her name. I think she was the date of the lady who hit me with my own Carta Blanca beer bottle in that little scuffle we had over to Guerros Taco Bar that one time. That last fight- the one I didn’t start.

I have been accused of starting several fights while attending my Sister and her wife’s lesbian support and action groups. Once I actually said something I wished I hadn’t said. All the other skirmishes were caused by simple misunderstandings.

Like, for example, the difference between “more manly”, and “manly more”.

Lisa then turned to me and said, “Yo, Mooner. Of everyone here, I think you have the best perspective since you’re the oldest.” Her look was challenging. “Give us your erudite thoughts on the subject.

Maybe she’s an author.

Now all eyes are on me. “Tell us, Mooner. Are vampires the exclusive property of Young Adult writers?”

“Well,” I started. “I watched my first vampire movie to the drive-in theater back in 1958. Scared the shit out of me and gave me bad dreams. Then last Sunday night, I watched True Blood over to HBO with SAC Ellen. All of that neck sucking gets the SACster all randified, so I know vampires are in her wheelhouse.”

I took a sip of coffee, then added, “But who gives a shit anyway? Don’t you want a broad range of people to read your stuff even if you do write to a target audience?”

Am I wrong?

Of course Mr. Elbow Patch pipes in, “Well, I can only speak for the serious authors among us, but missing your target audience is a sign of immaturity and failure.” He sniffed, adjusted his cuffs and added, “A dismal failure, Mis-ter Johnson.” He emphasized the “Mis” in Mister and this little bubble of spittle flew from his mouth onto his sleeve.

Then everybody starts opinionating and the conversation turned to shit.

It seems to me that, as a group, we’re one angry statement away from a fistfight, when this little lady sitting across from me starts slapping her hand on the table. “Stop it. Stop it right now!”

Things got real quiet and she says, “Now listen to me, everyone. We had a nice group here before this fiction writer barged in. I know who he is.” Here she looks me dead in the eye and says, “I know you Mooner Johnson. I go to church with your mother and Gram.”

Now, she stands up and points her finger at me. “You are a heathen and a disruptive shit. Go away and leave us alone.”

“And you, Mrs. Ellis, are a right-wing Baptist religious fuckball.”

How’s that for erudite?

That’s when little Mrs. Ellis came across the table at me like she was a rabid raccoon and I was last week’s leftover chicken carcass.

I held my hands up and backed away. “No need to get violent, Mrs. Ellis. I’m thinking that maybe I need to find myself a different group to bond with.”

They clapped, and I left.

But it wasn’t a total waste of time. I got to thinking about this YA business. If seven out of eight writing persons are focusing their works on Young Adults, that sounds like a marketing trend to me. Maybe I can start slanting some of my content their direction and get more readership.

I’m going to call John Egloff and set a meeting. I bet he can help me with this. But answer me this if you will. What, precisely, is the definition of a Young Adult? I’ll twitter tweet that one.

Manana, y’all.

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