Those of you who know about my completed but unpublished novels will know I’ve got Queen of Souls, a Persephone and Hades story on the queue to be edited into queryable shape. So it should surprise none of you that I’m quite interested in checking out Frayed Tapestry, by my fellow Drollerie author Imogen Howson. In fact, as the cool kids like to say, her post for this month’s Drollerie Blog Tour, on the topic of dangerous writing, is Relevant to My Interests indeed.
Check it out, folks! Here’s what Imogen’s got to say.
When I wrote Frayed Tapestry, my young adult fantasy story based on the myth of Hades and Persephone, I didn’t think about it being dangerous writing. In my story Hades has abducted Persephone, erased her memory with a draught of pomegranate juice, and created an elaborate, false world to keep her in. Her real memories only start to break through when she accidentally tastes her own blood—the only thing in this false world that doesn’t carry the same power of forgetfulness.
Once Persephone understands this is the only way she can get her own memory back, she’s driven to deliberately cutting herself so she can taste her blood again. She shuts herself in the bathroom and uses Hades’ razor to make a cut on her arm. Later, realising that anything she eats clouds her mind with forgetfulness, she sticks a finger down her throat and makes herself throw up. Her full memory comes back, she knows what Hades has done, and she is able to escape and return to her own world.
The possible connotations of these elements to a story meant for young adults didn’t even cross my mind until after the book had been published (with a warning, by the way, because it’s not suitable for young young adults). In the story, Persephone’s actions are appropriate for her situation. In real life though, do they translate into self-harm and bulimia? If a reader takes my Persephone as her role model, will she emulate the courage that drives her actions, or will she emulate just the actions themselves?
As I said, this concern never crossed my mind until I heard someone put out a plea to, not just young adult authors but authors of adult-oriented erotica, that they only ever write “safe sex” sex scenes in case young adults picked them up. This person argued (with good reason, as everyone who’s been a teenager knows!) that young adults don’t necessarily confine themselves to the books meant for them to read, so every writer, not just writers of young adult fiction, had a responsibility not to portray unsafe sex as desirable.
Later, Twilight came out, and I saw people criticizing Bella as a bad role model for teenage girls, and recommending that parents make sure they discuss abusive relationships with their Twilight-reading daughters. And other people defending the books by arguing that no, actually Bella was a good role model.
Most recently, on a writers’ board, I saw a writer requesting writers not to write young adult heroes/heroines with superpowers because it would give young people the impression that their self-worth lay in having these superpowers rather than in anything that was within their real-life reach.
So, as a young adult writer, what are my parameters? Safe sex, strong role models, healthy relationships, no superpowers… In fact, it’s probably safer not to write fantasy at all—I don’t want to give young people the idea that only magic equals happiness, do I? And I’d better not write happy-ever-after romances, because not many relationships started as teenagers last happily for life. And my characters probably shouldn’t do anything without checking with their parents first, and certainly not if their parents have forbidden it. And, and, and…
Is my scathing tone coming through?
As a writer of young adult fiction, a reader of young adult fiction, a mother of two young adults and an ex young adult myself, I am horrified at the idea that all young adult fiction should be made “safe” like this. Who decided that all young adult heroes/heroines should be “role models”? Why should they be role models? Why can’t they just be characters—interesting, flawed, good-and-bad, realistic characters?
Adult fiction is permitted to embrace the weird and wonderful: super-powered characters, anti-heroes, characters who sometimes kick ass and who sometimes cry and manipulate and lie and fail. Why should young adults be denied that? Fiction is not real life; fiction is wonderful, made-up escapism where eleven-year- old orphans can find out they’re wizards or nine-lived enchanters, where ordinary teenage girls can become the one true love of a sparkly vampire or, against all odds, win that year’s Hunger Games, or find they’re the destined Summer Queen.
It’s great—for adults and young adults—to find good role models in books, in the same way it’s great to find interesting obscure facts about Ancient Rome or information on how to stop bleeding or make hasty pudding. I often refer to snippets I gleaned from historical romances to help me place other historical events. But it’s not necessary for all fiction to provide either education or role models.
If a young adult reads Frayed Tapestry and thinks it’s cool to cut herself, if she reads Fire and Shadow and goes away believing she’s only worthwhile if she’s a fire-starter, if a teenage boy reads Falling and thinks it’s okay to climb up to his girlfriend’s bedroom without her parents knowing, then I will be appalled and upset. And yes, I will probably feel guilty and responsible.
But it’s not okay to sanitise fiction in order to avoid any kind of negative response to it. It’s one thing to control the content of books for young children to avoid overloading immature minds with stuff they’re not equipped to handle. With young adults, though, the clue is in the title. They’re young, but they’re also adults. They deserve fiction that’s sometimes reassuring, sometimes safe, sometimes educational. But they also deserve fiction that makes them think, that pushes boundaries, that’s edgy and risky and weird. And (in the limited way of anything that’s not sentient, poisonous or high-voltage) dangerous, too.
http://imogenhowson .blogspot. com
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Next up on the Drollerie Blog Tour: John Rosenman is hosting Heather Ingemar!