There’s been a lot of talk recently about YA fiction and how it crosses the line into indecency, horror, or depressing darkness.
These people have a tendency to throw all YA fiction into the same blackened basket, completely forgetting writers such as Meg Cabot, Louise Rennison et al.
Us edge writers though, can’t really complain about being mis-filed. Our writing is … dark.
When I was writing Angel’s Fury, I read some teen horror because I wanted to know how ‘far’ I could go. After reading some Darren Shan and visibly paling, I realised that I didn’t have to worry about limits in terms of graphic violence. Angel’s Fury has self-imposed limits in that area so I wouldn’t say it crosses that line.
My original draft of Angel’s Fury has a racist character tormenting a little Jewish boy. I ultimately had to change his character into a generically annoying kid, because my publisher was concerned that I, the writer, and by association Egmont, the publisher, would appear anti-Semitic if I allowed my characters to behave in that way. I had some solid reasons for making Freddie (who eventually became Lenny) Jewish, including a lovely circularity that readers of the book will understand, but he had to go.
I also had to remove a number of swear-words.
Perhaps interestingly, the parts of the book that the publisher was most concerned about were the holocaust sections (at one point my Nazi was “too evil”, but we couldn’t make him too sympathetic either) and the chapter where Lenny ends up ‘in the hole’, which was considered too frightening – there were apparently lots of internal discussions about whether or not I could keep it.
Yet the parts of Angel’s Fury that I was most concerned about writing, were not the scary elements, but the religious ones. I was worried that there might be objections to the liberties I took with Hindu, Christian and Jewish lore. So far there haven’t been objections (that I’m aware of); in fact people have liked them.
To me this shows two things. One, that publishers aren’t just blindly publishing ‘dark’ fiction, they are seriously considering how our writing will effect readers, whether it is too racist, too scary or too offensive and that, as a mother, is very comforting. The other thing is that as a writer, I appear to lack an awareness of what will cause a problem and what won’t. What I was worried about turned out to be a total non-issue and things I didn’t hesitate about writing, had to be cut.
So what does this tell me? That as writers, perhaps we just need to tell the story we need to tell and rely on our publishers to make sure that we continue to walk the edge rather than crossing the line.
Especially as, so often nowadays, those lines seem to waver.