Novel Writing–Adults and Young Adults

I love when the unexpected happens. You are told you can never do something…but you do it! If anyone might be inspired by my example, I would love to hear about it. So try something you have never done! Write in a genre you thought was impossible!

Three months ago, I started writing an historical novel. It’s been in my head for a long time…at least fifteen years. I was always told I couldn’t write fiction. After all, I was a poet. But then I started writing and publishing big books about women’s history and other kinds of activism. Some of those were 110,00 words or more. So I knew I could write a complicated book. But could I write a novel?

I had also been working on a memoir for a long time, off and on. It has taken an interesting turn. At 58,000 words to date, it has become a hybrid memoir, with fictive elements. I think that working on the memoir turned me toward writing a novel, as well as encouragement from my family. So again….don’t be afraid to write something new or draw something new or learn anything new!

The novel takes place in Chicago, a city I know well and love in so many ways. The years are 1906 to 1911. The two main characters are an African-American and an Irish-American teenager. They meet at a state reformatory for delinquent girls. That’s right, they go through the Cook County Juvenile Court, the detention center, and eventually land at a state facility. What crimes did they commit? Nothing serious. If you know anything about the early juvenile courts, you know that girls could be picked up for flirting with boys, jumping in a car with a stranger and taking off to a dance hall, things that many teenagers do today. Often times, the girls were the victims of incest, rape, violence. But female virginity mattered more to the judges, probation officers, reform-minded women, and superintendents of reform institutions.

I won’t reveal the plot or the ending but guarantee it’s full of action and emotion. At 81,000 words, I am now trying to figure out if it’s for young adults or adults. The line is blurred because 55–70% of readers for young adult novels are adults. I find that most curious but who am I to question what people read. I’m glad they read! So here’s what I know about young adult novels: they can be shorter than adult novels–but not always; the characters are usually teenagers but there are many coming-of-age novels that young adults wouldn’t be interested in; and in young adult novels sex scenes shouldn’t be graphic but there can be acts of sex, including rape and incest.

My novel seems to fall on either side. I would be interested in what other novelists have experienced when their novels lean towards different age groups. For now, I am just writing the most beautiful, compelling novel I can.


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