I have a confession. I didn’t start out writing contemporary YA. In fact, I sort of fell into it like one of those open manholes in cartoons, minus the screaming and terror. Okay, that’s not accurate. Writing contemporary CAN be scary. Hell, writing in general can be scary. (Psst—this is usually how you know you’re doing it right.)
So how did I wind up falling down this magnificent YA contemporary manhole?
When I began writing about five years ago, I was having an intense affair with Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series, and Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. Deliver me your fairies! Your flesh-eating water horses! Yes, I adored YA fantasy and paranormal. So it was little surprise that my first manuscript was about a girl who descended from nymphs and could command plant life.
But alas, there was trouble in my magical, tree-filled paradise.
The market was flooded with YA fantasy and paranormal—which I quickly discovered after querying about 100+ agents. There’s something supremely humbling about being told “no” in the triple digits. Worse, I came SO CLOSE to landing one of my top pick agents. “If only this was a straight contemporary,” she said. But . . . how could I possibly write a straight contemporary when my soul yearned for magic? For flesh-eating water horses? How could I reconcile what the industry wanted with the stories of my heart?
Fate would deliver my answer.
Based on a friend’s recommendation, I picked up a book at my local Indie bookstore that would change the entire course of my writing career. That book was The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. It obliterated my preconceived notions of YA contemporary. Her prose was utter magic! I wanted to roll around in her words like a field of daisies. She painted me a world so rich in characters, raw emotion, and setting—a world that felt every bit as fantastical as Hogwarts. Which led me to a major epiphany . . .
Maybe writing contemporary is really about finding magic in the everyday?
After all, miracles surround us. Just because I understand the science behind how rainbows happen, or the physiology of this thumping heart inside my chest, doesn’t make those things any less miraculous. And falling in love? That’s alchemy as old as time itself. Suddenly, I not only believed I could do this, I desperately wanted to!
With my appetite for YA contemporary raging, I began devouring the genre. Which is when I noticed a trend in darker, grittier, issue-driven stories—a stark contrast to the swoonier Stephanie Perkins/Jenny Han-esque tale that I was weaving. Fear had me in a chokehold. Once again I found myself facing the difficult question: Could I reconcile the industry demands with the book I felt called to write?
No. In this instance, I could not.
And it had nothing to do with the importance of these issue-driven stories! I simply recognized that I was not the voice to tell them. Which might be one of the most difficult parts of an author’s journey. To have the wisdom to know when a story brings you closer to your authentic self, or takes you farther away.
Summer of Supernovas IS a book that felt true to me. Plus the astrology element allowed me to add a breath of the fantastical with a heavenly dose of stars. Just a little everyday magic.
So whether your path to YA contemporary is part fate, part circumstance, or part open manhole cover—find your voice. And honor it.