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Monday, June 10, 2013

Why 11-14 year olds?

I haven't been on the blogosphere very much recently.  Sorry about that.



Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about a question I get asked relatively often. Why do I write for 11-14 year olds? It's an odd question, and the easiest answer I can think of is "Because I just passed that age and feel comfortable writing for it." That answer is true, but only partially. I'm sure if I put my mind to it, I could write a cute little children's book or an elementary school "Nancy Drew-esque" novella. I could probably write for older teens, and I could perhaps even pull off an adult book. (Meaning, in the case of violence/gore and moral/spiritual themes. Not anything else. o_O)

In fact, it would probably be easiest for me to write for older teens. I would only have to focus on writing what I enjoy reading. High action, deep moral dilemmas, thoughtful themes, and I wouldn't have to worry about violence and gore at all. With pre-teens and younger teens, I have to think these things through much more thoroughly. It's a difficult age to write for.

So why do I do it? Honestly, it took me several weeks of thinking over this question to formulate an answer. I thought at first it was a lack of confidence in my writing ability, but I don't think that is it because it would be easier to write novels for my age. I thought it might be because my stories and plots just fit that age, but I don't think that's it either. The Leverage series, 'Hail Frost' in particular, had the potential to be a rather dark book. I was constantly re-typing and re-plotting scenes throughout the rough draft of 'Hail Frost' to make it age appropriate.

What is it then? The answer is difficult to word, but here is the best and most straight forward answer I can give: I write for 11-14 year olds because the books I read during that particular age helped shaped me into the person I am today.

It sounds so simple put like that, but it is so much deeper and more important than you can imagine.

I believe 11-14 are some of the most difficult ages in anybody's life, whether you're a guy or a gal. I've not made it very far past that age, but I can say with utter sincerity that I would rather eat a thousand jars of mayonnaise than return to being eleven, twelve, or (gulp) thirteen. Fourteen wasn't so bad, but it was still rough.

So many things happened to me during that time. I began to doubt Christianity and actually looked at alternative religions. (Mostly I was trying to decide if evolution was true or not) My body was changing and I couldn't decide whether to be proud or ashamed. For no reason at all, I could suddenly grow extremely angry. I became self-conscious about how I looked, insisting on getting contact lenses and doing everything to get my braces off as quickly as possible. And for some bizarre reasons, I suddenly became wobbly and goo-goo eyed every time Jack Sparrow swaggered across the TV screen. What's with that?

I'd always been a reader, but I especially retreated into my books during that time period. Through the grace of God, my parents obviously knew what was going on in my head, especially concerning Christianity. They never said I couldn't read certain books like "Harry Potter" and "Twilight", they simply made sure I was stock-piled with fascinating Christian books like "The Door Within" and "This Present Darkness."

I would like to take a moment and seriously thank them for that. I was confused enough during that time. I would have become more confused and lost if I had read anything persuasive and convincing from a non-Christian stand-point. So thank you so much! Love y'all!

Anyway, I retreated into the books because they were the most rational and steadfast things (I believed) in my world. Everything eventually made sense and worked out in the books. There were answers to questions and exciting adventures in the books. The hero's friends didn't suddenly change personalities and stab him in the back in the books. The guys and girls had it totally under control how they were feeling about each other in the books.

It all came back to the books. Every time something weird or bizarre happened in my life, I'd go read a book. And it seriously shaped me. I was trying to decide who I was and what I wanted in life. Slowly but surely, my faith became stronger because I saw that without faith, without something to believe in, the characters would have failed. I took the initiative and searched for the truth in Christianity because the characters never gave up against the villain. I rationally sorted out my feelings about guys through characters and the Bible because I would just know when a romance felt real and when it felt stupid.

And that's not the only way books helped me. Often times, I'd take aspects of characters I admired and try to emulate them in myself. I loved Aragorn's (Lord of the Rings) determination and quiet authority. I strove to copy him. I loved Kamarie's (King's Warrior) outspokenness and feisty personality. I copied her.  I loved Cat's (Isle of Swords) quest for truth and justice. I copied him. I wasn't strong enough in my faith at that point to make Jesus my goal. I didn't fully understand who He was and I thought he was too perfect. But flawed characters I was willing to copy. I'm so glad I only read good, uplifting books with moral characters as the heroes.

All that to say, books have been a major part of shaping me into who I am today. 11-14 is that age where you aren't sure if your a girl or a woman, or which one you should be. You can't decide if you'd rather listen to your iPod or play Pet Shop with your sisters. You can't decide who you are because you don't understand why you do the things you do. It's a perplexing age, especially in this society.

So I think I write for 11-14 year olds because if I had not read good, moral books during that time, I don't know if I would be as strong in my faith as I am now, or even if I would have any faith at all.  I've also noticed some trends in our society concerning that age that are very disturbing. I would like to help fight those trends.

For instance, I recently read a blog post (which you can read HERE) about pre-teen and teenage girls on Twitter protesting the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev  (one of the bombers of the Boston marathon) because he is so "beautiful." Chilling right? Obviously it won't go anywhere, but I find it extremely disturbing that there are enough girls who believe because someone is attractive they either a) don't deserve to be punished or b) couldn't have done anything to deserve to be punished. I believe movies and books are partially to blame for this thought pattern. Hollywood puts so much emphasis on outward appearances. All of the heroes in movies and TV shows are typically extremely attractive. Even Christian books fall into this trap.

I made it a specific goal in Ember Flame not to put any emphasis on outward appearances. I mentioned Ember's hair and eye color, which are important because they are a bit different. But I have never mentioned whether she is pretty or not. I also made it a specific goal to portray Valin, the villain of 'Hail Frost' as extremely handsome. Now, I'm not hating on good-looking people, I just think it is important for pre-teens to realize that looks don't matter. They don't determine who you are or what you can do.

Another thing I wanted to make clear and easy for middle-schoolers was romance.  A ridiculous amount of books, including Christian books (cough cough Dragons in Our Midst...), have the romance in a novel be the two attractive heroic characters get a crush on each other, tell each other with zero awkwardness, be happy, and suddenly are in a long-term lasting relationship filled with loyalty and confidence.

Yeah. Sure.

I have no real experience here, but I do know for a relationship to last you have to have a strong friendship that is not based on crushes or hormones. I wanted to make that absolutely clear in 'Ember Flame.' Ember and Hail don't love each other because they are attracted to one another. In fact, it's debatable until the end of 'Hail Frost' whether they truly love each or not. However, the fact stands that they are best friends, and they would sacrifice anything for the other one. I think middle-schoolers need to know that, and instead of focusing on getting a BF or GF, they should focus on building strong friendships that will last forever, whether or not they ever become romantic.

Themes are difficult to tackle for this age. Everybody seems to have very different maturity levels throughout this brief period.  I've met middle-schoolers with the patience and fortitude of a four year old, and then I've met middle-schoolers who are deep thinkers with brilliant ideas. So I try to have both themes in my novels. Ember learns to make friends and trust people, including God. That's fairly straight forward. But for the deeper pre-teens, I touch on pre-destination verses free will, I touch on death, drunkenness, and even demon possession.  I never make it graphic. I never make it dark. Just enough to perhaps cause some thought and conversation.

I've made plenty of mistakes throughout my life. But I probably would have made many more if I hadn't read the books I read as a pre-teen. I've made mistakes writing Ember Flame and Hail Frost. But despite the problems and flaws, I have firmly prayed over the themes and situations I portray in them. And I know that God had me put the ideas and thoughts in them that I did.  All I can do is pray that God uses them to help kids like me, and maybe even help them grow stronger in their faith.