This past weekend, I attended the DFW Writers’ Conference in Texas. Extremely well organized with surprisingly tasty conference food, it made for a great atmosphere in which to hear pitches—lots and lots of pitches, most of them for YA. Perhaps best of all was keynoter Deborah Crombie, who did a great job of reminding the audience that “write what you know” is nonsense—as a native Texan, if she’d listened to that, she’d never have come up with Scotland Yard superintendent Duncan Kincaid and hit the Times bestseller lists year after year.
Well, in a perverse way, Crombie’s speech hit home for me with a lot of the pitches I heard. SO many of them were fantasy of one sort or another—high fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, historical, mythic, you name it, I heard it at least twice. I guess you could say these writers were not writing what they knew, in that none of them had lived in outer space or fought with witches. But by following so many of the genre conventions and storylines that have dominated YA over the last five years, I’d venture that these writers actually are very much “writing what they know”, i.e., writing in the same book worlds they’ve lived in for so long now.
So, here’s the plea I’ve made before on this blog—how about some realistic YA fiction for a change? I’d suggest that realistic YA offers writers a way to avoid both sides of the “write what you know” trap. For one, realistic YA has been in such short supply lately that there aren’t a lot of people to slavishly imitate. And second, as adult writers, viewing the “real” world through teen eyes is a total act of not-knowing. I’d particularly make this plea to my new friends in Texas, which is such a fantastic setting for realistic YA—hey, all you need to do is look to S.E. Hinton’s nearby Oklahoma for proof!