Welcome to the very first Tasting Table, featuring Young Adult Romance. I’m joined by three fabulous authors: Robin Martin, Tamar Sloane, and Elise K. Ackers. Be sure to enjoy each ‘Tasting Sample’ they provide by following the link above their bios.
Young Adult themes and concepts mimic those found in adult fiction, from fantasy to horror, history to contemporary and just about everything in between. My two sons came up with a list of familiar YA books without blinking. Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, Harry Potter, Twilight, Mortal Instruments, and The Fault in our Stars. How many of these have you read?
Let’s explore Young Adult Romance as a sub-genre with a mixture of fresh, wondrous flavours from the Tasting Table.
In your experience, what is Young Adult Romance?
ROBIN: ‘The first cut is the deepest’ – Cat Stevens’s song sums up YA romance perfectly. It explores those first intense feelings of love and how overwhelming that can be, especially when you are still discovering who you are and your place in the world.
TAMAR: Essentially in YA, the protagonist is a young adult, and they deal with all the issues that would be relatable to young adult lives. The genre is geared towards young adults, but in fact, about 50% of its readership are adults (young love is universal, it seems).
ELISE: A contemporary story about young people, typically between the ages of 12 and 18, with romance as a main plot. The ages of the protagonists can be somewhat fluid, but many books within the genre remain within these early, formative years.
Explain the difference between Young Adult and New Adult?
ROBIN: YA is about the transition between childhood and being an adult, with characters who are still dependent, in high school and discovering where they fit. New Adult is about characters in the early stages of adulthood, independent, often at university and making life changing choices.
TAMAR: It is the age of the protagonist that differentiates YA and NA. YA tends to feature main characters aged 14 to 17 while NA tends to feature protagonists aged 18 to mid-twenties (ish).
ELISE: My take on it is YA can have adult/parental intrusion, i.e. the main character can be living at home. NA features more adult experiences where the main character is more “on their own” i.e. college and travelling.
What are the unique tropes, themes and markers defining YA Romance?
ROBIN: Intensity and confusion are what marks YA romance. Because it’s usually a first love, the emotional stakes are high, and the characters are not only finding out what it means to love, but also what it means in terms of their development. They have no prior experience to fall back on, so everything is new and they sometimes don’t know what to do, or how to cope, especially if they are hurt or betrayed in any way. The highs and lows are more marked.
TAMAR: The age of the heroine and hero is what makes YA unique. Adolescence is such a unique stage of life—it’s a time of multiple paradigm shifts, all happening at once. Who doesn’t remember the exciting and overwhelming physical changes, the ‘hormone storm’ of puberty? Socially they start high school, middle school, college, and we all know how tumultuous that was. They venture into the workforce and have to start pseudo-adulting. They start to develop independence, defining themselves outside the family unit, their peers now a major influence on their identity and choices. They begin to explore their sexuality, and for most, this is where they will experience their first romantic relationship.
ELISE: The appeal for teen readers seems to lie in the genre’s contemporary, explorative, and relatable plotlines. The characters can mirror attractions, relationships and trials in readers’ lives; such as falling in love for the first time, the ever-changing roles of authority figures, and coming-of-age experiences like travel and responsibility.
Older readers are drawn to this genre for escapism and nostalgia, and perhaps they’ve grown up with a particular YA author’s books, but the genre itself has universal appeal. Themes of love, friendship, discrimination and identity never go out of style. The genre is unique because of its broad accessibility. Recent studies have shown that over 55% of YA readers are over 18, and it’s little wonder, because the writing is good and the worlds are wonderful.
Tell us about the specific challenges of writing in this genre.
ROBIN: Because the YA demographic can vary from early teens to older characters who are nearly adults, it can be challenging to pitch the voice and tone of a YA novel. What might be suitable and engaging for a seventeen year old to read can be quite different for a thirteen year old. YA can cover many themes, sometimes quite dark ones as well, such as drug and alcohol abuse, or even death. YA romance can range from sweet to steamy. As a result, there can be some confusion and even controversy about what’s appropriate in YA.
TAMAR: From an author’s perspective, your readership is split between two diverse populations. For many adult readers, digital is a common media to access romance, so half of your readership hangs out there. But adolescents don’t (generally) have credit cards, so print is their preferred medium.
There’s also the fine balance when it comes to swearing, sex, and the dark side of life. When your protagonist’s straddle the transition from childhood to adulthood, there is a diversity of views about what is appropriate. Every author needs to negotiate the fine line between being true to their story, the reality of teen life, and diverse reader opinions.
ELISE: Have you ever heard the phrase “You can’t put an old head on young shoulders”? This is particularly true for YA authors. As a writer in my thirties, I can’t expect an eighteen year old character to think and behave as I would. Young people don’t have wisdom and maturity, they develop it. They don’t have a wealth of experiences to look back on, because they’re experiencing things for the first time. YA characters have to make mistakes and be ignorant, and as a writer I need to allow my characters to develop in an accessible, realistic way. Even if it makes me cringe sometimes!
Another challenge is technology. The digital age has far-reaching impacts and consequences for contemporary kids, so unless I’m writing within a sub-genre that doesn’t have mobile phones and the internet, I need to consider how to include those elements without putting an expiry date on my books. Because who knows where Facebook will be within five years? And what on earth is Voice Search?
Young adults now have a greater platform than any young adult before them. Their digital efforts can have real-world impacts on a global scale. They can demonstrate support for equality campaigns. They can promote their causes and push their agendas. They can message the president directly. And the world can hear them. This is a harrowing thing to write about, and do justice to.
Why do you write YA romance?
ROBIN: For me it is all about the voice. As soon as Zoe Brennan started talking to me, I knew she was fifteen and I realised I was writing a YA novel – the first of The Alien Chronicles. From there I started writing about that coming of age period in life when my character is finding her place and where she fits in the social network of high school and friends. In particular, she learns to accept someone who is quite different from her and even begins to have romantic feelings for him. I really enjoyed developing that relationship and writing about those important firsts – the first romantic feelings, the first kiss, the first heart break.
Because I love rom-com, I decided to write something that was light and humorous while having some underlying serious themes. I also wanted to write books that a thirteen year old could pick up and read, but would appeal to older readers as well. As I write adult fiction under the name Robin Thomas, I decided to distinguish my YA books and readership from them by writing under my maiden name, Robin Martin. I think writing YA romance has enabled me to explore the freshness and wonder of first love in a way that is different from writing adult romance. After all, nearly all of us can remember that roller coaster of emotions that comes with first love. As Taylor Swift says in Love Song, ‘We were both young when I first saw you, I close my eyes and the flashback starts’.
TAMAR: My love of romance started way back in adolescence (anyone remember Silhouette romances? I devoured them) but I never thought I’d write them. But life does love a good curve ball and one day I woke up from a dream and a concept that wouldn’t go away, and much cursing and passion filled hours later, my first YA paranormal romance series – Prime Prophecy – was born. The next thing I knew more characters came knocking, demanding for their lessons to be shared and their stories to be told and I haven’t looked back. As a youth worker who became and teacher and am now a school psychologist, writing young adult books in particular was an inevitability…that has now become a passion.
ELISE: Because the characters who come to me are young, vivacious, and ready to take on the world. Every one of them has wanderlust, which is why my YA Romance Road Series is about adventure and self-discovery on a global scale. One for the Road is set in Europe; The Road Less Travelled is set in the Cook Islands, and the next two titles coming out this year are set in Turkey and Japan. This series features young characters, but it’s for all readers – anyone who’s soon to travel, or is nostalgic for adventures passed.
Writing in this genre is glorious fun; I love the character growth and the coming-of-age challenges. I love their voices, and I even love the mistakes they make – which sometimes include who to love.
Thank you Robin, Tamar, and Elise for sharing your knowledge with us. Remember to taste a sample of each author’s YA work by following the book title link and clicking the “look inside” feature.
MY ALIEN – Robin’s Tasting Sample
Robin Martin’s books include ‘My Alien’ and ‘The Alien Within’, books 1 and 2 of The Alien Chronicles. Book 3, ‘Once an Alien’ is due out in 2018. She recently had her first book signing at Dymocks, North Lakes, in north Brisbane on January 20th. Visit Robin’s website, and find her on Facebook!
MAKE IT COUNT – Tamar’s Tasting Sample
Tamar Sloane is a multi award-winning author of young adult romance, creating stories about finding life and love beyond our comfort zones. Also a practicing psychologist, Tamar is a freelance editor, consultant and the author of PsychWriter – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers. Visit Tamar’s website, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter!
ONE FOR THE ROAD – Elise’s Tasting Sample
Elise K. Ackers is a freelance editor and award winning fiction author traditionally published with Harlequin’s Escape Publishing and Penguin Random House, and indie published across multiple platforms. She writes Young Adult, Contemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense, and has completed undergraduate studies in Psychology and Communications, and post-graduate studies in Professional Publication and Editing. She’s a magnet for unusual accidents, a laser tag enthusiast, and an animal adoption advocate. Visit Elise’s website, find her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and see what she’s up to on Instagram!
Phillipa Nefri Clark
Phillipa grew up around lonely beaches with wild seas and misty cliffs. From a young age she wrote stories, partly to escape a difficult and unusual upbringing.
Life led to a series of careers and locations. Somehow, writing continued, with unpublished novels, non-fiction credits, and five feature length screenplays, one which was optioned.
Now living in regional Victoria on a small acreage close to a mountain range, she juggles working in the family business with writing.
Phillipa’s other great loves are her hugely supportive husband and two young adult sons, their Labrador, music, fine wine, and Irish sister.