Why I Write YA

Katherine Longshore 3 Tuesday, April 10, 2012
News!  Today is the first day of my blog tour - Tudor Tuesdays.  Nicole About Town will be hosting Catherine of Aragon today, and will be revealing an excerpt from GILT!  So stop by if you can, and let us know what you think...

I used to be a preschool teacher.  I spent all day surrounded by little people with little voices but big, big energy.  There were some that the only time I saw them sit still was when I read them a story.

For me, that was the best part of the day.  Not because they were still.  But because they were enraptured.  The first time I read WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE I had the entire class in the palm of my hand.  Max’s story wound around them and their eyes grew wide and they listened.  Truly listened.

That is the power of story.

When I left teaching, I thought that maybe – just maybe – I could do that.  Maybe I could tell a story that would open eyes wide.  So I started writing picture books.

And they were awful.

Then I listened.  Truly listened.  To the stories I needed to tell.  They had to do with history, and the interpretation of it.  With the lives of girls and how they navigate the maze of social mores and regulations.  With challenging popular thought and inspiring alternative thinking. 

For instance: Contemporary accounts tell us that Catherine Howard was a young woman who wore a different dress almost every day and received joyfully an abundance of jewelry when married to the king.  She couldn’t read or write very well and was convicted of treason for having an adulterous affair.

Historical opinion tells us that Catherine Howard was a flighty, fashion-obsessed bimbo who cared for nothing but looks and jewels.  That she was promiscuous to the point of sluttiness and stupid to boot.

But do the labels fit the reality?

How many teenage girls today feel like they are pressed into a role that doesn’t fit them?  That they have to be the good girl or the band geek or the Goth freak or the cheerleader.  That they don’t have a voice to say otherwise?  What if the cheerleader wants to play the saxophone?  Or the Goth freak wants to run track?  What if a mistake labels the good girl as a bitch for the rest of her high school career?

What if a mistake labels the queen as a stupid floozy for the rest of history?

I don’t want to teach history with my books.  I’d love to inspire an interest in it, but I’ve discovered over the course of writing them that it isn’t what drives me to write for young people.  I write for teens because I think sometimes they feel as bound by society and by their peers as the Tudors did.  That they are as afraid of gossip and labels as Henry’s courtiers.  That there are different ways of looking at the labels.  And perhaps seeing a glimpse of truth when the labels are torn away.

I write for young people because I remember.  And because I have a voice.


Roles have changed down the centuries. What's okay now was once given the thumbs down. Heck, back in the day it was the "healthier-sized" woman seen as more appealing because the waif-like darlings were considered too malnourished. However, it seems that the YA years remain static in the issues faced, dealt with, hormones blazing and the ever-seeking of oneself. Those things don't seem to change. So the audience, no matter what point in history the novel is set in, can appreciate what the character goes through or endures when it's still someone just like them. Different time, same issues.

Well, said as always, Angela! And I agree completely.

Yes, I think it really comes down to writing because you have a voice. And giving that voice to someone who has been misunderstood and/or maligned - whether Catherine Howard, or the teenager down the street - that's a thing of beauty.

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