I am extremeley pleased and excited to welcome today:
4 incredible Male YA Authors at the Bookworms
for the All Male Review Challenge! Plus, stay tuned, we have an awesome giveaway for you too!
This reading and reviewing challenge, co-hosted by Bewitched Bookworms, Books and Things, Supernatural Snark, In the Closet with a Bibliophile and The Unread Reader, will run the entire month of JULY.
And now, please welcome:
Dan Wells Author of Partials – YA Dystopian
Jeff Hirsch Author of Magisterium – YA Fantasy (Dystopian)
Robison Wells Author of Variant – YA Mystery (SciFi)
Tom Pollock Author of City’s Son – YA Fantasy
Let’s jump directly into the discussion!
Jeff: Not so much really. By and large boys this age (12-15 or so) are a bit shyer than the girls. The girls seem to be a bit more confident and able to articulate their feelings about the book. Outside of that we pretty much talk about the same kinds of things when we talk about the book.
Tom: Well, the book’s not out yet, so ask me again in a couple of months, but I meet early readers at events, and I haven’t noticed much of a difference. Both genders seem as interested in the monsters as the relationships and vice versa.
Rob: I hear more often from girls than I do from boys, but I think that’s just because more girls read YA overall. Even though my book is routinely referred to as a “boy book”, I’ve never received any feedback from female readers that it was TOO masculine, or that they wanted something more girly. What I usually hear instead is that girls find it refreshing to read something with a male protagonist.
DAN: By the time a fan is brave enough to approach me at all, they’re usually pretty articulate and ready to have a good discussion. Having written books for both teens and adults, I actually find that a lot of teens, of both genders, are even better at talking to authors than a lot of adults.
In this regard, as a male YA author you are clearly the minority. Why do you think this is the case?
Jeff: Hard to say. But if I had to guess I’d say it has something to do with a lot of YA writers coming out of teaching which has traditionally been a female dominated industry.
Tom: Can’t be sure without researching it, but my gut says everything stems from the reading, and the stats tell us more girls read more fiction than boys do. Now, just because that’s the way it is, doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the way it has to be, but there are powerful forces (like the publishing tendency to make book covers aimed at girls, because that’s their core market) that reinforce the status quo.
Rob : I agree with what Jeff and Tom both said, but I’d also posit that the YA category is heavily tilted toward romantic fiction. I’m not saying that guys can’t write romance–I personally think almost every book needs at least a little romance–but that genre has been traditionally dominated by female authors. That will probably change; more men are getting into YA fiction all the time.
DAN: That’s actually not my experience at all, I know plenty of YA authors of both genders.
Some of you both have female protagonists, or include female POV’s in your story! Was it a distinct decision to write your story from a girl’s POV and how do you get into a “female” mind frame? ( this sounds a little weird, but I think you get my point..)
Jeff: Magisterium has a female protagonist because when the first scene popped into my head it involved a young woman named Glenn who was bringing her Dad dinner. I just went with it from there and it felt right, maybe because Glenn being a girl, along with other traits like her prickly selfishness and her science nerdhood, makes her seem like the kind of person we think is not “supposed” to have an adventure. Hopefully that makes it more fun when she does.
As to the female frame of mind. I don’t know. Honestly I’m not even sure I know what that means, just like I’m not sure what the male frame of mind would mean. I try to focus on the Glenn frame of mind and leave it at that. The book isn’t really about her “femaleness” or the struggles that come along with it. She’s not meant to be representative.
Tom: I’m with Jeff on this one. The City’s Son has both male and female POVs, and Fil and Beth are completely distinct personalities, but I don’t think much of what separates them stems from their genders. I don’t buy into the idea that boys’ and girls’ minds are uniformly, and innately different from each other. They’re treated differently by society, sure, and that has an impact, but so do a million other things: Beth’s skill with graffiti, say, or Fil’s fear of his inheritance. They’re a product of all those, and I try to write characters who are themselves, rather than just a patchwork of the boxes they’d have to check on a passport application.
Rob: VARIANT and FEEDBACK are both from a single, male POV, but both books have strong female main characters. I think the key to writing fully-realized female (or male) characters is to avoid stereotypes. For example, Becky, the lead girl in my books, was never intended to be “The Love Interest” or “The Damsel in Distress”. Instead, I had a great character idea for her as an administrator who worked in the grey areas between right and wrong. In other words, her gender didn’t define her role in the world; her background and personality did.
DAN: My first attempts to write a female POV didn’t work, because I was trying to write ‘female’ instead of ‘person.’ I don’t go out of my way to write boys as ‘male,’ so why do it for girls? Our gender affects us, but it doesn’t define us. After that I started writing Kira, the heroine of PARTIALS, as just a ‘person,’ and it worked perfectly.
Do you do .. uhm… research to write female POV’s?
Jeff:Are you asking if we all hang out at the school yard and chat up tweens? Outside of Rob, I am pretty sure none of us do that. But seriously, I definitely run things by my wife and other women in my life and tell them to call me out on anything that sounds untrue.
Rob: Jeff, you promised not to tell!
No, for me the biggest help has been my writing group. There are seven of us, and five are women. I do the best I can trying to capture the female voice and perspective, and then the women in my writing group help me tweak and revise where needed.
Tom: Nah, apart from anything else, to research Beth’s POV properly I’d need to pop on a hoodie and break back into my old school in the middle of the night to graffiti it. But my agent, my editor and most of my first readers are women. If anything snags with them, I’ll hear about it.
Readers, and especially girls can be very passionate about male characters in books. Even more, they are often considered as the bad-boys, yet Girls fall head over heels about these characters. Is this something you as a writer are aware of and maybe shape your characters to appeal more to the female audience?
Jeff: I try not to let it shape things. There are plenty of people out there who write great bad boy characters. Don’t think I’m one of them. Besides, YA lit desperately needs a greater diversity of character types for both boys and girls.
Tom: *Quickly adds leather jacket, shades and a cigarette to cover art brief* Sorry what was that? But in all seriousness, no. I try to keep my characters balanced, and honest. I have faith that the book’s readers will go for that. Sometimes it leads to moments of surprising badass-ness, but it also yields boys, who like the girls in the book, are struggling with stuff that feels too big for them, who screw it up and are awkward as well as nailing it and being cool.
Rob: Yeah, I think the “Bad Boy” is just another gender-based stereotype, and it’s just as bland as the “Damsel in Distress” or the “Generic Love Interest”. I don’t think real people fit so neatly into boxes, so characters shouldn’t be crammed into those boxes, either.
As for whether I purposely tailor my characters to be appealing to readers: definitely. I want readers to be engaged with the characters, to be rooting for them, to be falling in love with them. But I think that can be done much more effectively by creating vivid, realistic people than by simply relying on old tropes.
DAN: I don’t write for a female audience, or even a male one–I just write what I think is awesome, and hope other people like it. I can’t imagine thinking ‘I’ll put in some of X or Y because I bet the women will eat it up;’ it sounds too much like pandering or writing down. Good characters are good characters, no matter what your gender is.
Dan and Jeff – you both wrote stories with female as well as boy POV – funny enough you both started with the boy POV (“I am not a killer” and “11th Plaque” and switched to a girls POV “Partials and Magisterium”. Is there any connection, or is it just a coincidence? 🙂
Jeff: No connection as far as I know. Maybe there’s a kind of natural desire to not get stuck doing one sort of thing so you switch things up from project to project.
DAN: I still write both; my next book after PARTIALS was THE HOLLOW CITY, which was back to a male protagonist again.
Did you read a lot as a Teenager? And what kind of stories did you read?
Jeff: Since middle school, yeah. The first book I have a clear memory of reading was “How to Eat Fried Worms” sometime in early middle school. If I had to be honest I’d say I probably started reading it because I was extremely shy and it was a great way to , you know, avoid human contact. Luckily my shyness lessened but my love of reading didn’t. Later, the all time biggest series of books for me was The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. Other than that it was huge doses of comic books and Stephen King.
Tom: Constantly, to the profound irritation of my parents whenever we were on holiday.
‘Tom, look out of the window, it’s Niagara Falls! You’ll probably never see this again!’
‘Sorry dad, but if it’s not cooler than a fell-beast mounted Nazgul, it’s going to have to wait.’
I read all kinds of stuff, but there was a bias to SF and fantasy, Lord of the Rings, Earthsea, Belgariad, Dune. The Alderley Edge Books by Alan Garner were massive for me, and (a little younger) but *anything* by Roald Dahl.
Rob: I’m the opposite: since my older brother (Dan) always wanted to be a writer, I purposely tried to stay out of his shadow and to be as different from him as possible: he was the reader and writer, so I wanted to be something else. Consequently, I never actually developed a real passion for reading until I was in college.
I think this still influences what I choose to read: I probably read five times as much non-fiction as fiction, even now, because I grew up hating English classes but loved history and math.
DAN: I read everything: fantasy, SF, historical fiction, true crime, fairy tales, and everything else I could get my hands on.
Last but not least, please describe your male and female protagonists with 3 words!
Glenn in Magisterium – Angry. Selfish. Heroic.
Fil in THE CITY’S SON – Proud, scared and lethal.
Beth in THE CITY’S SON – Rash, furious, loving
Benson in VARIANT – Independent, Untrusting, Persistent
Becky in VARIANT – Scared, Scrupulous, Resolute
Kira in Partials-Smart, Determined, Hot-tempered.
John Cleaver in The Hollow City–Sacrificing, Observant, Dangerous.
That.Was.Awesome!!! I hope you had as much as I had reading it and I want to thank all of those amazing Authors to agree to this very special Interview and Discussion!
We were lucky enough to chat with Jeff, Tom, Rob and Dan at BEA and we have a book from each of them signed for you to grab!
The Giveaway is US/Can and all you have to do is full out the Rafflecopter!
Much Love and as Jeff said: