In the Background: Class in YA Fiction

In the real world, the social class we come from can have far-reaching consequences into our lives: from the jobs we hold, to the things that worry us, to our long-lasting health. Getting class, and its consequences right, can be tricky to do.

In the titular panel at WorldCon2019, Marieke Nÿkamp, Avery Delany, Caroline Hooton, and Victoria Lee discussed the ways their class upbringing compared to their current social class, and the implications inherent in that.

How The Classes Differ

Most of us are not rich. But the differences between working class and middle class can be easily missed if you’re not paying attention.

When the working class is even seen by those outside it, it’s typically through a political lens: either the lazy bums, looking for a handout. Or the poor, unfortunate who needs charity.

Working class

  • Social mobility is rare
  • You don’t always know where your next meal is coming from
  • Your parents are more likely to need help with bills than be able to help you out in case of emergency (groceries, sudden bills, job loss, ER visits)
  • One bad week is the difference between a rented home and life on the streets
  • Accents and expected behaviors are different — and failure to adhere can cause people to discount you
  • Attendance at events that can help your career can easily be beyond your financial means
  • Health conditions, because of inadequate health care, not enough time to rest, and/or physically demanding jobs
  • Transport is either public, rides from friends, or a car that isn’t in great shape
  • Don’t always have hot water. Or electricity.
  • Accent and speech patterns are looked down on, and seen as something to hide when not home
  • Diverse

Middle Class

  • Social mobility — down or up (at least as far as upper-middle class) is normal.
  • When things are bad, you eat cheap non-nutritious meals
  • If something goes wrong, your parents can usually help. (Car repairs, rent, bail, or at least a bag of groceries)
  • Far more homogeneous

How Is Class Represented in YA?

Often, we’ll see either the aristocracy, the middle-class, or the temporarily poor. Almost always the main characters are able-bodied and cis-gendered (their gender matches what they were declared at birth).

The ending or resolution almost always involves elevating the main character out of the working class. Implying strongly that the character growth and work deserves an “improvement”. That the working class is not something to be proud of, to strive for.

And? After one or two snafus, the ‘uplifted’ character seems to fit in seamlessly. Not finishing their meals because they’re ‘stuffed’.

If there is a diverse character, they’re usually not intersectional. They’re not disabled AND working class AND a person of color. They have one token diverse trait.

Who Is Writing? And For Whom?

Books in general and YA in specific is written by those with the time and energy to do so. Books are sold by those who have the money and energy to promote their works. Leading to very few working class authors.

Publishers look at past sales and, if they don’t see any, they assume there isn’t a market and don’t buy working class author’s works. After the success of The Hate U Give, there’s been an upswing in more working class books. But, they’re seeing them as a niche, as an issues driven book. And publishers typically only acquire one book per niche per publishing cycle.

What agents and editors see as a neutral environment, in an industry run on unpaid internships and publishing companies that are a net loss, labor of love, isn’t. People without a social net don’t even have a chance.

Many of the guest speakers from working class backgrounds, only made it to WorldCon thanks to grants and school funding. Others were denied Visas, so couldn’t even be here for the discussion. Money talks, and without it, you’re left on the outside, not even able to look in.

Worldwide, there are millions of people without access to education, much less to libraries. Think of all the stories we’re missing, because those people never had the chance to share?

How Can You Help Working Class or Diverse Writers?

How can you help mitigate the class segregation inherent in the publishing industry?

  • Share their work
  • Promote their work
  • Leave room at the table for them
  • Buy their work
  • Borrow from the library
  • Review them on Amazon
  • Contribute to their Patreon
  • Donate money to con scholarships
  • Read more diverse works
  • Host a writing workshop for them
  • More paid internships — especially remote ones
    • New York and London are expensive and challenging, even for people with money and connections.

What YA stories have you read that explored class? What did they get right? And what did they get wrong?

Do you have any other suggestions on how to help encourage diverse writers?

Twas the Week before NaNo

In honor of the last week of October, here’s a Throwback Post.

‘Twas The Week Before NaNo

‘Twas the week before NaNo, and all through the land
Not a writer was ready, not even the grand;
The stories all waited, ev’ry last one,
In hopes NaNoWriMo soon would be won;

The characters jostled all shoved in our heads,
While visions of new worlds continued to spread
And Facebook on the PC, and I in my tweets
Had just settled DOWN to fill those blank sheets—‌

When up on the screen there arose such a clatter,
I clicked off my doc to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew in a flash,
Scrolled over the adverts and cleared out my cache.

The notification of a new month said hello,
Giving luster of import to objects below;
When what to my wondering eyes should egress?
But a miniature list with eight friend requests!

Then with a li’l old idea, so lively and quick,
I’d know in a moment if this one would stick.
More rapid than eagles, the story now came,
And I whistled and shouted, and called components by name:

“Now Chapters, now Setting! Now Plot and Conflict!
“On False-peak, on Raised-Stakes! On Black-moment-strict;
“To the top of the peak! To the climax and fall!
“Now type away! Type away! Type away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When you meet with an obstacle: write fast, do not sigh;
So, up to the document’s top, I will go
With my head full of musings‍—‌my ideas now in tow:

And then in a twinkling, you’ll hear my keyboard
The tapping and clacking, each word I’ll record.
As I draw down my head, and ignoring all sound,
Down the page, my story will grow with a bound:

My main character formed, from her head to her foot,
And her clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of supplies was flung on her back,
And she look’d like a peddler just carrying her pack:

Her brow—‌how it furrowed! Her eyes, my how wary,
Her cheeks were like roses, her nose like a cherry;
Her fair little mouth was drawn up so’s to bite,
And the hair on her head was as black as the night;

The dangers she fled were as deadly as sin
And the safety she sought, oh–her lead, it was thin;
The plots, they did lead, and oh how I chased ’em,
While watching my subplots all full of odd whims:

A blink of my eye and a twist of my head
Soon’ll give me to know I had nothing to dread.
I’ll speak not a word, but return to my work,
And fill all the pages; then turn with a jerk,

And stretching my fingers, all done with their task
And after a click on the save key, I’ll finally bask.
I’ll spring to kitchen, to my fridge give a peek,
And filling a good bowl with th’ ice cream I’ll seek:

Then you’ll watch me update, ere the clock strikes midnight—‌
Happy NaNo to all. Put up the good fight.

(For more tip-filled posts, check out my previous NaNoWriMo posts:
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
An Outline To Write By (for Plantsers and Plotters)
How to win NaNoWriMo
3 Things That Helped Me Win NaNoWriMo early
Craft Vs Professionalism )

Dealing With The Emotional Roller-Coaster of Being A Writer

Being a writer, especially one with internet access, can be a complete roller-coaster of emotions.

Of course, we knew before we begin dreaming of writing that book reviews could be the height of joy or the depths of crushing blows. But, it used to be that you’d only see the professional reviews and could ignore them if you wanted.

Nowadays, it would be better (and less distracting) if writers only knew what people thought of their writing when they had the energy and focus to go look, and prepare to improve their craft.

NOT distracting them from what they’re in the middle of.

NOT when they’ve had a rough day of writing and feel like maybe they should throw the towel in.

NOT when life is dragging them down, and the internet’s nasty review is ready to kick them when they’re already down.

But, when you’re a writer, there’s so many other things that can bring you up and crash you down.

In the past week? I’ve been all over the place. Often on the same day.

My most recent roller-coaster of emotions

UPS:

Last week? I entered an overnight flash fiction contest — and WON! Well, I won a free book and bragging rights, but it’s still something.

DOWNS:

Then I got home to find heavy feedback from my mentor.

When I reread the passage? I couldn’t believe I’d sent that to her. I’d remembered the passage having been edited and being dark — yes. But, a rather different flavor of dark.

I dragged my feet getting back to those edits.

BOTH:

The next day, a dear writer friend, with a story pitch that harkens to one of my favorite moves, announced that she’d been offered representation by an agent.

She’s worked hard, reworked her novel, and dealt with some setbacks. I was so proud and excited for her.

But?

I was also jealous and frustrated to be stuck in revisions. Again.

Writing Requires Resilience, Persistence, and
Perseverance

Resilience

the capacity to recover from set-backs. Like facing that scene and editing it into something I can be proud of and eager to show my mentor.

Like recognizing my jealousy and longing to be at the same stage as my friend whose most recent query netted her an agent. And accepting the fact that I want to make my novel better before I enter the query trenches again.

Persistence

firm continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty. I keep writing and putting my work out there.

For that flash-fiction contest? It’s usually posted on Fridays, and open for submissions on Saturdays, for 24 hours. So many times, I’ve created an entry, and then forgotten to post it. But, I still keep my eye on it, and still draft up entries on Fridays.

For my writing? After reading my writing and recoiling in horror, I let that settle in me for a bit. After a day or so, I cracked open that manuscript to see what I could do. And revised it, until I was something I was happy to share with my mentor.

But you know what? I think I can do better. I’m going to edit that chapter again.

And for querying friend? I’m so proud of her and I can’t wait to be in her shoes again. I know I’ll be ready to put myself back out there, when my time comes.

Perseverance

persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

My win? It took a bit to get there.

I tried to post from my phone, but it wouldn’t let me. I tried again hours later, and still nothing. I borrowed a friend’s ipad, logged into an incognito window, and finally managed to get my 100 word entry entered.

Several finalists were announced, and the judge asked for input. No one voted for mine. A couple people wanted me to explain in.

Despite the lack of votes and assurance, I found comfort in making it to the finals, and despite all odds? I WON!

As for my writing. I’m going to keep at it. Querying when I can, polishing the rest until it’s something no one can resist — and they start begging for more.

And for my writing friends? I’m going to be there to celebrate their wins, share their writing with the world, and lend an ear whenever stress or setbacks send them reeling.


What sort of emotional roller-coasters have you been on lately?

Do you ever worry you won’t be able to handle it, when your writing gets popular? 😉

Finding My Way Out Of The Eternal Revision Roundabout

Did you ever get the feeling that you were NEVER going to finish your revisions?

I’m definitely feeling that way these days, as you might be able to tell from my runner-up titles for this post, including:

  • Another Bloody Round Of Revisions?
  • Fighting Past A Bad Case Of The I-Don’t-Wannas
  • Holy BLEEP, When Will My Revisions End?

My novel has been written and polished for years. I queried it. I got rejected. Lots of form rejections and a couple requests that turned into nothing. So, I’ve revised and queried, and revised again.

You know I’ve talked about the editing spiral before. I’ve been here and wrestled with this time and time again.

Every time I finish a draft, I think I’m done. (Well, every draft since the third draft. You don’t want to be too hasty.)

This is my eighth round of revisions, and seeing as how I applied for a mentor in January, it’s only fitting that I should be revising again with her help.

I’ve been working with Leona Wisoker since February. And with her help, I’m adding a lot of sensory details and working on tightening my plot. My main character can get stuck in her own head pretty easily, and — for the sake of both the characters and the readers — it’s best to have her look up once in awhile.

I feel pretty confident in my characters, my world building, and my story. I just need help to take my second-world fantasy from a light read to something that will linger in the minds of the reader.

And Leona’s help is wonderful. I’m THRILLED to be working with her. (If you’re interested, she’s currently open to clients at editor@leonawisoker.com)

BUT.

It means I’m doing another round of revisions when all I want to do is query and pitch and dream of The Call.

I wanted my story to be ready so badly. I’ve been working on this story since 2013, with a full draft in hand for nearly five YEARS.

You always hear about how most writers first novels are practice books that deserve to be in a drawer. I’m scared that the reason I’m still working this novel is because I won’t give up, when there’s no chance for this story to succeed.

The market is too crowded. Everyone has a book these days.

Yet, then I think back to those who have read it. My beta readers enjoyed it, my critique partners cheered for the story. The worst anyone’s ever said is “it’s clear this is an early draft” when I thought I was done. Back around draft five. (You thought I’d forgotten that, didn’t you. You know who you are.)

Everytime I want to throw in the towel on this round of revisions, I read my latest chapter and find myself filled with something warm and exuberant. Something that feels a lot like pride.

If I didn’t feel that sense of improvement, of rightness, after a round of revisions on a chapter, I would stop. But this is why I write.

As long as I feel at the end of the day that what I have after the effort is better than what I had before, I’m going to keep revising. Where I can take a chapter from merely telling a story to bringing the reader along for the ride.

That’s what I want.

And I’m getting closer, every day.