Becoming New Adult
When I first wanted to become a writer, I didn't have any idea in what category I placed myself. Sure, "fantasy" made sense, but I didn't like the High Fantasy of The Lord of the Rings or anything like that. I might dabble in the kind of older, middle-ages kind of world, but nothing too extreme. I also knew that I would never be a James Joyce or T.S. Elliot kind of wordsmith. I didn't see the world in poetic, painted tones that made me melt into a world that didn't exist in my experience. I loved the darker fantasies, the ones where demons might be the good guys and fairies weren't Tinker Bell-esque; Mermaids enticed sailors to their drownings, and sex wasn't treated with wide-eyed trepidation. I wasn't old enough yet to have experienced the world, but I wanted to write about those things. The fantasy of power, of choice, of a world full of gray: that was the kind of thing I wanted to write about.
When I was forced to make a decision about my age category, I thought this was what Young Adult fiction was. At the time, that's all I looked at. All the "adult fantasy" was all dragons and wizards, women who needed saving and the exotic lands of any peoples who weren't white/caucasian cultures. The diversity and darkness I sought was always in the YA section of Borders and Barnes&Noble. The writing styles in YA were also incredibly easy to devour. I have always felt that reading shouldn't be complicated, so long as the message is conveyed. For a long time, this was my genre. To some degree, I still think it is. I like YA, but increasingly I want to distance myself from it. More and more I feel it's becoming a space where teen girls get to read their princess fantasies while being strong, independent women falling in love. There's nothing wrong with this (I think every girl at some point wanted to be a princess), but those aren't the stories I'm interested in reading. Katniss in The Hunger Games was more of what I wanted, but even then she gets swept up in dresses and parties at some points.
In recent years, a new category of fiction has risen with a name: New Adult. Not everyone can agree on what this is, which is fairly common for emerging genres. Still, no one really seems to want to claim NA as their sub-genre. I've seen arguments for both sides. Some say NA leans more in the Adult category because it deals with heavier themes and often relies on a gross amount of sex that no YA book ever would. Others say its a YA sub-genre because the themes still deal with a kind of "coming of age", it's just coming into adulthood rather than coming out of childhood. Personally? I argue it's a YA sub-genre for this very reason, as well as the similarity of writing styles. The target audience for NA is late teens to 30 years old (almost everyone agrees on that), which used to be the YA category. I remember when I was first looking up age categories ten years ago and YA was ranged at "high school to college aged". What is YA now? 12-18 years old. That is a VERY different set of ages, and those people have very different priorities. What used to be called "teen fiction" is now "young adult", and what used to be "young adult" is now "new adult" with a slightly more mature age range.
But, New Adult is having issues, mainly that when people talk about NA they almost immediately think Fifty Shades of Grey: super sexy "mommy porn", as people have called it. I'm not denying that the book doesn't fall neatly into NA: the target audience is college age to young professionals, there are themes of choice and coming into adulthood, sex is obviously a major factor at play (as are consent and exploitation). What I am arguing is that the novel could also fit very easily into Erotic Romance: the entire plot line is based on the relationship between two characters who are hot and bothered over each other. I argue that there's more to NA than sexy times, and that we need to start paying attention to the other adult-tied themes we're not acknowledging. What about handling a real, established relationship? Or becoming a first-time parent? Or moving to a brand new city to start a career? Or climbing your way up the corporate ladder? Or simply stumbling over yourself because you thought you had it all planned out, but life has a terrible sense of humor?
There are going to be a lot of growing pains, but I think New Adult will come into its own in the coming decades. YA used to be that transitional space between children's lit/Middle Grade and Adult fiction. Now that YA is also covering MG territory, I think we need something to replace it. This, sadly, is where my own story comes into focus.
I'm realizing more and more than I am a New Adult writer. I write with the ease and flow of YA, but handle more adult-focused themes. I want to handle people coming into their own person, but not as if they're coming out of childhood. I want to have characters think about death and their long-term relationships, about their careers, about their place in the world. I want to have my characters be a little jaded about the world, but still have enough hope and strength to power through their struggles. These characters aren't princes and princess, they aren't the chosen ones, they will never be awarded a high honor. But they are interesting people. They have goals and aspirations. And, yes, they have sex because, honestly, most people have sex. They are messy people, and they aren't going to be perfect. They have to save themselves because no one else will.
This may all fall under the category of Adult fiction, I know. I understand that the things I want in my stories could easily fall under different categories if I only tweaked them a little. What I believe is the most important thing to remember, however, is the age range I want to reach: 18-30 years of age. Adult fiction covers everything from about 30 years old upwards. I don't think that the story of a girl coming out of college and applying to every job in sight is going to interest many career-established 50 year olds, but much more likely to catch the eye of someone who is going through the same thing. Anyone can read whatever they like, because everyone has diverse tastes and wants out of their reading... however, we categorize by age group for a reason. People go through stages of life at approximately the same time in their lives. For me, I want to catch the group of people struggling to find what it means to be an adult, independent but attached to their families, traditions, religions, and cultural expectations.
And thus, I say good bye to Young Adult. I have become New Adult.