Thursday, September 29, 2011

Jeyn Roberts on the Popularity of Dystopian fiction in YA

Hi everyone! I’m Jeyn Roberts and I’m the author of Dark Inside. I’m here today to talk about the rise of dystopian fiction in today’s YA market and why it’s become so popular.

Dystopian fiction isn’t exactly new. I remember reading Nineteen Eighty Four and Brave New World back in high school. There’s also The Handmaid’s Tale which is still one of my favourite books today. Dystopian fiction has always held a place on fiction lover’s bookshelves. But why is it so popular right now? I think a lot of it has to do with what’s going on in the world today.

Everything comes around full circle. Right now there’s been an abundance of talk about the end of the world since 2012 is coming up. The whole Mayan calendar ending and so will life on earth thing. I can’t say I really believe it but then again, who knows. Didn’t a bunch of people claim the world was supposed to end a few months ago too?

There’s also a lot of dissatisfaction with today’s economy and many people are coming out of school and unable to find jobs. People simply can’t support themselves anymore. There are a lot of countries that are at war. We have environmental problems that are affecting us globally. To say times are tough isn’t an understatement.

Suddenly it’s very easy to imagine a dystopian world in the not too distant future.

People have always been fascinated with the end of the world. It’s terrifying. It’s exciting. There is no way to predict the outcome. Will mankind wipe itself off the face of the earth? Or will something else do it for us? Meteor? Plague? Zombies? Crazed killers? There have been countless movies and books that play out those very ideas. And we never tire of it. It doesn’t matter how many zombie movies George Romero makes, I’ll keep paying money to see them.

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we love being scared. Well, most of us. There’s something very satisfying about being terrified, especially when we’re in the comfort of our own home where we know we’re technically safe.

For myself, I love end of the world stuff. I always have. There is nothing scarier than isolation in my opinion, especially if you’re being chased by something evil. I grew up on zombie movies and Stephen King’s The Stand is one of my favourite books. I love dystopian because there’s a huge amount of creativity involved when it comes to trying to rebuild a world that’s been destroyed. If we were almost wiped off the face of the earth, how would we come back? Electronics, comforts, cars, etc...everything we take for granted would be gone. Sadly, humans think we’ve come a long ways but all we’ve managed to do is destroy all that survival knowledge we’ve spent thousands of years acquiring. Could I go out and shoot a deer if I was starving? I honestly don’t know that answer.

I spent the summer reading a lot of the great dystopian books that are starting to come out on the market right now. I must admit, I’ve loved Blood Red Road by Moira Young. She’s an amazing writer and her voice is so unique and fresh. Across the Universe by Beth Revis was another one that really captured my interest. I’ve also enjoyed the Gone series by Michael Grant and the Enemy series by Charlie Higson. I can’t wait to read the third one.

Monday, September 12, 2011

#YesGayYA

by Ceilidh

The YA twittersphere was alight yet again today thanks to a Publisher’s Weekly article written by Sherwood Smith & Rachel M. Brown, in which they discussed an agent who offered to represent their new book on the condition that they “make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.” This sparked a barrage of support from YA authors, agents and readers alike for the authors as well as the portrayal of LGBTQ characters in YA and the culture’s attitudes towards them.

Honestly, I wish I could say I was surprised about this revelation but I’m honestly not. While diversity in YA has made leaps and bounds over the past few years as young adult fiction becomes more prominent, sometimes it does feel like a case of two steps forward and one step back. As LGBTQ content in YA becomes more common, it’s still incredibly rare to find protagonists for whom their sexuality is merely incidental (and I do believe, despite dissenting opinions, that it is possible to have characters who just happen to be gay/bi/trans/etc and aren’t defined solely by their sexuality.) Even within LGBTQ content, bisexual and transgender characters are much rarer, while asexual characters are practically non-existent. Putting sexuality aside, characters of colour are also sidelined in mainstream YA. Let’s not forget how common white-washing of covers is, although the right amount of outrage and publicity can work wonders on that front. Even with our celebrations of diversity in YA, the status quo is still a top seller. How many of the bestselling YA romances of the past few years had LGBTQ romances, or a romantic lead who wasn’t white? That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but it certainly doesn’t get the massive amount of publicity and hype that the default mode books get.

Tokenism is all too common as well – the squealing sassy gay friend of the pretty straight female lead appears more often than I’d like it too. Diversity and queer representation is so important in YA but we can’t give tokenism and the perpetuation of damaging stereotypes a free pass on the basis that it’s some form of representation. Still, it’s all too depressing to realise how little belief editors and publishers have in the representation of anything other than the default mode in YA. A stable gay relationship is nigh-on un-publishable while the misogynistic depiction of rape culture in a relationship being the romantic ideal becomes national bestselling material. There’s more to this issue than what the editors want; it’s an entire culture and way of life that needs examining. In tough economic times, one almost can’t blame publishers, who are surviving by the skin of their teeth, for playing it safe.

However, it’s not a good enough excuse. The perpetuation of minorities as token characters, or the complete removal of them from the narrative, is definitely not playing it safe. At a time when gay teen suicides are in the headlines, it’s crucial that YA, like all good forms of entertainment, reflect the world we live in and show it for the vibrant, diverse, beautiful, ugly place it is. As important as it is for writers, editors and publishers to create these stories, it’s more important that we as readers support diversity with our hearts, minds and wallets. Money talks and if these books make a profit, publishers will want more of them. It’s a depressing system but that’s capitalism for you. Support is important but so is appropriate critique – call out the harmful representations you see in YA as well as the rest of the world, make sure people get the message that they’re wrong. Education is key. Get the word out, readers, because publishers sure as hell won’t do it for you.