Lauren Kate: On the WSJ debacle and writing for teens

 
When I interviewed Lauren Kate last July 15th (thank you, folks from National Book Store!), I asked her a lot of questions to cover all my bases for the article that I’m submitting to GMA News Online, but also to satisfy my curiosity as a fan.

The write-up is already with my editor, but I think it’s safe to post this excerpt from the interview even if that hasn’t been published yet because this didn’t make it on to that piece anyway. Update: The piece, “An epic, romantic journey with Lauren Kate” is now live!

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Lauren Kate Question:  You’ve probably heard of that infamous Wall Street Journal article (“Darkness Too Visible” by Meghan Cox Gurdon) about books for teens, right?  Most of the authors I follow online have already said their piece about it.  What did you think about it?

Lauren Kate:  The easiest thing to point out about this story is: whoever this woman is who went to the store and couldn’t find anything obviously didn’t look very hard. She obviously didn’t ask a single bookseller. There are so many different kinds of books.

What’s most disturbing is that the author wrote about a girl who wanted to read dark books that her mother didn’t want her to read…I don’t really know…I think she took the books away instead of asking her “Why are you interested in a book about eating disorders? Is there something that we need to talk about?”

What’s wonderful about the audiences that I have is that a lot of them are mother and daughter. The mothers are reading the books, and the daughters are reading the books, and they talk about them. To have an open dialogue with your mother about issues that you’re having as a teenager is such an amazing revolution; I didn’t have that when I was growing up. My mom is completely supportive and wonderful but wasn’t choosing to embark on the same kind of stories that interested me and were powerful to me so that we can talk about it. And I think that that’s a great thing that parents are doing these days.

It seems silly that the writer of that article, she took for granted that these authors who write dark stories are doing them with teens’ best interests in mind.  Most of us are engaged with our readers and we talk to them about problems. I get letters from people telling me about their broken hearts all the time and I take it very seriously. I think it’s very important that we are open and able to have a relationship with these people. When you write things for this audience, you have a responsibility to them.

There’s a group of YA writers that started an anthology called Dear Bully. I think it was started last fall after a few teens committed suicide because of school bullying. And so now Harper Collins is publishing an anthology, and each [writer] had a little poem or short story or a diary entry or something. I submitted an essay, and it’s coming out this fall [August 2011].

So I think we’re all engaged in a sort of social awareness of what’s going on–what is hard about being a teenager–and none of that was highlighted in this article. It’s just a very stodgy, old way of looking at things.

Q:  Did a reader write you in particular about Fallen having an impact in his or her life?

LK:  Many.  Lots of them do.

There are several different kinds of reader interactions. A lot of them are just like “Love your books. Can’t wait for the movie,” that kind of thing. It’s great when you hear someone who says “I never read before, this book got me reading, and now I’m reading other books.” But then there are the very personal ones that say “This reminds me of my own heartbreak and here’s what I’m going through, and here’s what I’m thinking about.” A lot of times, I’ll write personal letters back to those readers.  But also another thing that I started doing is thinking about the situation that they’re describing with their relationships and finding some way to respond to it in Fallen–writing a scene in the story that addresses the questions and issues that this particular girl or guy is going through.

I just did that with a guy. I got a pretty disturbing letter…a very depressed letter from a guy who is going through heartbreak. I did write him back, but I also wrote a scene about that situation using Luce and Daniel into Rapture.

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Next time:  Lauren talks Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Barack Obama.  Yes, you read that right. 😛

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