Monday, August 27, 2012

Is it YA or MG? Guest Post by C. Lee McKenzie

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome a fabulous part of our writing community: the one and only C. Lee McKenzie! She’s graciously offered to discuss the differences between writing MG and YA as a part of her Alligators Overhead tour, and I can’t wait to get started. Take it away, Lee! 

         ALLIGATORS OVERHEAD          


About the book:
"Alligators, witches and a spooky mansion aren't your average neighbors unless you live at the edge of the Ornofree swamp in the backwater town of Hadleyville. The town's bad boy, Pete Riley, may only be twelve, but he's up to his eyeballs in big trouble, and this time he isn't the cause. This time the trouble arrives when a legendary hundred-year-old mansion materializes next door and the Ornofree alligators declare war to save their swamp from bulldozers. Things only get worse when Pete's guardian aunt and several of her close friends vanish while trying to restore order using outdated witchcraft. Now Pete must find the witches and stop the war. He might stand a chance if his one friend, Weasel, sticks with him, but even then, they may not have what it takes."

WHERE TO FIND C. LEE MCKENZIE:
WEBSITE  |  BLOG  |  FACEBOOK  |  TWITTER | AMAZON  |  GOODREADS

WHERE TO FIND ALLIGATORS OVERHEAD:

                      Is it YA or MG?                      

I’m always surprised when people say that they’re not sure if they’re writing YA or MG. Maybe I’m just too simplistic, but there seems to be a very clear distinction between the characters and the way the stories unfold.

When I create a young adult character, I always see them as fifteen to seventeen and on the verge of entering the adult world. If I give them a family of any sort, they’re readying themselves for independence from the home, and they’re rebelling to test their limits and establish themselves as individuals. I think they might still seek the safety net of the family or other adults in times of stress because while they’re getting ready to head out the door and be on their own, I think they might still have a Teddy Bear on their bed--a last poignant vestige of their childhood.
 
If I’m terrible and don’t give them that family, then these YA characters might suffer from loss of innocence; they’re likely to make some very bad decision with very limited experience or support; they’re growing up, but it’s often a painful period that I depict in the story. These teens can be cutters, heavy drinkers, sexually active etc. They’ve had some hard knocks and these experiences have added some very sharp edges to them. Some are still attending high school, so huge choices loom ahead: college, job, career, possibly marriage. In some cases, my characters could be facing jail time if they continue the way they’re going.

My MG characters are obviously younger than those young adults. I like to have them either eleven or twelve. These are kids who might have to cope with bad parents or no parents or bullies, but they’re still kids and there’s only the budding evidence that they’re aware of the opposite sex or career choices. They’ll notice a cute boy or a cute girl and they might say something like, “When I grow up I’m going to be an astronaut.” However, unlike those teens, the middle graders are trying to find a place to fit in their families or their communities, not leave them. Not yet.

The story comes from the characters and what they want. With my YA they usually want to recover from some loss, or they want a certain person to fall for them. Maybe they want to recover from an addiction or to escape the nightmare of an abusive home. These are very different goals than my MG characters have. In Alligators Overhead, all Pete wants is to return to his real home. He doesn’t like this new place and he acts out because of that. Yet, in the end all he really wants is to find a place where he fits.

I like to write across these categories because they are different and they allow me to create teens and younger characters who have distinct story themes. I can’t only write about teen angst. I have to write about the time before all of that comes into play, when kids look at the world from their childhood perspective for the last time. In my mind, they are distinct categories and not easily confused, but then I don’t write contemporary, realistic middle grade fiction, and that may be one reason I have no problem keeping these categories separate.

I’d love to hear what you think about this topic, especially if you read/write both YA and MG. Are the lines between the two more blurred for you?
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
C. Lee McKenzie is a native Californian who grew up in a lot of different places; then landed in the Santa Cruz Mountains where she lives with her family and miscellaneous pets. She writes most of the time, gardens and hikes and does yoga a lot, and then travels whenever she can. 

She takes on modern issues that today's teens face in their daily lives. Her first young adult novel, Sliding on the Edge, which dealt with cutting and suicide was published in 2009. Her second, titled The Princess of Las Pulgas, dealing with a family who loses everything and must rebuild their lives came out in 2010. Her short stories appear in Stories for Children, The First Time and the soon to be published, Two and Twenty Dark Tales. She just published her first Middle Grade novel, Alligators Overhead, this year.

51 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'd think middle grade would be more about the fun and innocence of being a kid.

Lisa Regan said...

What a great post! I don't write in either genre but have often wondered what the heck the difference was! :) Thanks for this! Congrats on the book, hope it's very successful!

Madeleine Maddocks said...

Interesting post. I would have to say that for me MG is about children of pre teenage (so the first Harry Potter books are MG) and then as the characters get older it becomes YA regardless of what the characters experience. Though as Patrick Ness astutely said children know when they are ready for what they are reading. If they are not they just put it down.

cleemckenzie said...

@Alex It is a great time for most kids. I'm always upset when I read about children in this age group who are abused or neglected. They've been robbed of a beautiful part of their lives. Thanks, Alex.

@Lisa great to meet you here. Appreciate the good wishes.

@Madeleine I agree that kids will read what appeals to them.

Melissa said...

Great post! :)
(Mother of 1 YA and 2 MG-ers.)

Mark Murata said...

Agent Kristin Nelson has a vlog on the difference between young adult and middle grade that I think overlaps with what you've said. You'll find it at

http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2012/02/fridays-with-agent-kristin-episode-2.html

Tara Tyler said...

thanks for clearing that up. i feel better about calling my fantasy a ya. it's a fun adventure so i considered mg, but they are 16, more mature and have more complex problems for sure!

Jessie Humphries said...

I write YA now, but I'd love to dial it back and write a MG adventure. Thanks for the great advice.

dalesittonrogers said...

I think my writing is right on the line. I've heard some refer to it as a new category such as tween or teen. I'm
glad some are recognizing this new division, since I seem to be stuck there. I love it--I just hope others do too!

M. C. Arvanitis said...

I write for mostly MG .. although my characters are in their upper teens. (Tweens?) And I throw a little bit of romance in. But since most of my books are fantasy, It isn't really the characters but who and what they interact with that is important. And every mid grade up to tween loves a good fantasy. : )

jamieayres.com said...

Great highlights! The line "I have to write about the time before all of that comes into play, when kids look at the world from their childhood perspective for the last time" brought a tear to my eye. My daughter is 12-yrs-old and I can see right before me what you're talking about! Cheers on your book:-)

Nancy Thompson said...

I don't write in either genre, but I think they are miles apart as far as audience goes, at least in my mind. MG is simpler and more chaste than YA. I may be wrong since I don't read MG and very little YA. I just don't think I'd want my middle-grader reading about some of the issues that YA books deal with. They can be pretty dark and their problems complex. Plus I think MG should be more of an adventure romp.

Carrie Butler said...

I know Lee is doing replies today, so I just wanted to stop in and say, "Hey, guys!" :)

Michael Pierce said...

I currently write YA, but I'm interested in getting into MG. I find the innocence and adventure intriguing. Great distinctions between the genres.

Ruth Schiffmann said...

I write YA and picture books. I've written some short stories for MG, but nothing longer. I like how you summed up the differences here. Well put.

cleemckenzie said...

You're busy. Glad you found time to comment here. Thank you.

cleemckenzie said...

Yes, I think if they're dealing with more complex problems like self as separate from parents or guardians, that helps id your book as YA.

cleemckenzie said...

It's fun, isn't it? I really enjoyed writing this book. Thanks for the visit.

cleemckenzie said...

I think I'll stick around the MG scene for a while. I'm loving it, too.

cleemckenzie said...

Oh yes. I think fantasy is best at this level. So much fun to create.

cleemckenzie said...

It is such a passage that we all experience, and then have to watch our children experience. Watching them leave behind those wonder years is bitter sweet, isn't it?

cleemckenzie said...

I am in total agreement with you on this one. I'm really so clear that my YA is for teens and not the younger set. "Adventure romp" is a perfect way to express MG.

cleemckenzie said...

Glad you did. I wanted to tell you how much I love the logos you come up with! Your site is always so professional looking. I think I need to hire you to spruce up The Write Game!

cleemckenzie said...

I hope you do find a story for the MG crowd. If you do, let me know!

cleemckenzie said...

Thanks, Ruth. Love that you're a part of this Swamp Hop!

The Golden Eagle said...

I agree with your distinction between the two genres. I think the line's a bit more blurred if the MC is 12-13 and told through their perspective, but there are still significant differences between most MG and YA.

Carrie Butler said...

Thank you, Lee! Shoot me an e-mail sometime. I'd be glad to help! :)

Emily R. King said...

I love that trailer! And thanks for all the info on the difference between YA and MG, C. It can be tricky to discern sometimes.

*waves to Carrie*

Carrie Butler said...

*Waves back!* :)

Empty Nest Insider said...

Lee, It's nice that you're providing different options for children of all ages. I admire your broad range and ability to deal with difficult issues. Carrie, thanks for hosting Lee!

Talli Roland said...

Yay for Lee! I've always wondered what exactly the difference is. Thank you for the explanation.

Laura Pauling said...

The more I read of both, the more distinct both become. There is a line though of tween and YA that is a little fuzzy. Problem is, agents/editors might think so too. But true middle grade is easier to tell apart from YA.

Awesome book, Lee! Congrats!

Clarissa Draper said...

I have never written a MG novel before but I didn't know there were so many clear-cut ways to differentiate between the two. Thanks for the post.

Lydia Kang said...

I agree. I'm writing an MG and the character is 12 (I started out having them be 13, but that makes it hard to shelve, I hear).

Carrie Butler said...

It was my pleasure! :)

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I'm ordering this book~! My grandchildren are going to have to fight me for it.

Thanks, Carrie and C Lee. Now I know the difference. Great trailer!

michelle said...

I've always wondered about the difference between the two, so this clears it up nicely for me.

cleemckenzie said...

I marked this to read. Thanks for putting it here.

cleemckenzie said...

I've met 12 year olds who are so sophisticated that they would probably be characters in YA novels. Then I've met those who are still very young in their attitudes and definitely would be a fit in MG. Thanks Golden Eagle.

cleemckenzie said...

Thanks Talli. Appreciate the visit to Carrie's blog while I'm here.

cleemckenzie said...

I agree, Laura. I haven't tackled the tween age and I haven't read much in that category, but I think it would be a fuzzy distinction.

Thanks for stopping in.

cleemckenzie said...

This is just my opinion, Clarissa. It helps me when I'm writing to keep these distinctions in mind.

cleemckenzie said...

I'm not a marketing expert, but I guess 13 puts the MC either in high school or almost there, so there is a big difference in the experiences of the grade schooler and the freshman in HS. 12 is a good age for MG because younger kids will enjoy reading about that MC, yet identify with his experiences. There's my opinion again!

cleemckenzie said...

Thank you, Joylene. Hope you'll let me know what they think.

cleemckenzie said...

Hope it helps, but again, this is my opinion. Thanks for taking the time to read the post.

Melissa Sugar said...

Thanks for all of the information about MG and YA. I don't write either one so I have always kind of wondered. There is an element of innocence combined with adventure in the books that my 5th grader reads, that appeals to me. YA encompasses such a wide range of topics. I find myself carefully scrutinizing all of the books my teen girls choose. They obviously prefer the YA genre, but I like so many YA books and have read so many that I know some of them are too sophisticated or mature (can't really think of the right word here) for my thirteen year old. I used to believe the reading material was age appropriate for her if it was classified as YA, but once I began reading them I learned that she is not ready for some of them.

Congratulation on the release of your upcoming trailer and book cover. Please let me know what I can do to help spread the word. I am looking forward to seeing them. I really like the trailer for Alligators Overhead. It reminded me of Louisiana.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Thanks for picking my name in the giveaway. I know I'm going to love Alligator's Overhead!

Carrie Butler said...

Congratulations, Joylene! :)

Ciara said...

My prequel to the series happens four years prior to the series, so my MC is 12. BUT, she has lived through a great war, lost both parents, and is a slave. She is more mature than the modern day 12 year old. Of course, the big six wouldn't have touched it. :)

Peggy Eddleman said...

I agree-- MG is a lot about fitting in, and YA is about standing out. And a lot more things, of course--- MG kids just deal with things so differently than YA kids! For me, the line's not so blurred.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Good job. There is a big difference between MG and YA in the very nature of the story.