Three years ago, ALAN journal's editor (fondly known as the Belle of Tallahassee) allowed me to appear in these pages — a move not unlike inviting Spanky and Alfalfa to an embassy brunch. Since then, I've experienced a dizzying rise from total obscurity to vague familiarity. Thanks in part to ALAN, I'm mistaken for much more important people these days than ever before.
To honor the end of Dr. Carroll's reign as editor, I've been asked to write another article. After a great deal of thought, and after accepting the sad truth that I have a hard time making decisions (I've been known to hover for twenty minutes in the produce department trying to pick the right tomato or, more importantly, avoid picking the wrong tomato), I realized there's only one possible topic worthy of this event. Everything. So, in this article, I'll cover the entire history of YA literature, past, present, and future, describe the important people and organizations in the field, and explain everything I've learned as a writer of YA novels. If there's space left over, I'll toss in my wife's recipe for cream of broccoli soup.
In 1951, J.D. Salinger, author of such action-packed works as "A Perfect Day for Banana Bread," and Franny and Zooooooey, creates a new genre with Catcher in the Rye, spawning an industry frenzy for novels with red covers. Teachers rejoice, and celebrate this emerging literature by assigning The Brothers Karamazov. Also in 1951, three-year-old Chris Crutcher grows his first mustache. Ten years later, Harper Lee creates a YA classic that doesn't have a single YA character. A short time after that, S. E. Hinton, realizing that she's just as qualified as Salinger to go by her initials, writes several ground breaking YA novels while still in utero. Teachers across the land respond by assigning Silas Marner. Robert Cormier, feeling that Holden Caufield got off too easily, kicks the crap out of his characters. Things start to get interesting. Judy Blume and Stephen King write about girls getting their first period, with broadly different outcomes. Someone points out to M. E. Kerr that she also has two initials.
In the eighties, angst reigns supreme. During that decade, YA novels give us 837 rapes, 943 murders, 1,247 suicides, 12,457 dead parents, 19,382 dead pets, and three smiles. Legions of dogs are bred for the sole purpose of dying in the penultimate chapter. So many parents drown that the Red Cross steps in to offer free adult swim lessons to any interested fictional characters. Loneliness runs rampant — nobody wants to be the main character's best friend because that's almost a guaranteed death sentence. During this period, I attempt to write books using my first two initials, but people misread the meaning of D. R. Lubar and hound me for amphetamine prescriptions.
The nineties bring us a huge diversity and bold experimentation. Characters get drunk, use bad language, and contemplate intercourse, just like Holden Caufield, but authors bravely use their whole first names. Except for J. K. Rowling, but then again she can do whatever she wants, even if it means that an entire generation of her book-toting fans will eventually suffer scoliosis. (One youngster was already tragically crushed when he tried to bring his entire Harry Potter collection to school in his back pack. This represents an alarming trend in page-count injuries affecting younger and younger kids. It used to be only Robert Jordan fans who got hurt.)
The next ten years should be just as exciting, especially when a wave of adult authors dives into YA novels, allowing teens to share the joys of deciphering enigmatic references, plotless meanderings, epiphanies by the cart load, and the many other wonders of the finest literary and academic fiction. It's about time. There's no reason all of this joy should be the exclusive property of New Yorker subscribers.
Beyond that, two or three decades hence, we'll see the end of the printed word as ebooks take over the world. Or as global warming raises the ambient temperature above 451 degrees Fahrenheit (which, as any science fiction fan knows, is the kindling temperature of banana bread). While the end of the printed word was also predicted by the advent of educational radio, educational television, personal computers, laser disks, computers, and Jim Carrey movies, the prognosticators are bound to be right sooner or later. If not this time, maybe next time.
(Voice shift alert — I really like the people in the field, so this section might not have quite the same tone as the rest of the piece. On the other hand, I've been known to shoot myself in the foot, so we'll just have to see what happens.)
Between the reader and writer lies a vast array of other folks. Foremost among them is M. Jerry Weiss, who realized that he could slip cleverly into the middle ground by using just one of his two initials. M. (as we like to call him) has a marvelous talent for getting publishers to send writers to conferences at places we'd never get to see otherwise, like New Orleans, San Francisco, Hoboken, and Toronto. For this, we all love him.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, there's that one guy who has absolutely no sense of humor. His name eludes me at the moment, but you know who I mean. The same guy who's proud of the fact that he doesn't like teens. On second thought, let's just move on. No point making him crankier than he already is. I'd rather talk about those who've chosen the light side of the Force. And they are legion. The array of folks who promote good books is amazing. There's probably no field on the planet where everyone is so cool.
Wait — it's coming to me even as I write this. Let's bag the descriptions and just do the thing we all enjoy the most: give out awards. But these will be fun awards. None of this stuff about enduring literary value or redeeming social messages.
Okay. The envelope, please. In the category of best hair on an individual over six feet seven inches tall, the winner is Walter Mayes (aka Walter the Giant Story Teller). For best hair, couples division, the winners are Don Gallo and CJ Batt. The award for best drawl on an answering machine message goes to Dr. Pamela Sissi Carroll. (Not that I'd ever admit to calling her office when I knew she was out just to hear that cheerful southern phrasing). Bill Mollineaux wins best punster, in the division of important guys I'm trying to suck up to. (Yikes — wait — I ended that with a preposition. Let's make it "important guys to whom I am trying to suck up." Wait. Darn. That won't work either. Okay — got it — "Important guys up to whom I am trying to suck." There. Perfect.)
Okay — back to the awards. Di Tixier Herald wins the Green Earth award for building her new house out of recycled Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs). The "It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time" award goes to Cathi Dunn MacRae for letting me write whatever I feel like in VOYA. And, in a tightly fought contest among dozens of candidates, Richie Partington wins best grasp of YA literature by a goat farmer.
Seriously, (and I promise that this is the only time I will use that word in this article) there is nothing cooler than being at the ALAN conference, because you are the folks who actually understand what all of this is about. And I was kidding about prepositions. They're a perfectly fine thing to end a sentence with.
This is actually pretty simple. Every journal on the planet is important except for Kirkus Reviews. (The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of NCTE, ALAN, USFL, NFL, ICBM, QWERTY, or any other individual, organization, or acronym. Which, of course, doesn't invalidate the likelyhood that nearly everyone on the planet shares this view.) While this may seem like a cheap shot on my part, I'd like to point out that at least it's not anonymous.
Various organizations exist for the worthy goals of promoting young adult literature, and meeting on occasion at places like New Orleans, San Francisco, and Toronto. (Hang in there, Hoboken; your turn will come.)
The most puzzling group is the NCTE. It's not unreasonable to expect English teachers to come up with a spiffy acronym for their organization, such as BOOKZ or TENURE. Sadly, it appears that someone dropped the ball. Other than a vague resemblance to "nictate," or "incite," NCTE doesn't seem to resemble any known word.
The International Reading Association, on the other hand, has forced countless writers to follow the statement, "I'm working on my IRA talk," with disclaimers along the lines of, "No, I'm not a terrorist," or "Sorry, I can't give you advice on planning your retirement."
ALAN, with a bit of fudging on the "N," managed to create a reasonable acronym, though nobody is sure whether the inspiration is Alan Funt, Alan Sherman, or Alan Seuss. ALA strikes the eye as a foreign preposition while YALSA seems more like a mislabeled condiment. (I'm pretty sure that at the Texas Library Association banquet, they served Enchiladas ALA Enrique can YALSA verde, but my memory might be imperfect due to an allergic reaction to my fifth marguerita.)
It's just like writing for old adults.
The soup recipe is way too hard. And all that cream can turn a body to lard. So allow me to offer instead:
Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas
1 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease 4 small loaf pans. Stir flour, baking soda, and salt together. Beat oil, sugar, and eggs. Add bananas and beat. Add flour mixture until moistened. Stir in chips. Pour into baking pans. Bake 45-50 minutes. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely.
P.S. Bye-bye, Dr. Sissi. You done good.