My name is Nicole O'Dell, and I write edgy books. Or so I'm told.
The thing is, who determines the edge? And the edge of what exactly? I suppose calling my books edgy is totally fair when the view is from the center of a church pew. Sadly, that's not where the majority of teenagers, even Christian teens, are building their frame of reference. According to the view they have from their seats, the stories I tell are far from the edge. In fact, they're smack-dab in the center of reality as those teenagers know it.
Writing these kinds of stories for teenagers in CBA has been an interesting ride so far. I remember sending in the manuscript for my book Essence of Lilly (a Scenarios for Girls story found in the collection called Swept Away). In it, there are alternate endings and the reader gets to choose what the main character does. This particular book was about purity. Yep. I had to write a scene leading up to the choice of whether or not Lilly had sex with her boyfriend. The alternate endings meant I had to write it both ways. The no ending, and the yes ending. I bit a few fingernails when I submitted that story to Barbour. They knew it was coming, and what it would contain, but I still wondered if they'd cringe and back down when it came time to sign off on the finished manuscript. But they didn't.
Same thing with my Diamond Estates series.
Diamond Estates. Three girls are on a journey to find hope and healing. Each coming to Diamond Estates seeking solace… Each with her own unique set of struggles… And each capturing hearts and challenging the faith of teen girls.In the three books in this series, a troubled teen is plucked out of the mire of poor choices and the consequences that resulted, and dropped into Diamond Estates, a Christian counseling residence for teen girls, where they seek truth and grace. The road to forgiveness--mainly accepting it for themselves--is a difficult one. But the light of Jesus shines the brightest against the backdrop of their despair.
Which is exactly what I want to teach confused, hurt, and angry teens about their own realities
But why be edgy just for the sake of being edgy?
Oh, no. I would hope and pray that is never my motivation. Ever. There is no storyline, subplot, vignette, or scene in my books that isn't there for a reason. And never is that reason pure and simple shock value. In fact, I have taken scenes or description out when I didn't trust my own motives for putting them there. I am human, after all, and I sure don't want to get in the way of what God's doing with the work.
Writing for teenagers, you have to be very careful not to contrive the stories. I can't look at a series and say, "Okay, I covered alcohol and drugs in that book, sex in this one, and , etc, etc." That's too contrived for them and for me. I think teenagers want to read character-driven stories about teenagers who make choices that feel real to the who that character is. YA readers don't want to be taught a lesson. The instant they feel like a book has an agenda, they shut down.
Okay, so what kind of edgy? What are we talking about here?
Well, in the first Diamond Estates book, The Wishing Pearl, 10/1/11, Olivia dealt with off-screen sexual abuse by her step-father as she struggled to heal from the death of her dad years before. She turned to the wrong crowd, alcohol, and drugs in search of oblivion.
In this new release, The Embittered Ruby, 4/1/12, Carmen Castillo faces the divorce of her parents that forces a relocation from upstate New York to a rougher part of New Jersey. She goes from country club tennis lessons to gang fights. Deciding to take matters into her own hands, Carmen becomes a master manipulator. Hey, if her parents can't or won't give her the family she needs, she can create it herself! Themes of teenage sexuality, divorce, gang activity, and lying are prevalent.
The Shadowed Onyx, 12/1/12, deals with occult activity and spiritual warfare as Joy Christianson tries to make sense of her best friend's suicide.
But do Christian parents want their teens to read these kinds of YA stories?
You know, the things I mentioned above are part of the daily life of any teenager. They see these themes at work in those around them every minute of every day. What they might not see, however, are the consequences of those poor choices or the redemption that can only be found in Jesus. They see the sparkle of sin and the glamour of rebellion, but rarely do they realize what it's like to hit bottom. . .until they do.
Parents need to realize that the goal is for their daughter or her friends to read about these every-teens and decide not to go that path. Maybe as a result of reading these stories, they'll decide to start their personal choices at the end of the book and skip all the pain along the way. Or perhaps they'll find inspiration to reach out to someone who needs to see truth against the backdrop of lies. To that end, I believe in facing the hard issues, talking about them before they actually arise, and making a plan to combat the peer pressure before it hits. Parents shouldn't be afraid of the issues; they should be afraid of what happens when they ignore them.
The Diamond Estates series might seem edgy, but it's on the edge where the miracles happen.
The Wishing Pearl, book 1, available now
The Embittered Ruby, book 2, available now
The Shadowed Onyx, book 3, available 12/1/12
What about you? Do you write YA? Do you feel called to write nearer to the edge?
Not everyone is called to write like I do, and I couldn't write like you. So, don't let me convince you that you should be writing a certain way. I'm just sharing my heart on why I do what I do. I'd love to hear from you, though. What questions do you have? What concerns do you have about writing for teens? Or maybe you disagree with me entirely...that's okay too. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
In fact, I'm going to give away a copy of The Embittered Ruby to a commenter. And if there are more than fifty commenters, I'll add another copy for every fifty unique commenters. So, jump in!
She’s author of YA fiction, including the popular Scenarios for Girls interactive fiction series and the Diamond Estates Series, and non-fiction for teens including Girl Talk, 2/1/12, which she wrote with her two daughters based on their popular advice column.
Hot Buttons, O’Dell’s non-fiction series for parents helps pre-empt peer pressure by tackling tough issues.
Visit http://www.nicoleodell.com/ for more info--she's also giving away a Kindle Touch right now. Visit her site and enter to win!