Friday, April 20, 2012

Welcome Our Guest K Dawn Byrd

Making It Real by Pushing Boundaries: Writing for Teens
Thanks so much for having me back on Seekerville, Mary. You guys are all so much fun! Since we're talking about teens today, let's have a slice of pepperoni pizza, some cheese sticks, and a soft drink. I'm sure there's someone out there like my strange self who would rather have "real" food than eggs, toast, and bacon for breakfast. Ha!
Let's talk about writing for teens. Teenagers today are smart. Very smart. They want to read about realistic situations that apply to their lives in our modern world. Times have changed. Just take a look at TV commercials. What would have been taboo just a decade ago is the norm today. Today's young adults are so much more mature in many aspects than in comparison and are exposed to much more controversial subjects

Teens won't read sugar coated books that don't ring true to life. If I wrote a book about a nineteen year old who refused to kiss her boyfriend, they wouldn't read it. I'd have insulted the reader's intelligence. Teens want to read novels that recognize their struggles through characters who are real. That said, how far is too far when an author pushes boundaries?

In my latest release, Shattered Identity, I tell the story of nineteen-year old, Lexi, who is living the life of an unsaved young woman. With a character that age, real life changes. A nineteen year old has different choices to make than someone years younger. That said, without being graphic and going into great detail, the reader learns that Lexi has been spending the night with her older boyfriend. In addition, Lexi becomes pregnant. I show the consequences of Lexi's actions in what I hope is a thought provoking scenario. My goal is to make teens stop and think about the consequences of their actions.
Lexi enters into her relationship with Zack too quickly. She comes from a broken home and he makes her feel special, like a princess. At first, he's the man of her dreams, but soon she learns that he can be abusive and he has secrets. My sweet, elderly father-in-law tells my step-daughter often, "For every action, there's a reaction." In this book, I show clearly the consequences of unwise choices and hope young women will pause and take the time to get to know someone before entering into a relationship.
How do we teach teenagers to do the right thing if we don't acknowledge the struggles they face? How do we teach them about love if we don't write about it? If touchy subjects aren't addressed by Christian authors, how will teens learn to make the right choices?

I'm giving away two downloads of Shattered Identity. Please answer the following question for your chance to win. "Just how far is too far in pushing the boundaries when writing for young adults?"

Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.


Christina said...

Welcome back to Seekerville, Dawn! I've been out of the loop for a few months.

As far as what's too far, that is a tough question to answer. I know as parents we try to shelter our children from all kinds of things, but in reality they encounter reality every day, even the Christian kids. Yes, even the Christian young adults make choices and they're not always for their good. So, I think having a story that deals with real issues and making a young adult think is a good thing. And when they read stories such as this, even though they are fiction, it makes them realize they're not the only ones.

Kudos to you for stepping into this ministry.


Vince said...

Hi Dawn:

I think boundaries are set by publishers. If the YA is 18 or 19, I don’t see any boundary. These people are young but they are adults. They can vote. They can serve in the military. They can buy and read whatever they want.

I would have no problem with a Christian fiction story about a minister who works among prostitutes. That would be an interesting ministry.

I believe Christian fiction is ‘edgy’ to the degree it challenges publisher guidelines. For some publishers a French kiss is too far and not allowed. Having unmarried people living together ‘in sin’ is about as edgy as one can get.

It probably gets down to what an author is comfortable writing matching a given publisher’s guidelines. On the margin a given author might try to go slightly beyond the guidelines and that would be ‘edgy’ for the line.

Teens that want realism, can find those books. But I’m sure some teens want romance with the HEA and not as much harsh reality. Some may want ‘clean’ books just as some adults do.

It may come down to: why are the teens reading this book, what do they expect the book to deliver, does the book express Christian values.

Do you think a book can be classified as Christian Fiction if it is published as mainstream fiction by a non Christian publisher? If it expresses Christian values, then I think it could be.

To me going 'too far' is not about sex. It’s about showing sinful behavior in a way that, while it is bad, it still leads to things really working out for the best after all.

I don’t want the story to be like the ex-drug users who go to schools telling kids about how bad drugs are and how low they fell – yet all the while the kids see that the speakers quit drugs and are now 'cool' experts making a living speaking to schools.


vmres (at) swbell (dot) Net

Virginia said...

Ooooh, K Dawn Byrd and YA books!!

Well, I agree with both of these comments... esp. Vince.

I'm not a reader who wants to pick up a book about hard choices and consequences. Not really. I like a love story, the HEA, the sweet here-after.

My sister would give up reading if she had to live in my library, which is packed with Shannon Hale, Sarah Prineas, Eion Colfer, etc. I even like a good Middle Grade (just finished the 'Ranger's Apprentice' series).

Anyway, my sister is one of those people that like a good tear-jerker with drama and major 'consequences'. To her, it's engaging. To me, it's too much reality.

So, like Vince said, there are teens that want a cleaner read (I never read much edgy fiction, even as a teen, I'm a Jane-ite through and through), just like adults.

I also worked in a crisis pregnancy clinic for about 15 years, so reading about a crisis pregnancy wouldn't be on my list of realxing reads. BUT it's so important that this kind of book is out there, for the kids who do want to read it. And their parents... :)

Love Ya, love YA authors, keep it up!!

Virginia said...

P.S. Congrats Nancy Kimball on your Genesis semi-final!

Just catching up on yesterday's comments.

Mary Cline said...

I think I would prefer to read and write YA books that show the consequences for right decisions. The struggle and temptations that occur as those right decisions come about would be as edgy as I would want. I would not hide the fact that there is sin in the world and that the enemy is working and working very hard for the Young Adult but that God is greater.
I asked my 18 yr old son. He did say "how young?" I think that makes a difference. Is there an age range that is considered YA? I probably should already know this.
Still I know that when my daughter was that age she would not have liked a book that was at all graphic or edgy. My sons read more adventure and fantasy books. I think there was some "edginess" in them. I didn't read them but I did ask them about them.
I don't have an e reader so skip me in the drawing.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Vince, you said it better than I ever could...

Which gives me more time for FOOD!!!!

Thanks, Dude! ;)

K-Bird, welcome! And I know that's not how to spell your name but that's how I remember it... That cute "K-Bird" girl....


Hey, we've got strawberry/custard/whipped cream stuffed croissants this morning!!!!


You will love these. I must make them for the cafe soon!!!

Jessica Nelson said...

Interesting post. I love teens. They're smart but most of them have an unguardedness that's refreshing. :-)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

YA is a mixed bag....

Some have young characters...

But a lot of fantasy YA's don't.

The characters are older, but the mood is suited for YA. The other thing is, the story weave makes a difference, too. If the story is sin-heavy and/or dark, most publishers shy away. The bottom line is cash.

When people say it's not about the money, you can bet your bottom dollar: It's about the money!

Gotta be able to shelve the book and then sell it. But the Internet and e-readers have given us choices never before seen by mere mortals...

The future is ours.

Anonymous said...

A young adult's point of view here:
Thanks for your blog post and AMEN to the fact that we young adults need more real stuff in books. Now I'm not sure if this answers the question asked, but I do believe that in Christian novels YA don't need graphic stuff but more books about how God is using real people to help other people with real problems (edgy writing.- My favorite type)
Thanks again- really!! :)
Ganise (

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

I'm not sure you can go "too far" when pushing the boundaries...look at what they are watching (twilight, harry potter, hunger games, etc), listening to (lyrics that make a grown man or woman cringe) and playing (killer (as in violent) video games)!

And DON'T sit there and tell me "good little Christian boys and girls don't"

Because I'll call you on it every time.

WAKE UP parents! No matter how hard you try, no matter how firm you are, no matter how much you pray - you CAN NOT shelter them from reality!

One day it rears it's ugly head and slaps everyone in the face.

I grew up in a time when children were seen and not heard - even raised my children pretty close to that same standard.

Doesn't work anymore - we must learn to listen to our children and address the issues they face HONESTLY and from the HEART - yes warn them. Yes protect them as much as you can. Yes, monitor them.

But be realistic and TALK to them.

More importantly LISTEN - to what they are NOT saying - learn to catch nuances and body language and facial expressions.

Build a relationship with them, a bond of mutual love and RESPECT.

Their life depends upon it.

JMHO of course :-)

I applaud authors such as you who try to do this with through books.

Please enter me in the drawing

Good luck and God's blessings.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Welcome back to Seekerville. So enjoyed your post.

Pushing the edge in Christian books has been an issue for as long as I can remember. I so agree with Vince. And Virginia has a point also.

Thankfully Christian publishing is expanding to the point where they can offer a variety of choices for the reader. You can pick clean, sweet fiction or you can read an edgier book.

It pays to know your publishers.

Thanks again for posting with us. Best wishes on your book. I know it will touch the right hearts. smile

Helen W said...

So glad you're here again Dawn! After your last post, I put "Mistaken Identity" on my "to procure" list, and actually I just downloaded it last week :) Hoping to get stuck into it soon.

I am writing YA, and I want to push some boundaries but maintain a light feel. I know myself as a teen I didn't like heavy/dark tones (I still don't!). But I do know that being a teen means you come across (directly or indirectly) some tough situations, and I want to explore the fact that even the "good-girls" don't always make the right choices.

Thanks so much for your post! I'm looking forward to reading your work!

K. Dawn Byrd said...

Thanks for all the great comments! I differ a little in what I consider YA to be. Last fall, I attended a secular conference. Had a great time! I was told by a large publisher that I should change the age of my heroine because she was too old to be a character in YA. For whatever reason, they didn't want her in college and would rather have her age 17, stating that there isn't a college market.

I'm a little stubborn, make that very stubborn. I don't write for the money. I write because it's fun! Almost as fun as a business of ferrets (FYI...a group of ferrets is called a business. Just thought I'd throw that in. I love those fuzzy critters!)

Anyhow, where was I?Oh...stubbornness. Anyway, sometimes I see a character as a certain age or in a certain light and I like her the way she is. I'm just lucky enough to have a risky publisher who lets me write what I want.

K. Dawn Byrd said...

PamT...I love your comments. I know parents mean well, but sometimes kids can be sheltered so much that they don't know how to deal with the real world when finally out on their own. How does a child learn to deal with certain situations unless faced with them? I'd rather them deal with them at a younger age while under my roof so I can guide them versus out on their own with the guidance of friends who may not give the best advice.

In fiction, we can allow the reader to face situations and consequences through our characters, which hopefully will give them more to think about when faced with a similar situation.

K. Dawn Byrd said...

Great comments, Vince!

I used to lead a substance abuse group as part of my job. There were times that the group discussion moved from the negative consequences of abusing drugs to the members almost glorying (not a word, but my word!) in their use. That's when I'd have to rein the group back in.

Same thing with fiction. Sometimes, I have to show my readers that bad decisions can lead to dire consequences. I don't want readers to think that sin is cool. I want them to see how destructive it is.

K. Dawn Byrd said...

Helen W
Thanks for purchasing Mistaken Identity! It's a light, fun read and nowhere near as edgy as Shattered Identity. When I read for fun, I like dark, romantic suspense being my favorite. There are 3 secular NYT bestselling authors that I read in particular.

K. Dawn Byrd said...

I think YA fiction, as a general rule, is getting edgier. I haven't read The Hunger Games, but my 22-year-old step-daughter has and she didn't feel it was appropriate for the YA market. It didn't appeal to me because I thought it would be sad.

Audra Harders said...

Good morning, Dawn. You make so many great points. They YA market is changing -- should have changed a long time ago -- and we need to wake up to that reality.

Vince said it so well when he brought up the fact they are simply "young" adult. There are no boundaries as they enter the gate way to the rest of their lives.

We can't bury our heads in the sand and write about what life should be, but address what it is. Gritty, dangerous, full of temptation.

The best thing we can do as authors (and mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, older sisters and brothers) is make them aware that as adults, they must own up to the consequences of their choices.

We've got to get real because they certainly are.

Great post, Dawn!!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Hey, Dawn! (I shall call you Dawn since we're in promotion land. :-))

This is a question I have to ask myself a lot. I want my YA romances to be "real" and represent real emotions and struggles and realistic situations, but I also want to show a Godly perspective on relationships, and not put a burden on my younger readers who may not be ready to "go there." It's not easy. I try to show honest attraction between the hero and heroine, realistic struggles not to go too far before marriage (although I only touch on that very minimally) and focus on characters determined to act with integrity. I also focus on coming of age type stuff more than on lust or struggling not to go too far with your boyfriend. I am comfortable with my 13-yr-old reading my books, but only because she reads extensively and I want her to see a Christian view of things.

What I think is really sad is that my 13-yr-old doesn't like Christian YA's in general because they AREN'T "real" and are "boring." They don't represent real life, because the author is too afraid of offending someone--mainly the parents! But I think this is definitely changing. I know my publisher, Zondervan, isn't afraid to show teens going through realistic stuff. We just don't make it salacious and we show the moral side and the Christian view of things.

Wow, I'm kind of long-winded this morning! Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Dawn!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Oh, and my 13-yr-old really likes my books and doesn't think they're boring. ;-)

Jan Drexler said...

Good morning, Dawn!

I have a love/hate relationship with YA fiction - but whether I like a book or not (and whether I'll recommend it for my own or other's YA readers) comes down to the author's world view.

My kids get enough of what the secular world thinks is "reality" - and it's really just death. What they need is to see a character who rises above what the world has to offer and grasp the hope of a world that is better.

The book doesn't have to be blatantly Christian, but it does need to point to higher ground.

That's why I had my own children avoid the YA shelves in the library before they were 18 (they chose their books from the adult section instead), except for a few authors.

I'm glad to see authors like you who aren't afraid to tackle the secular market with books that go against what was the norm five to ten years ago - we need you there!

Mary Connealy said...

I wish I could remember the name of the book that keeps popping into my head but I just can't. It wasn't Christian fiction.
But a YA book I read a long time ago that had a heroine who spent most of the book trying to be cool, trying to fit in, trying to be what everyone wanted her to be. She even 'liked' a boy that was popular instead of admitting to liking a less cool guy that really interested her.
I can't remember the details but I think maybe she ended up shoplifting something to fit into this clique of cool girls.
The end though, I remember. This girl decides she's going to start being honest in everything. No more pretending to be what's cool. She's going to like what she really likes. Say what she really means. Hang around with kids she has something in common with. Go out for the school activities that really interest her.
It was a really strong ending just watching this girl make peace with her real self.
Sorry for this lame book review LOL. But this really showed a teen struggle in a really uplifting way. I thought it had a powerful lesson for everyone about shaking off the pressure the world puts on you and being true to yourself.

Julie Hilton Steele said...

I was going to quote Vince but since he has been quoted, I must quote Ruthy:

"Gotta be able to shelve the book and then sell it. But the Internet and e-readers have given us choices never before seen by mere mortals...
The future is ours."

Will YA morph into something else like "YA Adults will read"?

Will edgy Christian fiction become more the norm?

Having just read the Hunger Games about children and teens killing each other, and knowing there are "Christian" vampire novels, a la Twilight, out there, I keep waiting for the "Christian" version of HG. But then, I think to myself, oh, but we have first century Christian history for that.

Most of my years in ministry were spent dealing with the edgier side of life. So many of my and my colleagues' youth group leaders became pregnant. Suicide, drugs, etc.

But there are kids who read the edgy books because they want to see how and why kids make bad choices. My daughter read "Go Ask Alice" and hated Twilight. Forget the romance. She wanted the drama.

I think there is room for the spectrum but I do have concerns about the definitions changing and the public not noticing or parents not caring.

Okay, that was a ramble. Time for more of coffee and one of those stuffed croissants.

Peace, Julie

Nancy Kimball said...

Thanks Virginia. =)

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, Dawn, so glad you could join us in Seekerville today!

Interesting what you were told about making your heroine a little younger. I remember learning in a writing course years ago that adolescents really prefer reading about characters slightly older than themselves because it gives them a taste of what they might look forward to. Reading about kids their own age or younger just didn't have the same appeal.

KC Frantzen and May the K9 Spy said...

Good discussion.

For me, Vince and Jan said it bestest so far.

Using clothing as an example, there has been a backlash among teens to find more modest clothing. Not out of style, just modest.

I'm thinking there is a huge market for teens along this line. One of my fave tween authors is Sandra Byrd. She faces issues but doesn't go too far.

Many of us and our families still lead sheltered lives by choice. And yet, there are those who haven't who might need to see a way out.

I'm struggling somewhat with this on the sequel to my first book. Before the editors have gotten hold of it - We have a 15 year old "Emo" boy who has huge abandonment issues and is living (mostly) on the streets. His father OD'd and died and his Mom is a "bad guy" - and yes, this is in our book about a K9 spy.

So - I'm trying to offer hope and point the way OUT of a hopeless situation. We'll see how it turns out.

Long-winded like Melanie said she was today... :) But she has a Christy final or 2 for backup. I have no such excuse. ha!

Thanks for being here! Blessings on your ministry!

(And if anyone is of a mind to, please say a prayer for my Mom. She is really not doing well. Thanks all!)

Janet Dean said...

Welcome back to Seekerville, Dawn! I haven't read many YAs, but agree that kids are savvy and want to read about the real world. I'd like to think that underneath they want guidance, to read a story that shows the value in moral principles. Even with edgier stories, I'm all for happy endings. Kids need hope. We've got the news to show the other side.


Vince said...

The Ideal Christian YA or Midgrade

Mary Cline said...

I think I would prefer to read and write YA books that show the consequences for right decisions.

I think what Mary said is an ideal goal for YA as well as Midgrade. Perhaps we should seek a definition of what would be the ideal Christian YA or Midgrade story.

Ideal Christian YA or Midgrade Fiction

I think the ideal Christian book for a child is one that a grandparent would want to give a grandchild in order to strengthen that child’s character and help prepare that child to successfully face the future. (Grandparents also buy YA and Midgrade books.)

The book should show how difficult the struggle to do the right thing (against constant peer pressure) can be at times. It should do this in an entertaining and realistic way. The child should feel that the story is real and not some Pollyannaish parental wish.

This level of realism can be achieved by using language familiar to the child and by having the conflict be the exact kind of conflict that the child actually faces each day.

“Don’t Kiss Him Good-Bye” by Sandra Byrd is exactly this kind of book. The teen girl heroine is constantly getting peer pressure to do the wrong things. Almost everything that happens in the book represents a conflict. It seemed to me that teens face more conflicts a day than adults do. Adults would not consider these conflicts to be very important, (e.g., Is Mary a friend or enemy? Will I be invited to the party? Should I talk to Sally at lunch time. Is someone trying to keep me from getting a job on the school newspaper? Should I tell on my little sister? Should I tell my mother why she was invited to a party? The real reason would hurt her. Will I be picked for the Church talent show?)

After reading about all the dozens of conflicts that a young person that age faces everyday, I can now understand why suicide is a large killer of teens. ( I think suicide is second only to car accidents as a cause of teen deaths). Sandra Byrd's book also showed me that you have to be much smarter to write a good YA. I don't think I could ever do it.

In short, create a book in which doing the right thing, though not easy, realistically produces the best outcome.


P.S. RUTH: ”The future is approaching so rapidly today that we now have to look backwards to see it”.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Vince, I'm wavin' at the future like the drive-by it is.

Okay, I agree with Vince and with Julie....

And I like Dawn's assertions (and Pam's) about reality-based edgy.

But what would we classify The Princess Bride? As the grandfather reads it to the 11 year old (more or less) kid?

I would say YA fantasy.

No young hero/heroine. They're in their twenties.

So I see young adult fantasy as having a wider age scope and an ageless audience.

Now middle school stuff, that's different. But I have a 12-13 year old fan club here for Love Inspired books. How cute is that???

And those heroines/heroes are twenties and thirties.

So we're crossing genres and I love that.

Mitford series isn't YA, it's MA ... mid-adult. Small town. Sweet romance. Aging problems, told with humor.

I think the world of publishing is open to us now if we're brave enough to work our butts off and not quit.

And eat chocolate. Of course.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Welcome back, K. Dawn. I have to tell you, you consistently have beautiful covers for your books!!! They are totally enticing!

Elizabeth B. said...

Like Virginia, my seventeen-year old son gobbled up the Ranger's Apprentice Series and chomps at the bit for more from this author. He also enjoyed the Warrior's Series by Erin Grey about a society of cats. Unfortunately, editors appear to be primarily publishing female teen stories (by the boatloads), leaving very little selection for teenage males. Or maybe there are not many authors writing teen male oriented stories. If there are any editors reading this blog, please hear my critique loud and clear. There is definitely a demand in this area.

Courtney said...

I'm nineteen, and I haven't really ever been into reading books meant for my age group:) Weird, huh? I actually prefer historicals above all else. I'm a Christian and don't want to read something offensive even if it is "reality". I don't mind certain things happening because life does happen, but I don't need all the details. That's why I only read Christian books:)

Connie Queen said...

I'm no help on YA books. I don't read them and my teenage daughter rarely reads YA. She loves Mary Higgins Clark though.

I wrote a western historical years ago that I think would be a bigger hit w/teens and younger adults, but there isn't a market for that. The characters are 19 and 20. Both of my teenage daughters liked it.

I'm glad there's a wide variety of books for all the different kinds of audiences.

Mary Cline said...

I am really loving this discussion.

Mary Cline said...

I am really loving this discussion.

CatMom said...

Welcome Dawn! Thanks for this post today. Not to be a "copycat" (LOL) but I have to agree with Vince's earlier comment too. ~ By the way, your book covers look great! Thanks again for sharing, Patti Jo

Ruth Logan Herne said...

I checked in with my 12-13 year olds here today....

The books they read have 16 and up characters, up to adulthood....

My older kid friends.... they read adult books but are drawn to specific issues... Sex, peer pressure, romance, etc.

But none of them read about kids their age, always 5-10 years up.

Which is interesting, right? And timely. (hahahahaha... pun firmly intended...)

Julie Lessman said...


Secondly, I am SO late today, so forgive me, please. Wish I had popped in earlier because this is SUCH a great subject!!

How far is too far when writing for young adults? Too far, to me, is when there is a sexual situation without consequences or in any way glorifies the world's amoral lifestyle vs. God's precepts. YES, we need to meet these young people where they are -- in a society where anything goes, but do everything in our power to show them that God's ways are better than the world's. You cannot do this, in my humble opinion, without wading into their world where passion is KEY, so realistic situations are essential, but I don't believe they need to be graphic EVER. Fade to black or insinuation or realistic but tasteful passion within the realm of God's precepts (i.e. married couples) is what I love to see and what I try to write. We can't hide our light under a bushel and expect the young people of today to come looking for it.


Debby Giusti said...

Hi Dawn,
Love your covers and your stories sound interesting to adult readers as well.

Glad you're out there writing Christain YA that draws readers! Good for you. As long as your editor says okay...well, then it's okay. Usually Christian editors are the voice of caution. They know their readership and who will be offended. So you've got the audience and the content that attracts the YA reader. Good for you!

Nancy C said...

Dawn, it's been a while since there were YA's around here, so I'm not sure how far the publishing boundaries have already been pushed. Based on my experience when there were YA's tromping in and out of here, many adults are afraid to address the realities with which some youth live ... to the point of denying the reality exists. Better that YA's read about reality in books like yours than in books that glamorize and romanticize.

Thanks for reaching out to todays YA's :-)

Nancy C

Nancy C said...

P.S. Great discussion!

Nancy C

Debra E. Marvin said...

I'm glad you are writing these kind of books, Dawn, and pleased they are finding such success!

Pepper said...

So good to see you back in Seekerville, Dawn!

And what a thought-provoking post. Love it!

Btw...we really need to have lunch soon. We have a lot of brainstorming to catch up on :-)

Rachelle Rea said...

I write YA so I gobbled up every word of this post. One thing, though: I'm a nineteen year old, and I don't even have a boyfriend. Even if I did, I wouldn't kiss him unless he got down on one knee in front of me. :) That being said, I still agree with you. Kissing in books does not offend me, and I know that I'm the exception.

How far is too far? I think the answer to this lies in my imagining I have a daughter/friend who is the age of the heroine in the book. Would she cringe if I put *such-and-such* in a book? My answer will probably tell me whether or not I've pushed the boundaries too far.

Thank you for this post!