Sensuality in YA

I’m going to be taking the next couple of days to bring you bits and pieces of some PR work I did for Harper Teen that, as far as I know, hasn’t been used.  I’m never one for wasting anything, so here’s a couple of questions on a topic that was hot a couple of months ago: sensuality in YA, which I could also widen to include an overabundance of sex, drugs, and abuse, all of which I think have a place in YA literature, but give us some fair warning with the cover so the 14 year old who doesn’t want to read about incest doesn’t have to.

What are the challenges you face writing young adult and dealing with the sensuality?

I’ve never thought of sensuality as being a challenge when I sit down to write young adult.  I know teens are being challenged enough in their day-to-day dealings, and whereas many authors excel in writing sensual YA that seems to be connecting with a wide audience, I’m frankly not that comfortable with producing it myself.  I’d much rather give teens a “mostly sensuality-free zone” where they can take a break and concentrate on other issues they are dealing with.

Romance, though, which doesn’t have to include lips, hands, and skin, is always on my want list when I sketch out a young adult book.  I’m a big believer that though sex moves the world, (and sells books) it’s a small fraction of any healthy, long-lasting relationship.  I like my characters to be friends before they swap spit, and sometimes that takes a couple of books before I’m comfortable moving forward, if at all.

Why do you write for young adults? What do you think is different about writing for teens than for other audiences?

I like writing for young adults because I found my love for reading on those same shelves, and the books I read then still hang in my memory with the same new-penny brightness they had when I first picked them up.  Some of my favorite emails are from young readers who confess to me that they hate reading but that they like my work.  Knowing that I’ve been able to reach those vulnerable readers and share my love of reading with them is a great feeling.

What is different about writing for teens than other audiences?  For me, not much really, apart from shifting my main character’s focus a touch to the “now” rather than the future.  The highs are higher, the lows are lower, the fallout if things don’t go as planned are seemingly more insurmountable since teens generally don’t have as many resources, both physically and emotionally, as adults.

I’m a big believer that teens are looking for many of the same things that adults are in their literature: a character they can cheer for or envy, companions that are brave or exasperating to balance the main character, a goal that is clear and seemingly unattainable, a happy ending where the same flaws that impeded them serve to help them achieve their goal.

Your comments/discussions are welcome, but as always, I’ll be closing the page after tomorrow.


Filed under Drama Box

48 responses to “Sensuality in YA

  1. Leonard knapp

    Bella, has a lot of problems, witch is what I think I like about her charter. BTW, I find That less explicit sex scenes, where the readers imagination fills in the details, are a lot more hotter then ones mapped out move by move, seems to me that most writers have lost the ability to spark the imagination, and rely on explicate descriptions. I think that is what makes Kim’s writing so great, she takes you into a scene (sex or other) and gives enough information to let the reader’s mind fill in the gaps, and to me that makes a very good read.

    • Thanks, Leonard.

      The more messed up a character is, the more fun it is to watch them. Ivy has lost a lot of sparkle for me now that she’s more stable. But I still love her. We’ll see her a lot in the last book or two.

  2. Stephanie C

    I was never into reading when I was a teen so the first couple of YA I read was now that I´m in my 20´s (25 now). I can´t say for certain that my opinion would be different had I had, but i feel that I have two points of view on this. A lot of times the sex in YA is pretty much what is going on around them in TV, movies, school to ignore it seems wrong. That is if it brings something to the story and is not explicit. But this also brings me to the ones who do the oposite of this. The whole twilight thing where she wants to be a vampire and spend eternity with him while only being 17 is something that I found ridiculous and don´t think is the right way to go either. Now I´m not a very romantic person so nothing personal to whoever loved it.

    • If everyone liked the same kind of story, we’d have only one book. 😉 Obviously that is not so–thank goodness. That’s great that you read a lot more now, Stephanie. I’m not reading as much, unfortunately.

  3. I agree. We all want characters we can cheer, envy and all that jazz. And I personally like ones I can relate to. I like what you say.. nice Q&A. Hey that rhymed. Keep sharing cuz that’s caring. Thanks Kim 🙂

    • Very well said, Lynn. When it comes to creating them, Kim is definitely all that and a big bag of tasty chips (LOL). 😉

      Will get some pixies illustrated in the FB Kim-Stream for you guys soon. I’ve been practicing for weeks now… It’s been an interesting visual experiment to say the least (which may be an understatement – LOL).

    • Thanks, Lynn. I love it when my words rhyme too.

  4. James R. Fox

    Hi It’s Jim from Warren-It’s good to remember that Kim Harrison is her nom-de-guerre,(Having joined the French Foreign Legion in another life) and Is the mother of two children(At least that’s what everybody thinks they are.) So she is a battlescarred vet of the puberty wars and was decorated for valor, having raised teens to adulthood w/o murdering even one.

    • Victoria Eskey

      whether its her war name, nome-de-plume, pen name or alias, Kim is Kim and we l.O.v.E. her!!!! her stories are fascinating, entertaining and engaging. she creates characters we love (Ally cakes), love to hate (Nick) and those we still hope are alive (…Minias… i hope so, buddy)
      so if we call her Kim, or Dawn, or OmiGawd it’s you!, we all know we are meaning her.

    • Nope, they’re still alive. -grin-

  5. Sarah Jackson

    I love your approach and completely agree with you. Looking back down the years (really? that many??), I can remember as a teen that although the physical was certainly of interest to me, it was always the heart-pounding, teeth-chattering, sweaty-palmed headrush of romance that I was really after. My take with my own teen daughter is to take it slow and not be in a hurry – once you’re an adult, you’re stuck with it for the rest of your life : ) YA fiction should help introduce the world of adult feelings and issues – not serve as a “How To” manual!

  6. Joelle Wilson

    A wonderful interview that should’ve been used.

  7. Wow, what a great post. I love the way you descibed the difference you see in writing YA versus for adults. Today’s YA isn’t the same as the YA we had growing up…which actually isn’t a bad thing. Teens come in many varieties…so I feel their books should, too. There are a lot of people, teens and adults, who’ve been greatly influenced by YA and I’m so glad there’s so much YA love out there.

    ~Suzi (who’s popping in from the deadline bunker)

  8. How cool was that interview? VERY! They missed a stellar moment with this one… They definitely should have used it.

    Thank you for posting some of the YA Q&A and I’m looking forward to learning LOTS more.

    P.S. Kim you really should ask D.G. about the guest blog. Seriously… Even if she is mad busy. I’m always asking for what I want whether I get it or not. Sometimes people will surprise you in the most amazing ways (happy sigh).

    Pssst… FB direct messages have opened a whooooole bunch of interesting doors for me. Take a leap of faith and go ask your editor before some brazen blogger from NYC does (LOL).

    OMG – Don’t panic. Just kidding… (Or am I? – evil grin)

    No. Seriously. I wouldn’t dare push that button… Editors are sacred (especially yours because we love you) so this is me just sayin’ ask her to put the possibility on a post it for K.H. fans who asked. 😉

    • We actually talked about this for the entire book club.We’re hopelessly hooked on the editor thing…

      We’re all over our Kindles trying to figure out how many books D.G. was the editor on. You are soooo getting teased. 🙂

    • Thanks, Tann Starr. I’m glad you’re enjoying the peek. I like your idea of having Diana Gill on my blog, but seriously, she’s got stuff to do, and I’d rather have her doing PR for me back in the office than here on my own page. -grin-

  9. Thank you so much Kim, for writing safe books for YA. I totally agree with you about your take on romance and sex. Even if it seems so, the world does not revolve around sex. I mean, it shouldn’t.

    Your comment about the “vulnerable” readers reminded me how Jo Rowling was commended for drawing kids back to books in an era of top-notch video games. I think you deserve the same praise. And may i say that i found myself a couple of heroes and heroines in your books. 🙂

  10. April

    Thanks Ms. Harrison. I really appreciate the way you write romantic relationships in your YA AND your adult fiction. The romance/sex scenes in your adult novels are never gratuitous and out of place, they always serve a purpose and I don’t get uncomfortable while reading your novels in public. I recently recommended The Hollows series to a friend who loves fantasy but is sceptical of the urban fantasy genre because of the many sexcapades; but, I assured her that you’re interested in the friendships first and that the sex wasn’t ridiculous. She loved “Dead Witch Walking” and was pleased to see that I was right. She currently has the next 3 books and I expect her back for more shortly.

    • Thank you, April. I like hearing that. There’s nothing I like better than writing a thrilling sex scene, but Rachel is kind of tired of her choices lately and we might be in for a dry spell where she thinks with her heart, not her hormones.

  11. Mudepoz

    I can see the highs higher and lows lower (Yikes, the temperaments of the students here if the expresso machine is down!:)

    I have to admit, so far the rewrites and all, my YA doesn’t have any sensual scenes. There is love, but more a girl and her dog.

    Oh well…I just can’t write sensual scenes without real fireworks exploding next to the first kiss, or falling into a fountain…sigh.

    There wasn’t YA in my day. Heinlein wrote to a younger audience in some of his books, but really, there were baby books and then adult books. Some crossover. With the complaints now about the darkness and the sex, I wonder if those people remember that. I read the Exorcist in Middle School. Because, as you often comment, my teachers knew what my parents did, it wasn’t an issue when I did a book report on it (though it was strongly suggested I stay with ‘safe’ science fiction. Not sure how safe Stranger in a Strange Land or Brave New World was for teens, at least what they considered back then.

    I assume we have a new YA series cooking in that brain of yours? Good, I was going to miss Madison and your YA style.

    Oh, BTW, as to writing for separate books? I only have to remember one name for a zillion clonal orchids. Peace Lily, Spathiphyllum is Spathiphyllum no matter the individual. The individual characters don’t exist, nor do they have separate plot lines. You are gifted!

    • Hi Mud.

      Have I told you that Grace has a dog named Hoc? (grin) I want to expand on something I started in the Princess books, and Grace needs a loyal friend, one who isn’t going to screw her over for anything. It’s a perfect match.

      I read a lot of Heinlein growing up. I know exactly what you mean.

      No new YA cooking on the back burner, sorry. Maybe someday.

  12. Victoria Eskey

    I love it Kim! 🙂 Thank you for knowing YA readers actually want a story to follow, characters to love, and an adventure to share in.

  13. Kay

    I am very pleased, as a mother and as an aunt to several teen girls, that you write in a style that does not make sex the main theme in you YA books. I am excited to recommend your YA to my nieces.

  14. Reagan

    couldn’t agree more! wish more authors felt that way. its not that I think teens need to be sheltered, but sex & drugs are a part of their world already, why do we have to perpetuate the cycle?? ANYWAY! I loved this and shared it with the rest of my children’s literature class online. we’ve discussed this kind of thing in class before. it was nice to have an author’s perspective!

  15. James R. Fox

    Hi Ms. Kim-Its jim from Warren.I totally agree,having raised a teen-age girl by myself when I was in my 50’s. Teens are facing situations we never even thought about when I was a teen(Back in the Dark Ages of course) I found the biggest prob was being light enough to say”this can be a problem”w/o overloading/scaring,turning off,espically since I was a man 42 years older. My one help was I could say Ï picked you,I want to be here,so I’m not leaving.( She was our foster daughter that we got the year before my wife passed and Children’s Services let me keep)

  16. Mary Maass

    That interview most definitely should have been aired. And what a wonderful way to describe the way you tell a YA story. I’ve read both your YA and your Adult fiction, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your style of writing. It’s so refreshing to NOT have to thumb thru page after page of explicitly detailed sexual encounters. What most authors today don’t seem to realize is that a little goes a long way.

    • I like that, Mary. A little goes a long way. Seriously, I get bored with the sex if it becomes too pronounced in a book. shrug. I’d much rather have a long, drawn out will she, won’t she, full of frustration with a big bang at the end.

  17. Leonard J Knapp

    If the story is good, I don’t care if it is not in my age group. At times it is enjoyable to relax with a book that is no so complex. Just as long as I am not kept from reading a book cause I are too old.

    • -grin- Right there with you, Leonard.

      Actually, my favorite books of all are the beautifully illustrated children’s books that you read to your preschooler. The words are simple, the concepts simple, and they reach the core of our souls and illuminate to make the complex chaos of our lives simple–if we are listening.

  18. Young adults today have so many more challenges and mixed feelings than I did was when was young. I see it everyday with my son. Peer pressure today isn’t just saying no to drugs. I think that if an author can take some of those issues and bring them to light in a book, it reaches not only the teens, but their parents, as well. Alot of people want to take these issues and hide them in a closet; pretend they don’t exist. This solves nothing and only makes things worse. Kids are smart and they know when a subject is being evaded. Kim, you have a way of touching on these subjects with a careful hand. I, too, agree that this should have been used in the interview!

  19. Marsha

    “Swap spit” 😀 I really like that phrase, even if the imagery might not be all that romantic. They should have used the interview.