Confessions of a Male YA Author

When my first YA novel, Fair Coin, was published in 2012, and I started participating in author panels, library visits, and book store events, it seemed that I was usually the only guy on the program. This wasn't too surprising — I know that more YA books are written by women than men, so statistically speaking, it made perfect sense. For my first few panels, I even introduced myself as the "Y chromosome," which got some laughs. But I've stopped using that line, because a) I don't want to keep using the same old material, and more importantly, b) I realized it might imply that I thought my inclusion was an act of tokenism, and it wasn't that. (It also probably isn't as funny as I thought it was, and people were just laughing to be polite. "There's only one guy up there, let's take pity on him." So, thanks for that.)

Granted, I'm aware that I do get invited to more YA panels because I'm a male YA author, and hey, it's nice to be welcomed whatever the reason. My author friends are often asked if they know any male authors to invite to participate in programs with them, and I'm happy that they think of me. Perhaps by virtue of my geographic location and the events and conventions that I attend, there generally aren't that many guy YA authors to choose from. Sorry, I'll at least try to be a good one for you!

But we aren't exactly as rare as unicorns. We aren't an endangered species. And we certainly don't need the attention. Well, on an individual basis, many of our books could use a little more love, but on the whole, there are plenty of "men in YA" and we don't need any encouragement and support to write more. And yet, a simple Google search reveals plenty of articles highlighting the lack of male YA authors, and even worse, the lack of male protagonists in YA, suggesting that there should be more of them. Usually this anomaly is linked to data illustrating that fewer boys are reading and what a big problem it is. But of course, you and I know that the issue isn't a lack of books written by and for boys, but more about boys being uncomfortable or uninterested in reading about girls or — gasp! — books written by girls, J.K. Rowling notwithstanding. (Who, by the way, had to take on a pseudonym to trick boys into reading Harry Potter. How ridiculous does that sound now? Turns out that when boys found out the series was written by a woman, it didn't matter.)

Unfortunately, the solution some people have hit upon is to promote more books written by men, in many cases to the exclusion of all else. Most infamously, the first announcements of a “Blockbuster Reads: Meet the Kids’ Authors That Dazzle” panel at BEA's inaugural BookCon in May featured only men: Jeff Kinney, James Patterson, Rick Riordan, and Lemony Snicket. Even some of the panelists expressed that this was not ideal, and in fact, the rest of BookCon's guests were pretty much white, male authors — and a cat. More troubling still is how prevalent this seems in middle grade fiction, as middle grade authors Anne Ursu and Caroline Carlson recently related.

This gender imbalance extends to reading lists and recommendations too. I have heard of several YA reading lists and schools and libraries that somehow consisted only of guy writers. And a glance at recent bestseller lists is even more misleading because despite YA being "dominated" by women, men — mostly men named John Green — are disproportionately dominating bestseller lists and "best of" lists and awards.

It seems to me that if more women are writing YA than men, and your panels and lists are only full of men, then you must be working pretty hard to exclude women — or you aren't working hard enough to diversify your reading. Of course, no one should tell you what you should read, even though you're missing out on most of the good stuff, but if you're informing what children and teens are exposed to, then it actually is your responsibility to read more widely, recommend a broader variety of books, and strive for more gender parity and diversity in your panels and author visits.

See, that's what those program coordinators were doing when they invited me onto those panels. Even if they could only find one man to show up, they actively sought to include them. Finding the right balance can be hard, but that's your job. One of the strengths of YA is how it offers different perspectives and allows teens of diverse backgrounds to see themselves in stories, and that should be true off the page too. Not only can they see themselves as the heroes of their own stories, but they can also be the ones to tell those stories to other readers.

And to any teenage boys out there who might be reluctant to read about girls or books written by women: What are you afraid of? The worst thing that could happen is you'll discover that girls are people too, and not necessarily all that different from you. The best thing you'll learn is how you can act like a decent person, so girls might not mind talking to you. They might even say yes when you ask them out. They might ask you out, and you should be cool with that. Another boy might ask you out, and that could be cool too. Maybe you want to say yes. Look, there are no "boy books" or "girl books," there are only good books and bad books. Seriously, go read some Judy Blume. You'll thank me later.

7 comments:

Kell Andrews said...

Excellent post.

E.C. Myers said...

Thanks, Kell!

Kelly Jensen said...

This is such a great post.

E.C. Myers said...

Thank you, Kelly. I've been meaning to write it for a while.

ringothecat said...

Nice post!

rachelmanija said...

I love this post. Thank you for writing it.

E.C. Myers said...

Thank you, and thanks for sharing and retweeting.