March 26, 2012

New Adult Fiction: Come See About Me

In July 2010 I finished my first non-YA book, Come See About Me. The main character, Leah, is twenty for most of the novel and when the story begins she's in the throes of grief for the boyfriend she believes was the love of her life. Leah is from British Columbia but had been attending university in Toronto where she'd been sharing an apartment with boyfriend, Bastien. When Bastien doesn't come home one night, and the police show up instead, Leah goes into a state of collapse. Nothing matters—not her part-time job, her friends, her education. Even paying the rent doesn't feel like motivation enough to get up in the mornings. Leah's worried parents want her to come home to British Columbia, but Leah won't budge.

I'll briefly let Leah explain her feelings about cutting herself off:

"Alone is what's easier. Everyone else would prefer that I pretend my life hasn't been hollowed out. They believe their expectations should carry some weight with me. Only Bastien truly carries any weight and people try to use that fact against me too and tell me what he would want for me. Some of the things they say about that might be right but since he's not here
he doesn't get to decide how I should handle his absence
."

Lucky for Leah, Bastien's aunt swoops in and saves her by providing a rent-free place to stay in a nearby suburban town. There Leah hides out from life, immersing herself in memories, until a connection with local people (including a magnetic but troubled Irish actor named Liam) and a second shocking event begin to draw her back into the present. Soon Leah's falling into a casual sexual relationship, even as she continues to yearn for her dead boyfriend.

When I began writing Come See About Me I knew Leah was too old for YA and thought of the novel as an adult one because what else could it possibly be? It never seriously occurred to me that having a twenty-year-old main character could make a book a hard sell but even if it had, that certainly wouldn't have stopped me from writing it.

In October 2010 Come See About Me went out on a round of submissions which, unfortunately, nothing came of. A couple of months later the manuscript was sent out on a second round of submissions to American publishers. By then a distinct pattern in editor responses had emerged. To quote the New York agent who believed in Come See About Me and who had kindly submitted the manuscript for me: "Almost every editor was concerned that Leah is too young for this to be 'adult, but too grown for this to go back to being 'YA.'"

It feels wrong to me that there's no room for a book about a twenty-year-old in the publishing market. How can that possibly be the case? It leaves certain perspectives and life-altering experiences very much under-explored. Do readers of various ages honestly embrace books about teenagers and characters in their later twenties or older but have no interest in stories involving people who fall in-between those ages? That makes no sense to me and, frankly, I don't believe it. Just because traditional publishing hasn't figured out how to market these stories, doesn't mean there is no market. Furthermore, I didn't want to make Leah's story one that would fit under the YA heading. As a twenty-year-old Leah has more independence than most teenagers, and a couple of extra years of experience behind her which make her a different person than she would've been at seventeen or eighteen. Changing Leah's age would change virtually every aspect of Come See About Me, make it into something very different than what it currently is, which is the story of a twenty-year-old (not a thirty-year-old or a seventeen-year-old) who is struggling with enormous personal loss but who, despite this, finds herself physically drawn to someone else.

In recent years you may have read Internet discussions about something called 'new adult fiction':

* From the Write Angle: In Support of New Adult Fiction

*  Reclusive Bibliophile: December: "New Adult" Month

* And back in 09 St. Martin's Press even had a new adult fiction contest

New adult fiction basically focuses on the distinct stage of life psychology professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett first termed "emerging adulthood" in 1998. It's a period of life stretching from 18 - 25 (but can even extend all the way up to 29). You can read more about the concept of emerging adult in this 2010 New York Times magazine article as well as the following blog entry: History of Emerging Adulthood.

I sincerely hope traditional publishers will come to embrace books that centre on this in-between age, but in the meantime I've decided to let Come See About Me remain the story that I intended to be and take advantage of the ebook medium by releasing it for myself. You can call it a new adult or emerging adult book or post-YA or whatever you like but the main thing is that it's about this twenty-year-old woman named Leah, her loss, her love life and the people who care about her and the people she cares about in return. If that sounds like something you'd be interested in I hope you'll check it out.

I haven't pinpointed a release date yet but am planning to have it ready sometime towards the end of June and will post the first chapter sooner. Here's the trailer, fresh from my computer:


* Read my updated thoughts about new adult fiction and Come See About Me from November, 2014

 
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