Writers in the Storm

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July 3, 2019

Lost Love—Use Your Young Adult Voice

Not often, but sometimes I return to my teen experiences to help connect with a past emotion. It helps me get into a deep point of view by remembering something that happened. Since Young Adult Science Fiction is one of the genres I write in, this is a cool trick. But I also use it for my adult science fiction.

I vaguely remember my mother's words when she tried to soothe my first teenage love-gone-wrong.

Puppy love. He didn't deserve you. He lives too far away. 

There were a lot more comments ranging from sympathy to aggravation on her part. For my part, I was just miserable.

How did it happen?

I was accepted to a National Science Foundation math program at State Diego State University. The six-week summer course included fifty math students and fifty chemistry students from around the U.S. It was an exciting way to spend the summer between my junior and senior year in high school.

I was in the math program, taking the equivalent of sixteen lower division units and nine upper division units of math and computer science classes from specially selected professors for the program. The female math and chemistry students were housed on the top floor of a dorm at the far end of campus.

The male students were housed in a dorm on the other end of the huge campus. You had to walk past fraternity row to get to the classroom buildings and the guys' dorm. Since the female curfew was 7 p.m., the chem guys, who had no curfew, visited our dorm. Every night. (I'm sorry to say that the math guys stayed in their dorm and did homework.)

Now, I was supposed to be doing tons of homework every night. But the chemistry guys were all so cute, and I didn't ever get to talk to them unless I hung out downstairs in the rec room, which I was happy to do since there was a pingpong table.

Did I mention I'd been playing pingpong every night since my eighth birthday, when my parents gave me a ping pong table for my birthday?

We set it up in our unfinished living room. Every night I'd lose to my father, who never believed in letting me win at any game.

But I got better. Unfortunately he did, too. Finally, I started winning. Sometimes. By that summer, I was unstoppable. In the dorm, the word spread, and every night there was a line of guys waiting to try to defeat me. That's how I met John.

Not John, but a close facsimile...

John was not only a gifted chemistry student, he was on his school's debate team and football team. And he was cute. After a week, he'd be waiting outside my math classroom to walk hand-in-hand with me to lunch and dinner in the cafeteria. When a food fight broke out the third night we were served "mystery meatballs," he shoved me under the table and threw volleys of food across the room until security broke up the fight. Nothing happened to the high school students, but we all got a lecture in our classes the next day.

On week-ends the program took both groups to local points of interest, including the beach. Even though my studies were suffering, I finally got my first kiss. It was so amazing. I don't think it was John's…

We promised to write, and we did. That summer, my family vacation came within a hundred miles of John's hometown. I went on a hunger strike for four days, and my father finally caved and agreed to drop me off at John's house and wait for an hour. I was so excited.

John's mother opened the door and told me John was at football practice. He wouldn't be home for two more hours. When she found out my dad was outside, she invited him in, and gave us something from the kitchen. I don't remember what it was. I was in shock. I don't remember what they talked about, either. It probably wasn't anything good for John and me.

After an hour, my dad and I left. He didn't lecture or tease me.

John's letter arrived in two days. Full of apologies. In a month he'd be traveling five hundred miles to a college two hours away from me for a debate tournament. Could I meet him there?

I talked my dad into letting me take the car there. Alone.

I watched John debate. He was good. He won the tournament. And it was football season. He looked great. But we didn't have that much time to talk and I drove home, feeling sad. I knew my long-distance romance wasn't going to last.

We wrote-not so often-into our freshman year in college, but we were just friends by then. He told me about his girlfriends; I told him about my boyfriend.

With the wisdom of age and experience now, I recognize the bittersweet feeling of loss. I understand that first blush of love—innocent and laced with boundless hope and excitement.

And that's what I relive when writing in my YA voice. I become that girl on the roof of my three-story dorm throwing water balloons at the guys arriving at the dorm. I become the wishful, dewy-eyed innocent wishing for that first kiss—afraid to make the first move because I had no idea what that move should be and, heck, I was a mathematician-in-training. I needed to be able to prove everything was correct before I committed.

Young Adult stories are all about the new emotions, the conflicted yearnings, the fears—if you get what you want AND if you don't get what you want. Yes, it's not easy going back to those times and reliving your own feelings, but that's where your own YA voice is. Reminisce. Dust off your teen voice. Your adult WIP will thank you.

Have you used your own YA experiences in your writing? A riff on them?

About Fae

Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.

  P.R.I.S.M., Fae's debut book, a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, and love is now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.Fae's second book in the series will be available for pre-order October 1, 2019.

30 comments on “Lost Love—Use Your Young Adult Voice”

  1. You just made clear to me why I don't write YA...I was a late bloomer. Not counting a huge kid crush, I didn't have anyone special until after college!

    Well that, and I don't have the voice...

    Great article, Fae. I can picture that naive young girl!

    1. Careful, Laura—I know you. But you write your western romances and WF so well, who needs a third genre?

      1. Boys were a bother. Pulling my ponytail, trying to copy my homework. I didn't start looking at them until late during my junior year of high school. Up until then, I was too busy doing other stuff.

  2. I don't feel like there's a lot of me in my main characters in the upcoming YA release, SHARING HUNTER. However, I did write in feelings I understood, particularly the girl who draws for herself but feels far too self-conscious to share her work with others. Sharing what I wrote as a teen felt too much like exposing my deepest hopes, fear, and feelings, so I held them back too. Definitely good to harvest our own experiences for perspectives and feelings we haven't had in a while. Great post, Fae! Thanks.

  3. I get it, Julie. I didn't start sharing my personal "stuff" until my fantastic editor, Tiffany Yates Martin, started asking questions and pulling it out of me. Revising that first book, I felt like I was slitting my veins and dripping blood onto the pages (yep, gross, but it really felt that way--it was painful), but it made for such a better book. It's not easy for me to go "there" still, but I know it's worth it. And I don't think a stranger reading my books would know what's "real" and what isn't. Besides, if my trials and fears help someone else, I'm happy to share them.

    1. Fae, when you're reading a good book, do you stop and wonder if the events ever happened to the author? I NEVER do, and I suspect if a reader is engaged in the story, it doesn't to them, either. Your secrets are safe.

      1. That's true, Laura. When the writing is good, you don't get pulled out of the story to think of other things. But sometimes, after the fact, I do wonder where some of the scary, dark stuff comes from. You read Stephen King—don't you wonder where his ideas come from?

  4. I'm currently reading Hunger Games. I'm completely impressed with the use of first-person, present-tense. But I'm pretty sure YA is not in my wheelhouse...not yet, anyway. Thanks for the post, Fae! If I do "go there," your advice will definitely come in handy.

    1. OMG, Chris! That's a book I wish I could read over, for the first time! You'd better have the next two downloaded...you'll zip through them! I agree, she's an amazing author.

    2. Not all YA is first person, Chris. Mine isn't. I didn't used to be a fan of first person (too many I's), but in The Hunger Games, I didn't even notice it once I was in the grip of the action. And I'm with Laura. Though the first two movies aligned very much with the books, the books were so amazing. Enjoy them! Someday I'm going to go back and highlight them, but I'm afraid I'll just get sucked back into the story and no highlighting will happen!

  5. Thanks for sharing your precious memories of teenage love and angst. My teen years were too many decades ago to remember a lot of details, but I'm left with the many emotions I felt back then, from insecurity to passion to happiness and yes, to guilt. As insecure as I was back then, man did I think I was right about everything. We authors tap into everything our past has made us to write our stories.

    1. Oh, Barb, can I connect with your, "...did I think I was right about everything." Isn't that a hallmark of youth? Maybe that's one reason for the passion, insecurity, happiness, and a guilt. And yes, every character I write has a piece of me inside.

  6. I now understand why I never got into young adult love or fiction was because I was a late bloomer. I understood feelings that I had for some people, but I had never loved any of my girlfriends in high school or at least actually loved them even though i had said it. I do write romance now after having some wonderful experiences in college and it honestly is nice.

    1. Late bloomers, unite, pilot 543! I didn't go out on my first "real" date until the second semester of my senior year in high school. I'm glad your college experiences have allowed you to write romance. Yep, I'm smiling as I re-read "it honestly is nice." You betcha!

  7. Hi Fae. I think I am going to have to read your book. I have always loved science fiction. Thanks about talking about YA voice. I have a couple of teens in my latest script.

    1. High praise, Evelyn. Thank you! I was a science fiction freak for years before I added in the romance. What I love about writing Young Adult is the intensity of those very important "firsts"—first kiss, first love, first betrayal, … Would I want to relive my teen years? Ha! Not a chance. Can I still learn from them as an adult? I think so. And I'm willing to share those *usually* embarrassing stories on the chance that someone else can benefit from my foibles.

    2. Oh Evelyn, you have to! It's wonderful, and I'm dying to know the end of the second if she ever finishes it!!!! (I see you rolling your eyes, Fae).

    1. Ah, littlemissw, I've discovered there are "truths" I set in cement as a teen that are no longer true for me as adult. Some were things that were said to me in anger, or as a "teachable moment" by an adult. Some were, and still are, helpful in shaping me into the self-sufficient woman I am now. Most, however, are now, and maybe were back then, limiting.

      Believe me, I was NOT a cool teenager. I know because I have a high school reunion coming up (I've only attended one before this one) and in our e-mail loop of 750 in my graduating class, you can click on twenty different adjectives for how you remember someone. "Cool" is one of the words and not one person has clicked on that one. I do have several "smart", "helpful", "driven" and one, bless whoever gave me this one (I refuse to think it was a mistake!) "crushworthy"!

    1. Anything that helps us connect with our own emotions will help use write emotions that our readers can relate to, Denise. 🙂

  8. I have to say, at some point I have forgotten what it was like, half a century ago or more. I have to rely on my daughter's experiences and shared stories.

    1. Oh, Ann, maybe because I have worked with young adults for so long, and they always want stories, I can hear a song or even see a color and be back at sixteen or seventeen. I don't know if it's a curse or a blessing...!

  9. Hi Fae - not used to calling you that - we went to high school together...just downloaded your book, can't wait to read it...see you in Sept! Vernelle

    1. Hi Vernelle! Thank you! I hope you like the book (we can talk about it at the reunion--or not!)--I just sent off book two to my editor.

      I can't wait to see you there--and everybody else. Thanks for all your work to make it happen!

      1. Fae - would you be willing to donate a couple signed copies for the reunion? It would be awesome if you could but no worries if you don't feel it...V~

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