Thursday, April 30, 2009

SE Hinton & Fanfiction

At the LA Times Jacket Copy blog, Cecil Castellucci reports on S.E. Hinton's appearance with Jane Smiley at the LA Book Festival.

Hinton read from her new book, Some of Tim's Stories.

The best part? Hinton reveals she writes fanfiction. For her own stories. Quote: Despite fans begging over the years for a sequel to "The Outsiders," there won’t be one, although she cheekily claimed that she sometimes writes fan fiction and that the best on S.E. Hinton fan fiction sites is hers. “Pony Boy learns a lot in what happened in that week, and it changed the way he thought.”

Hinton also talked about Hawkes Harbor; which reads very much like a fan fiction inspired by Dark Shadows. And some sources say it began as an official Dark Shadows novel. But I'm guessing that wasn't mentioned Hinton's talk.

Jane Smiley and Hinton also discussed adults writing for YA: The conversation wrapped on a strange note, when Smiley said that books written by adults for young adults were a kind of propaganda. It wasn't clear what it was propaganda for. Hinton seemed to agree and to imply that there was an optimism of youth that could not be recaptured by adults in a genuine way.

Castellucci notes, Does this mean that both Smiley and Hinton think that only young people can write authentic teen voices or authentic teen books? I don’t believe that, and I suspect that they don't, either. In the end, it doesn’t matter; when it comes to great classic YA novels, "The Outsiders" is a crown jewel.

I am curious about the "propaganda" Smiley referenced (and, of course, want to know what specific books she means.) And it sounds like maybe Hinton didn't know what the hell Smiley meant, either. I think it's rather simplistic to think that only teens can write "authentic teen voices or authentic teen books."

I wonder if teen authors -- authors first published as teens -- suffer from some of the same things as teen actors (with less public meltdowns). That is, being stuck in a role that they outgrow. Teen authors, especially today, get a little more attention and celebrity because of their age; how often do the jacket photos age and grow with the author?

Teen authors' first books were about teens because they were teens; there is no reason to continue to write teen books just because that is where they began. As people and authors, they will grow and change; and like Gordon Korman, may continue to write books for young readers and teens. As authors, their talent may be wonderfully capturing the age they are at or have lived through, so no, they cannot return to writing teen literature. But other authors have the talent and skill to capture the teen years, no matter their own age. It's a matter of talent, skill, interests; it's not a matter of propaganda, and one set of books is not less (or more) than another.

Edited to add: For a different take, read Wendy Werris's report at Publisher's Weekly.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Melissa Wyatt said...

I read an ARC of Hawkes Harbor and it's quite obvious it was originally Dark Shadows fanfiction because some of the names hadn't been changed over. Occasionally, one character would be referred to as Roger instead of the replacement name (which now escapes me) and Hawkes Harbor was at least once referred to as Collinsport.

tanita✿davis said...

Huh?! Only teens have that authentic voice, and all else is propaganda? Oh, dear. S.E. Hinton was one lucky bird; I don't know if The Outsiders would be published now as is -- so many things depend on the time, the place, the genre. I think all wunderkinds end up with the same sort of mini-meltdown years later... you can only be a child prodigy when you're a child, after all...

Misrule said...

I suspect that this was about the commonly-held assumption that all YA books are issues books. Can't imagine Smiley thinking a writer can't cross out of their age zone.

Anonymous said...

I think Smiley had a valid point and you miss it by being oversensitive to your beloved being dissed. Of course there are writers who can write an experience not their own-- that's what good writers do. But would it not freak you out completely if we only had white male writers? If people of color and women were only represented by empathetic, talented white men? We're still much too close to that now, and it disturbs me. So much the more so, for teens. At some basic level, with very few exceptions, what they get to read is what the grown-ups want to tell them. There is a power difference there. There always will be. They don't have a voice, and it is the very act of achieving their voice, that makes them an adult, with standing in our community. I don't think Smiley was saying that all books for children and teens are chanting didacticism. She was reminding us of the vulnerability of the audience and our responsibility to them.

Liz B said...


"propaganda" is a pretty strong word. and teens have a very vocal, strong voice, even more so today than years ago. did she mean didacticism? I have no idea. maybe.

no matter what the grownups say they should read, they read what they want. and I'm not sure I see the parallels you see re who writes different stories.

since I didn't attend or hear the smiley/hinton talk, I can only comment on what the reporters said they said. so maybe smiley meant that; but "propaganda" is a pretty strong, negative word; and I cannot agree with the position that the only people who can write believable teen lit are teens.

Anonymous said...

I don't think we're going to see eye to eye on this. I wasn't at the talk either, but I am taking a wider meaning to "'propaganda" than you are. I think in this context it means that there is an imbalance between writer and reader--one gets to talk, the other just gets to listen. It's true of any writer-reader relationship, but more so for teens because their own voice is less often represented in published work.

You know writers, they play with words. I do think it's a strong word because Smiley wanted to make a rather pointy point. Watch out for self-satisfaction.

"no matter what the grownups say they should read, they read what they want."

And of all it written by grown-ups. Not absolutely always of course, but for all intents and purposes, ALWAYS written by grown-ups.

The idea that only teens can write believable teen lit is just silly.

I don't think it's what Smiley or Hinton meant. I take it as a reminder that no matter how well we can reproduce the teen voice, or viewpoint, no matter how we empathize, what we know as adults changes us. We aren't playing on their team anymore. That difference is important and we should respect it.

If we don't, we become Super-Teen, always their advocates, always on their side, always defending them and their interests against the bad grown-ups. It's so easy to take the position of Team Captain of the Teen Team away from the teens.

You are right-- their voices get stronger all the time.

Anonymous said...

God, I love anonymous commenting. It lets me be so, so, so SANCTIMONIOUS.


Angie Manfredi said...

Interesting, because Jane Smiley's daughter (who is 27) just wrote her debut novel, the first in a YA trilogy. I wonder what kind of 'propaganda' she thinks that is. (That would be Beautiful Americans by Lucy Silag. I found out this tidbit of info when I got an ARC at midwinter. It's only so-so.)

Colleen said...

I'm just going to say it - most teenagers are not good writers. If we are talking the average 13-19 year old, then please...PUHLEASE..are you kidding me? It generally takes years to become a good writer and that's just how it is. (I speak from experience as a former college instructor who read many many papers that made my eyes literally bleed from the pain of poor prose.)

Don't wrap a comment about adults vs teens as YA writers into a conversation about white vs black authors. Two completely and totally different things - two completely different topics.

As to our viewpoints changing as we get older, sure I get that. But just because your father died when you were 25 or 30 doesn't mean you can't write a convicing story about a girl whose father died when she was 13 or 17. Same goes for a lot of YA topics. And if you were the girl who was misunderstood and got into fights and never fit in then you will remember that sufficiently as an adult when you write about it later (say as Meg Murray's adventures).

Not everything changes when we become adults - some feelings we never forget.

Anonymous said...


I'm sorry I can't make my point more clearly. Teen writers--of course they aren't good. That's why they aren't published. I wasn't at the talk and I'll be much chagrinned if what Smiley or Hinton meant is that teen writers have some exceptional ability, and that their work is more "believable" than that written by adults, and you know, adults are just keeping them down. That is idiotic. But, can you not have some sympathy for people who have a point of view that they are, by and large, unable to express? Can you not walk warily around the dangers of earnest self-importance as you reach out to teenagers to tell them what you just know is what they need to hear?

And no, that doesn't mean I think we are telling teens what they don't need to hear. I just mean we need to have a humility check from time to time.

How would you feel if all the stories about your own experience were written by someone else? Would you say that you aren't "someone else" to a teen? I think you are. I think that Hinton thinks you are. Of course you remember being a teen, you don't wipe your memory as you walk through the doors of high school the last time. You are still "someone else."

I think that some people are so anxious about any possible slight to their beloved genre (mine as well, mind you) that they misconstrue Smiley's point. Teens don't have a voice. That's all she said. The books by teens have a special significance because they are the rare moments when a teen tells her own story.

And duh, yes, of course they have voices and they have blogs and yadda, yadda. But as you say, generally they can't write for shit. So expressions of a teen that you can read without throwing against the wall (never cared for Outsiders myself) have a special significance, and it is not dissing YA writers or the genre to say that.

Jumping from there to the idea that somehow adults can't write believable stories for teens is unfounded.

Misrule said...

Could the first anonymous please confirm whether or not they are the same anonymous who posted the third "anonymous"comment. Would clear things up considerably. Ta.

Anonymous said...

Judith, it's all me. One anonymous commenter in a trollish mood. I shouldn't be so het up. I just thought that Smiley's comment was an interesting one, not that it was of earth-shattering importance.