Yesterday I learned that my niece finished reading The Deep. She turns ten in a couple of weeks and I’ve got P.S. Be Eleven wrapped and ready to send. M’s a voracious reader and my primary job as a long-distance aunty is to keep her supplied with multicultural books. At first I was horrified by the idea of M reading a novel I intended for teenagers. The Deep opens with a sexual assault that takes place during a school dance, and there is also brief mention of sexting and suicide—I recommend it for kids 13 and up. But then M’s mom told me that she’d already had to have a conversation with my niece about sexual assault; once when her classmate’s older sister was gang raped and subsequently committed suicide, and again when my niece wondered why her mother didn’t like the song “Blurred Lines.” A nine-year-old shouldn’t have to worry about rape, but I’m glad she’s got parents who choose to inform her rather than keep her ignorant. It’s an issue I choose to engage in my young adult novels because it is the sad reality for far too many teens, and fiction can sometimes make tough topics easier to discuss. At the very least, writing about rape ensures other assault survivors that they aren’t alone and since I write historical fiction, I can also demonstrate that Black women have been resisting and recovering from rape for centuries.
I understand M plans to write me a letter about The Deep—I’m anxious to hear her impressions! I know she’s wondering when the next book will be done. Today I met Lyn Miller-Lachmann for breakfast and we talked about serializing young adult lit. We both have so many projects that are almost ready to go—but what’s the best way to connect with readers? Should an author give readers everything she’s got, or ration books in order to build anticipation? Would selling a novel chapter by chapter appeal to reluctant readers who are intimidated by lengthy books? I think of Netflix and their new model that allows viewers to watch all available episodes of a particular show. I do binge sometimes and if season 4 of Games of Thrones were available to view all at once, I’d probably get sucked in. Downton Abbey is so slow and boring that I don’t mind waiting a week for each new episode, but is it the same when you’re reading a book? I’m nearly done with Hild by Nicola Griffith (amazing!) and feel like I’ll be lost once I reach page 536 and finally have to leave that world behind. But it’s not the kind of book I’d want to read in pre-determined installments—I needed to be immersed even if it took me a week to reach the end. But that’s me—I wanted to hold the physical book in my hands and I needed to read long chunks of it in silence. Teens today are constantly multi-tasking and battling endless distractions—does that mean they’re wired for shorter stories and bite-size books? My niece reads up to five books at a time (and finishes them all)! I think I’m too much of a traditionalist to give up printed books but it’s important to consider all the options. If there’s a book for every reader, should there be a format for every reader, too?