Don’t worry, nobody here died or lost a limb or got divorced—nothing like that. The dogs are fine, no writer’s block, no noticeable psychosis, no religious awakening, no medical crises, no changes to my sexual identity.
No, the big change has to do with my Muse—either Melpomene or Thalia, depending on the weather—and she is telling me that I’ve said enough to Young Adult readers for now, and that younger readers, known as “middle-graders,” want to hear from me.
An aside: When I began writing YA books back in 1996, a “young adult” was usually defined as a person twelve to sixteen years old. In other words, mostly middle schoolers, with a smattering of high schoolers. The novels I was writing—Mr. Was, Godless, Invisible, and so forth—were mostly read by grades seven through nine, with a few outliers on either end.
Things have changed, as things will. Today, thanks to writers such as John Green and Rainbow Rowell, YA lit has become an upper school staple, and is more likely to bear the label “Ages 14-up,” while middle-grade remains wedded to the age 8-12 demographic. Twelve-up books are still slotted into the YA category, but awkwardly so.
There is a big difference between an eight-year-old reader and a fourteen-year-old reader, but marketing and reality are not always in synch. I’m sure that soon we will be saddled with a new category for ages 12-14. Probably it will be called something like “Emerging Adolescent,” or “Early Chrysalis.”
Anyway, that’s got nothing to do with what Melpomene or Thalia are telling me. They want me to write for younger readers because they say I haven’t matured sufficiently to write for teens. I’m sure they’re right. I’m still puzzled and hurt by my failed efforts to become a successful sixteen-year-old, but I think I handled age eleven pretty well.
Beginning with The Flinkwater Factor, my next four (and possibly five) novels will be middle-grade books. Two of them, The Flinkwater Factor (September 1) and The Forgetting Machine (Fall, 2016) are funny near future SF, or “sciency fiction” as I like to call it. The next two books will be completely different. One has to do with birth order and pizza, the other is a sort of ghost story.
I have not turned my back on YA. I have a couple of those in the works as well, but it’s gonna be a while. For now, writing middle-grade is just too much fun.
The Flinkwater Factor will be available September 1. The book launch will be at The Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minnesota. Please stop by if you are in the area!