Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Truth and Darkness

As you probably know (or you should by now, anyway), I write crime fiction, mostly YA suspense. My stories tend to be dark, a little gritty, and sometimes a little unconventional. Which makes it hard to find an agent, or editor, who will take a chance on my work. "Too dark," I hear a lot. "Why do go from the past to the future?"

Here's why: because I like it that way. There.

Of course, I know all about the conventions in fiction, in YA, and in mysteries. No killing off little kids, for one. Can't be too depressing. And I try to fit in, write to fit those conventions, at least some of the time.

Anyway, to get to my point (I do have one, in case you were wondering): a writer friend suggested I read R.A. Nelson's books, knowing I write YA Suspense. So I picked up Breathe my Name. The title was promising, so I started to read with optimism.

The book is Frances Robinson's story, a girl with a dark past. Her mother suffocated her three younger sisters, with Frances as the only one who got away. Years later, Francis lives with her foster family when her mother gets out of the mental institution. And Frances worries, and we worry right along with her as the mystery unfolds.

R.A. Nelson goes between today, when Frances is trying to figure out if her mother is trying to find her to finish what she started, and the past, leading up to those heart-wrenching deaths. So there's your switching between present and future--and R.A. Nelson does it beautifully. There are dead little kids, crazy parents, and the story is pretty dang tragic. All rules that we're not supposed to break. But Nelson does it with such class and finesse, I have to tip my hat.

People ask me sometimes: why the dark stories? Usually they follow up with: but you look so nice. I like these stories, as a reader and a writer, because they show the truth. There is no better time to show what a person is really about, then to put them in an extreme crisis. There is truth in that darkness.

Not that us gloomy writers don't know how to have a happy ending. Because it's always darkest before dawn, right?


  1. I think we underestimate kids these days. They really can handle much more than we adults think they can. Do publishers not look at the video games they're playing or the movies/TV shows they're watching?

    Now, each child is different, just as every adult is. But most seem to have a higher tolerance for the "ick" factor than adults do.

    So, who is Nelson's agent?

  2. I couldn't agree more. I think unfortunately, editors and agents aren't always willing to make the leap.
    No idea who R.A. Nelson's agent is; hmmmm, a mystery...