In the first part of my recent chat with Nancy Holder, the Stoker-winning author discussed how she balances her media tie-in work with her original book projects. In part 2, which follows the jump, Holder shares her thoughts on writing young adult fiction, and tells a few stories about the dream projects that got away.
What's the principal difference between writing for kids and writing for adults?
The joke is… When Debbie Vigue and I started working together on our series called Wicked, I had already sold the series on my own. Then I asked Debbie to help me because I had my daughter, my baby, and I was overloaded. So we came to work on it together. I had written a back story, and I had sold the whole series. But Debbie hadn't told me all of that. I didn't communicate it very well. It wasn't until the third book in – of a four book contract – that she even knew it was young adult. We sold another book six years after we wrote the first one, to tie up the loose ends we left. So I reread the series so I'd remember everything we'd done, and I was stunned at how dark it was. Absolutely amazed. It was very dark. What I've come to realize about YA dark fantasy and horror is that a lot of it is really, really dark, and very sophisticated. There's a huge range in young adult fiction. There's a very sweet, young, easy-to-access, easy-to-read YA young adult. Then there is very sophisticated young adult that is purposely marketed for early twenty-year-olds. Most of our YA series are also read by parents, or just adults.
I was talking to a guy who was connected to the Twilight movies, and he said they discovered that their main audience was the mothers of the girls who were reading Twilight. Not the girls, the moms. So I think YA is being read by adults, and part of the reason it continues to be marketed as YA is because the adults are seeking it in the YA section. So if they moved it to the adult section, they wouldn't go get it. [Laughs.] That's what I think is happening. What is the difference? I'm not entirely sure. But I think the matters of the teenage heart. They're not getting divorced, but they're breaking up. They're not losing their career, but maybe they break their leg and can't ever be a professional football player. The concerns are dressed in teenaged words, but they're the concerns of everyone. There's something that adults find appealing about that. Also YA gets to the point faster. I think there's less digression, You have to get to the point or kids get bored and they'll leave you. Those are the main differences.
So YA keeps authors in check when their tendencies are to write overstuffed novels?
Yeah, a little bit. Debbie and I just turned in a book that's a hundred and five thousand words long, which is long but everybody seems to say, "Okay, fine." Because more and more kids are reading on eBooks, they don't care how long it is. They don't even want to pay attention. Because when they download a file, they don't know how many changes it's at. They just start reading. It's different.
Is there content that some publishers just won't let you include in young adult novels?
I don't know. I haven't been told, "You can't do that, because this is YA." There has been discussion about language. Some YA publishers don't want any "bad words"; and some don't care. I do find personally that I censor myself more now, because my daughter is eighteen now. As I'd been writing when she was littler, she either couldn't read or had no interest in what I'd written. So now as she's getting older, I'm getting more self-conscious because she's around. Really, there's lots of YA books with "Fuck, fuck, fuck…" all the way through them, and other ones where they would say, "Oh my goodness." It doesn't tend to be where I write, but I've had questions like, "Can I say this word? Should I use that word?" I've had copy editors ask the editor, "Can she say this?" Because when you market to YA you're sometimes marketing to their parents. So you have to keep in mind who really will buy this book. Sometimes it's older teens, and sometimes if it's a younger teen they still have to have their parents' permission or they have to have their parents do it. And if you're starting to move into eBooks, to have an eBook, you have to have a credit card to back it up. So usually you have a parent who's involved somewhere in your Nook or Kindle or whatever.
Is YA generally defined as the ages between 12 and 20?
It's a moving target. I've seen YA defined as 8, but I think that's very young. I'd say ninth grade and up, or late middle school and up. Even into the mid-twenties. They were starting to try a new category called New Adult, but it hasn't become a thing. I think what they discovered is that so many people in their twenties, thirties and up, are reading young adults that they didn't need to make this new category.
You and your partner have apparently received some interest from Hollywood in Wicked…
Oh yeah. It got optioned by Dreamworks. So we're really excited about that. There's been a couple of scripts, and then you wait for a while. And then you don't hear anything for a while. Right now we're not hearing anything. So we don't know.
With the success of things like The Secret Circle, I'm sure it's just a matter of time.
I haven't watched it. I gotta be honest.
I sometimes wish Buffy was on TV in today's world, given how favorably people respond to supernatural television these days. Of course if that happened then it might also be subjected to more network interference.
Well Buffy to me is the yardstick by which all other shows are measured.
I confess to a certain fondness for the early seasons, which employed more of a horror anthology format, which is increasingly rare on TV.
Yep. It would have been a lot easier to write books if they'd stayed with that format, because what we had to do was consciously decide where to freeze a story. And say, "Okay, this is gonna be season between episodes 5 and 6." Because everybody changed so fast, and things happened so fast. In New York publishing it takes six to nine months to get a book out. And that's a whole season of episodes. So things would keep happening in the Buffy sphere that we couldn't address, because we had to turn our book in. So we made it freeze. Had it just been an anthology monster of the week, it would have just been another monster of the week story. But that was part of the joy of writing for Buffy – the characters were so beautifully formed and developed that it was just a joy to be able to work in that world. So it was more than just another monster of the week show.
There's been talk of making a Buffy film without Joss Whedon…
No Joss, no Buffy! [Laughs.]
Yeah, it doesn't make much sense.
Debbie and I were on an author tour and we got a call to ask if we could write the novelization of Cabin in the Woods. But they said, "It needs to be done by X time." And we said we couldn't do it. And we were really, really, really bummed. The book came out and it was written by Tim Lebbon, and he said, "Isn't it a drag that the movie was postponed, and we said, "What? We could have done it in all this time!" We were physically sick that we didn't get to do it. I can't wait to see the film.
I was also bummed when the novelization of Army of Darkness came up. My editor said, "I'm gonna send them some samples. I want to send them a sample of your work." I was so excited because I had actually gone to Japan and flew home the day Army of Darkness was in theaters. I flew home, left the airport, and went right to the theater and watched it. That's how much I love Sam Raimi. And I didn't get the job. The person who did get the job offered to let me ghost-write it, and I said, "Well, then the next Sam Raimi project that comes out you'll still get it because they won't know I wrote it." I was bummed. I said, "Dear Mr. Raimi. If you let me join your Army of Darkness, I will bust my Ash for you." Still didn't get the job. I was sad... [Laughs.]