New Adult Fiction ~ Cultural Cop Out or State of the Times?
The new kid on the genre block is New Adult Fiction, or NA Fiction. Sensing the emergence of a new market, fiction similar to the Young-Adult genre that could be promoted to an adult audience—typically the 18-30 age bracket—St. Martin’s Press coined the term New Adult Fiction in 2009. The genre has exploded onto the scene despite the initial criticism aimed its way. Some felt the term was merely a marketing gimmick; others thought there was no substantial readership to support the focus. Both these concerns have since been allayed.
Another criticism that still holds water is the claim that this genre has become an excuse for the flippant use of excessive sex and ubiquitous swearing; since the genre tackles young adults at the precarious ages of eighteen and up. The YA manacles of impropriety are obliterated. Freedom! Writers can now “go wild;” their protagonists are of legal age so turning both the air blue and the pages blue is not just allowed, but reflective of this age group. Yes?
While I’m not one to frivolously use sex and vulgarities to cop out to cultural sordidness, and thus perpetrate the sleaze, the underlying debate is a healthy and robust one. Is so much new adult fiction today merely caught in the torrent of society’s sewer, or is it an authentic (and artistic) reflection of the state of our times?
New Adult Fiction and Controversy
William Styron had much to say on the matter in a broad sense. The late, famous American novelist and essayist explained: “I still maintain that the times get precisely the literature that they deserve, and that if the writing of this period is gloomy the gloom is not so much inherent in the literature as in the times.” Of course, this makes sense. We are in some ways a product of our cultural mores—virtues and vices—and our writing will, and should, reflect such.
I appreciate both Styron’s honesty and pragmatism. “Perhaps the critics are right: this generation may not produce literature equal to that of any past generation—who cares? The writer will be dead before anyone can judge him—but he must go on writing, reflecting disorder, defeat, despair, should that be all he sees at the moment, but ever searching for the elusive love, joy, and hope—qualities which, as in the act of life itself, are best when they have to be struggled for, and are not commonly come by with much ease, either by a critic’s formula or by a critic’s yearning.”
As I understand him, we need to grow our craft and strive to be the best author we can be, while remaining true to who we are today. However, isn’t it a great and heroic challenge to find ways to craft work that circumvents the vileness of our day while still capturing its tone and tenor? Can we write fiction that resonates with the angst of the New Adult Fiction market, but carves a noble path above and beyond the smut? Can we not create villains that are patently evil without littering their quotations with an excessive number of curse words? Can we write scenes that portray both the beauty and mystery—and where appropriate, the awkwardness and tragedy—of sex without reverting to easy-street porn? This is the challenge I think every New Adult Fiction author should aspire to.