Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Can I Quote John Cougar Mellencamp, Referene Glee, and Tell the Truth in a Single Post?


Try me.

So yes, I still watch Glee. On TV. Live. It isn't what it used to be, but my children both love the singing, and the underlying messages are still important. So I allow it. I'm usually drinking in the corner, revising, and paying scant attention to the audio.

Anyway, there was a moment in last night's episode (please tell me this was a new episode, and my DVR did not escape from 1984) when the show quoted John Cougar, and in spite of my never being a fan of Bon Jovi, it actually made sense to me.

I've thought a lot about what I write, and why I write it, lately. Some of it has to do with friends and mentors like Andrew and Joe, who never set out to write YA novels, and yet ended up writing books that broke the mold.

For me, I've always wanted to write a book, and I've had hundreds of ideas from high Tolkienesque fantasy to juvenile MG humor, but none of them were ever novel worthy. Then the WM idea struck me, and it seemed like it was the one.

I'm going on too long here, because that's what I do, but to get back to the quote, this is why I write YA, or at least why I might have written the book I wrote, when I didn't even realize it was YA:

Hold on to sixteen, as long as you can. - John Cougar Mellencamp, from Jack and Diane.

At first glance, this is a simple, innocuous line.

But anyone who writes YA, whether on purpose or not, knows different.

This shit matters.

Let me put that quote on a line of it's own.

Hold on to sixteen, as long as you can.

Do you get it?

This shit is serious.

Anyway, I want to talk about what this means to me, and why it matters when it comes to writing books.

I write the longest blog posts when I break paragraphs at every. Single. Sentence.

For me, 16 was the age of innocence and the age of insolence at the same time. My mother was long dead, and my father was long gone, and I had been angry at the world, and defying every rule it ever gave me for years. Every adult I'd ever known had abandoned me to my own devices, or abused me with their sickness.

And yet I carried on. I lived life passionately. Because being young is all about hope, and despair, and poignancy. It's about flipping the bird to authority, and thumbing your nose at conventional wisdom. It's about aching to be touched by someone who loves you, and about drowning your sorrow in cigarettes and booze and Nine Inch Nails. It's about reading your favorite novel for the first time, it's about driving for the first time, it's about freedom.

Or at least it was for me.

There are so many firsts. First love, first kiss, first smoke, first sex. Nothing you do again will ever be as cool (or perhaps as terrible).

Later, when you're all grown up, adulthood is about bills, and 401ks, and tax returns, and ethics competency training. When you're old, getting in the car to go to the grocery store is a chore. When you're young, getting in a car to drive anywhere is an adventure.

When you're old, going to work can feel like being shackled to an oar on a rotting slave galley out of old Volantis. When you're young, going to school can feel like solving a mystery.

When you're old, the days fly by like frames in a film reel. When you're young, each day is like an ocean, teeming with life, and full of possibility.

So ... I realize this is starting to get a little depressing, and it isn't meant to. I mean I might be a jaded, confused, and sad old man, but I do still have beauty and truth in my life. That isn't the point, though.

The point is, I write YA books about young people, that may or may not be for young people, because being young is exciting. Because being young is terrible and beautiful. Because being young is being full of life.


Because I'm trying to hold on to sixteen, as long as I can.

66 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

I think all YA writers would agree with you here. It's such a great age. Older teens are close to being adults but still hold onto the kid in themselves!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'd think to write young adult, you'd have to still possess the essence of teen.
Sex at sixteen? Crap, I missed that!

Marta Szemik said...

It`s the same reason I write YA! I wish time travel was possible, so long as it wasn`t by plane :)

Bish Denham said...

Oh my Matt, what a wonderful post! I have a secret to tell you (this from someone over 60) you will carry that teenager around with you for the rest of you life. He will always be there waiting for you to let him out to go play. He'll let you know when he wants/needs out. Listen to him. He will keep you young at heart. And, with the wisdom you gain as you grow "older", you will be able to teach him things and share things with him that you can't teach or share with anyone else.

I know this to be true, because a child/teen/young adult still resides within me and she makes herself known. I love her for her spontaneity and humor.

Be of good cheer. Your 16-year-old is there with you, right now, even in the apparent drudgery of your adult life.

I've always had a fondness for that song. I saw an interview with Mellencamp once and he talked about how surprised he was when it became such a hit, (even he didn't take it seriously as he opens it with "Little ditty 'bout Jack and Diane") and how surprised he was that it became a kind of anthem. His unconscious knew...changes come 'round real soon make us women and men.

Have a wonderful day and tell that 16-year-old boy not to worry, that you'll keep him safe.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Look at how wicked cute you are at sixteen! And I so heart this post. Anyone who frowns at YA as somehow "less than" needs to read this.

Helene said...

As someone who is occasionally too in touch with her 16 year-old self, let me just tell you how much I LOVE this post. I think you nailed it.

Life at 16 was jumbled and confusing and nothing made sense, but at the same time everything was exciting and new and it seemed like all roads were there to be traveled on.

Rad photo by the way! :-)

Pat Hatt said...

Such a jaded, confused, sad old man..hahahaha couldn't resist.

True there does seem to be more possibilites when you have no responsibilities. The more garbage you have to do as an adult, i.e. work crap, the more it seems to slip away.

Pearl said...

Like I told my son, "You're only young for a little while, and then you're old for a very long time. You should enjoy yourself."

Pearl

Yvonne Osborne said...

This post deserves a more thoughtful response than I have time for now as I head off to the boring job that sucks the fun out of me! So, I will be back. Promise

storyqueen said...

It took me an hour last night to figure out where "Hold on to 16 as long as you can," was from! (That's just how old and slow my brain is.)

I've been thinking about a lot of this, too.

Great post.

Shelley

Michael G-G said...

One for the archives. And one to share with my teen, who is verging on 16.

You're older than me. I'm hanging on to 12 as long as I can. That's why I write middle grade. (Though now you've made 16 sound like a lot of fun.)

And look at that picture! You don't look like a wild one at all.

Elena Solodow said...

Such a great post, Matt - and very true. There is such a vibrancy to YA, all that newness, that you get just from writing it.

Elana Johnson said...

This is a great post! It is all about the firsts, I think. It's why being sixteen (or a teen) is an exciting time. Because once you've done something, it's not as new, exciting, freeing the next time.

So I guess I'm saying I completely agree. :)

Anna Staniszewski said...

I love this post! I think I'm holding on to 13, which explains why I write for tweens. :-)

vic caswell (aspiring-x) said...

amen.

Jonathon Arntson said...

16 year old Matt is hot.

Okay, now that that's out of the way...

Matt, this is perhaps the most powerful post I have ever read (dethroning our mentor, Andrew).

For me, 16 was a big year. It was the year that lead to me coming out. It was perhaps the hardest year of my life, but it was also the most exciting.

I miss 16...I lament so much. I create characters who do the things I had only dreamed about. I put those characters through the things I think would have happened to me...and they turn out okay. For the most part.

Thanks, Matt. You've inspired a blog post for me.

Rick Daley said...

I'm usually drinking in the corner, revising, and paying scant attention to the audio.

That's how I handle the X-Factor.

Old Kitty said...

Is that you at 16??!?! WOW!! Awww what happened since then!??! Oh I'm KIDDING!! lol!!

Truly, I'd hate to be 16 again - my 16 was AWFUL!! LOL!

Take care
x

Jessica Bell said...

This has to be one of the best posts you've ever written. You know, I'm actually not fond my teens, and despite time flying by like a film reel, I'm very much enjoying my 30s. I wouldn't go back in time for ANYTHING.

BUT.

This post made me want to. I want to feel like that! And for a moment, you almost had me convinced that I did ...

Justine Dell said...

Wow. What a wonderful post. It has made me both sad and happy at the same time. Something VERY hard to do.

But you've mad an excellent point here about YA and books and ideas and just writing. Makes me feel not so bad for writing those two books that I know weren't "YA", but were. Thank you.

~JD

Matthew MacNish said...

I just wanted to add, since some people asked, that top photo is me when I was about 13, the bottom photo is at 16.

Paul Greci said...

Great post, Matt!! Love the photo of you, and the reference to JCM. Back in the day, I saw him in concert twice. The lyrics to that song really do capture YA lit, and keeping the teen alive in us as we move out of our teen years.
Thanks! :-)

Heather Kelly said...

This.

Post.

Is.

Amazing.

THANKS!

JEM said...

This is an AMAZING post. Beautiful writing, dead on sentiment, and not depressing at all. The thought of holding on to sixteen as long as you can is both nostalgic and bittersweet. And you're so right about it all. Great post.

Joe said...

I love this post, Matt.

First you have to know that I'm a John Cougar Mellencamp fan and that is one of his earlier albums and a great song from my teen years. Saying that, he has written many more darker songs and albums since then (Life, Death, Love, and Freedom in particular - listen to If I die suddenly especially). All this to say that reflection on life's turning points is a dangerous thing - haunting, beautiful, numbing, subversive, fascinating. So much can come from that one simple line of verse.

An agent (who turned down 3 versions of Open Wounds over three years - hey, I was persistent)said to me, "Nobody is buying coming of age stories anymore." He didn't know anything about the YA market. Neither did I - not from a writer's perspective. I just knew I liked to read books and YA books were part of what I enjoyed as a reader.

This post is such a beautiful meditation on why you write and who you are. Writing reveals us, that's why we hold our work so close. Thanks, Matt.

mshatch said...

Oh, I so agree with everything you said! Being 16 was all that and being (ok, you can say old if you want but I absolutely refuse to apply that term to myself until I actually forget what sixteen was like. Then, maybe, I'll use it, maybe) an adult is rather lacking in excitement at times, until I sit down at my desk and become...someone new :)

Christina Lee said...

Absolutely---it is terrible and beautiful all at once--nicely said my friend!

I sang that phrase in my head and now don't know if I'll be rid of it all day!!

Shaun Hutchinson said...

I've popped up from vacation to tell you that this post is awesome. And so true. If I had a time machine, and could go back to sixteen, I wouldn't.

But...Sixteen was such an amazing time, and I think, like you, that's why I keep looking to those years to inspire me.

And I for one, can't wait to see your first book hit the shelves. It's only a matter of time.

Back to vacationland.

Em-Musing said...

I know what you mean about sixteen...I just felt again for the first time recently.

Michael Offutt, Expert Critic said...

I thought that holding onto sixteen was a message that you should go find a sixteen-year-old to screw and hope the law doesn't catch you and brand you as a pedophile. Here's looking at you Sandusky...oh wait...his victims were like ten, right?

Seriously though, I think what you are saying in a nutshell is that growing old sucks, growing irrelevant sucks, and that if you could live in Neverland with John Cougar, sing songs, and do tequila shots off of naked girls that you should hold onto that cause that is the life baby.

May arthritis never creep into your writing fingers and may Alzheimer's grace the heads of your neighbors but always miss you.

Great post.

Johanna Garth said...

I think you've touched on exactly why people love YA books so much. Sixteen is formative. The things that happen then inform who we are at 35 or 55. Reading stories about people that age is compelling because we can all relate and it's human nature to want to see how things begin.

Loved this post!!

Nancy said...

Beautiful post. I love reading MG and YA novels but I wouldn't go back to the insecurity of that time for anything below the survival of my children, everything is extreme.

Carol Riggs said...

Lovely, honest post. :) I had to laugh in a few places, but only cuz it's so true. It goes to show also why a lot of adults READ young adult novels. There's definitely that connection.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Love. Love. Love.

YES.

It is all these things. How beautifully you've summed up the reasons probably most of us write YA, even if we don't know why.

LOVE.

Nancy Thompson said...

Wow, Matthew, this was such an incredibly poignant post. I saddened to hear of your difficulties while growing up. Childhood should be carefree and filled with the best of firsts. But you seemed to have weathered a rather nasty storm and come out whole and healthy. For that, I am happy.

I watched Glee last night, too. It was a great episode. I agree about holding onto 16. Life gets too hard and complicated after that. I keep trying to tell this to my 17 year old son who wants so badly to grow up already. I want him to slow down and enjoy all those firsts.

Thanks for sharing this today. I really enjoyed it!

Sara McClung said...

I mean, awesome. Just awesome. I've been sitting here for five minutes trying to come up with some inspiring response here, but I've got nothing. You covered it all so well.

This is probably my favorite post you've ever written :)

inluvwithwords said...

This is my first visit to your blog and I'm so glad I stopped by. Loving this post. Another YA writer is nodding her head over here.

Nicole Zoltack said...

For me, writing YA is about firsts - first loves, first kiss, etc. Discovery who you are in this crazy world we live in.

Liza said...

At sixteen, life is still new, full of surprises and possibility. Sixteen is good to hang onto, no matter how old you are.

Sub-Radar-Mike said...

Glee is alright, but it makes my skin crawl when people reference a famous song and then say "the glee version is so much better".

maine character said...

What a totally righteous, heartfelt post.

As you say, it was the age of innocence, it was the age of insolence. And I wish I'd known you then.

Tina Laurel Lee said...

Very lovely post. Love the quote and the sentiment. The terrible and the beautiful. Well said.

I have been a long time follower over here, just not an often commentor. :)

Carolyn Abiad said...

You know what, I wish I knew this back then. I read and write YA because I want a do-over for those years. Everyone gets to say the right thing (or the perfect wrong thing)in a book. LOL! :)

C D Meetens said...

That is so true. I think you just captured one of the main reasons I love writing YA, and in such a beautiful post too.

As for the car and grocery store - I had to smile at that. I got home this evening, thinking I would have to take the car to the grocery store, but I discovered hidden treasure in the freezer :). I was relieved at not having to go, whereas I might well have wanted to drive somewhere just for the drive when I was younger.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great post. I can so relate to how you described 16 (mine was definitely not all good either)but remember the freedom, the hope, and excitement that does seem to get lost as an adult. I guess it's one of the reasons I write MG and now YA too.

As I watch my daughter at 14, I wonder when she's going to lose some of the excitement and kid like qualities and hope she doesn't.

Julie said...

Loved this post...I one hundred percent agree.
Sixteen was such an amazing, horrible, wonderful, agonizing age for me and it's something I'll never forget.
Writing YA allows me to recapture those feelings.

farawayeyes said...

I truly love it when someone can openly, honestly expose themselves like you did here. (I take my clothes off publicly - on my blog - occasionally) It is seriously refreshing. Thanks!

I don't have TV,never seen Glee, BUT, I have to say about that hanging onto to sixteen thing...it's easy...I don't think I ever left. Sometimes there is this old chick in my mirror, but I do my best to ignore her.

I'm probably just reprehensible and irresponsible but,I believe life is an adventure. It's up to you to never let the firsts stop happening. I never knew this is why I write YA,but maybe you have a point there. I appreciate your opening my eyes.

farawayeyes said...

I truly love it when someone can openly, honestly expose themselves like you did here. (I take my clothes off publicly - on my blog - occasionally) It is seriously refreshing. Thanks!

I don't have TV,never seen Glee, BUT, I have to say about that hanging onto to sixteen thing...it's easy...I don't think I ever left. Sometimes there is this old chick in my mirror, but I do my best to ignore her.

I'm probably just reprehensible and irresponsible but,I believe life is an adventure. It's up to you to never let the firsts stop happening. I never knew this is why I write YA,but maybe you have a point there. I appreciate your opening my eyes.

farawayeyes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
farawayeyes said...

I truly love it when someone can openly, honestly expose themselves like you did here. (I take my clothes off publicly - on my blog - occasionally) It is seriously refreshing. Thanks!

I don't have TV,never seen Glee, BUT, I have to say about that hanging onto to sixteen thing...it's easy...I don't think I ever left. Sometimes there is this old chick in my mirror, but I do my best to ignore her.

I'm probably just reprehensible and irresponsible but,I believe life is an adventure. It's up to you to never let the firsts stop happening. I never knew this is why I write YA,but maybe you have a point there. I appreciate your opening my eyes.

farawayeyes said...

I truly love it when someone can openly, honestly expose themselves like you did here. (I take my clothes off publicly - on my blog - occasionally) It is seriously refreshing. Thanks!

I don't have TV,never seen Glee, BUT, I have to say about that hanging onto to sixteen thing...it's easy...I don't think I ever left. Sometimes there is this old chick in my mirror, but I do my best to ignore her.

I'm probably just reprehensible and irresponsible but,I believe life is an adventure. It's up to you to never let the firsts stop happening. I never knew this is why I write YA,but maybe you have a point there. I appreciate your opening my eyes.

farawayeyes said...

I am so sorry. Technology hates me. This posted twice (not sure what I did) when I tried to delete it, it posted two more times. Not only is it the longest comment in the history of man, It's posted again again,and again. SORRY!

Andrew Leon said...

Going to school never seemed like the opportunity to solve a mystery. Not to me or to any of my friends. School was definitely more of a chore than work ever was. At least, you get paid for work.
But...

I think the real thing about youth is that everything is possible. At least, it looks that way. You're still full of "I could"s. "I could be..." " I could do..." "I could go..." Unlimited possibilty coupled with friendships that seem like they will last forever (It's that aspect of Stand By Me that makes me love that movie so much).

But I wouldn't go back.

julie fedderson said...

This post really resonated with me, maybe because I think I felt things more at sixteen. Whether that's good or bad, I don't know. But I felt alive, and it came easy. I didn't have to meditate or do yoga or imbibe to bring the sensation. It was just there. What keeps me going now is hoping one day it will come back.

Yvonne Osborne said...

What I wanted to say is that I try to hang on to that excitment of getting behind the wheel for the first time, skinny dipping in the pond, taking impromptu road trips, taking the backroads without getting lost and/or running out of gas, being sixteen without the angst. I try not to get stuck in the slave galley any more than absolutely necessary!

Jeffrey Beesler said...

What you have said about being young, and the trials and tribulations thereof, are very well expressed. And I absolutely get why YA turns out to be a genre you're most fond of writing. Growing up can be one of the dullest things to ever happen to a person.

Or can it? There isn't any doubt that there are trials in the latter years either. It can be downright depressing, having to pay bills, being stuck in a dead end job, wondering when you might get child support to help you get through the month as you bounce from paycheck to paycheck.

I don't really think it matters whether you are old or young. Because the human experience has various stages of heartache. I think the greatest power of any story, regardless of the targeted audience's age, is that it connects with us.

Man, Matt. I have a feeling you'll be quite a literary force to be reckoned with when the time comes.

Jessica Silva said...

life sucked when I was 16 and I was so insecure about myself it's frightening. I hardly knew I was a PERSON, let alone that I DESERVED to be treat a certain way. in contrast, I like how I am now. less insecure, more of a person even. so perhaps I'd rather hold on to the age in which I'm a) the happiest and b) have the least to lose?

probably 21...

Cole Gibsen said...

THIS.

Jemi Fraser said...

So very true. The passion and fire of 16 is more powerful than almost anything else I've encountered. So much depth, so many possibilities.

Keep holding on. And I'm turning on my iTunes for more Mellencamp :)

Angela Brown said...

WOW.

Yeah.

That's all my blown-back mind can muster...just...

W.O.W!

Paul Joseph said...

Great post, Matt. This is an awesome analysis of your YA roots, and many of your points match mine. In fact, not only is this why I write YA, but I think it played a huge factor in becoming a teacher. I was looking for ways to hold on to that time in my life, and in some ways, do it better. I loved working with kids who were that age, and now, I love creating kids that age for my stories. I get to relive my youth through the characters.

It's hard for teens to understand the innocence of that time - most are focused on growing up and moving on as fast as possible. I was. I wanted independence, freedom, and my own money. Then, as adults, we learn the things you pointed out. I remember being told to hold on to sixteen (though not in those exact words) but it sounded dumb at the time. Turns out it wasn't so dumb.

Bryan Russell said...

I think this is one of my all-time favorite posts by you. Right up there with when you interviewed me. :)

Donna K. Weaver said...

Matt, that's really a lovely post. It struck a chord in me because while I'm old, I'm also trying to hang onto sixteen. Because it is a philosophy for life in so many ways. We really do get old when we let go.

"Because being young is all about hope, and despair, and poignancy."

Love this.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

no worries, it was a new episode of Glee, which i also watch. This season the plotting has been a lot more succinct than last season.
And i hear you. When you're a team, the bad things are horrible, and the good things are amazing, because you're living in this world of extremes. Most of that is because of hormones, but still.

LTM said...

well, it certainly is a much more exciting and escapist time, although for me that didn't come into play until about 18...

Great post, though! And don't spoil my Glee, man! I haven't had a chance to watch this weeks' yet. ;p

Laura Barnes said...

Beautiful post. We watch Glee as well. Because I liked to jam with my friends and I think we imagined we sounded like they do when they just jam on Glee. That's what makes it so fun to watch, I think. That memory of feeling like that.

Which is totally what you're talking about with that quote. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

Only one thing I have to say - are you trying to tie John Cougar Mellancamp to Bon Jovi? Because that was Jon Bon Jovi, sweetie. Totally different Jon. I know this hard and fast because I so completely loved both of them at different times. What wicked crushes you've brought to mind....