Brain Injury?

Martin Amis, who I like a lot as an author, suggested last week that he would only write lit for kids if he had a brain injury.  This brain injury would keep him from writing to his true capacity, and so, as a dumber version of himself, he might consider writing for dumb kids (that’s my spin at the end of the sentence).

Lots of writers are mad at Martin Amis.  I’m not.  He didn’t exactly suggest that writers for kids are brain damaged (only that he would have to be). He did sort of suggest that kids are dumb, which isn’t true at all, but they certainly have some different needs as readers.  That doesn’t make them dumb.  Kids are kids and are not, thank God, adults yet.  The fact that Mr. Amis isn’t intellectually tooled to write for younger humans neither makes him brilliant nor stupid  (I’m positive he likes being a jerk, though — that’s schtick).

Guardian pic shows schtick

Point is this: we should write what we have to write.  Amis was asked if he’d consider writing for kids.  He answered no.  He claimed his aspirations.  He has to use the entirety of his giant, language loving, reference driven brain, or he isn’t producing his work.

I have to write what I’m writing and I’m writing YA fiction right now because I have a story and I have characters I love and I have a couple of first person voices (two brothers, Felton and Andrew) that keep me awake, keep me playing around in notebooks, so curious to know what they will say.  I’m writing YA because I remember how important story was to me when I was a teen (Salinger, Knowles, Terry Davis’ Vision Quest, Vonnegut… 16 Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — John Hughes was in his primed pump house when I was a teen), and I have a serious desire to light fires in the same way.

Also, I want to write variations of the classical story arc.  I want my characters to change.  I do believe in individual transcendence.  YA readers like hope.

So, I’d have to get hit on the head pretty hard to write adult literary fiction right now.  I don’t want to tell stories with largely ambiguous ends, with more worlds falling apart, filled with characters I am cynical about, characters I want to skewer.  I spend much of my conscious life feeling cynical about adult behavior. Repeatedly representing that cynicism seems useless to me.

And, young humans who read good stories turn into less crappy adults.  I definitely think that.  I don’t think it happens immediately.  There are few golden teen readers who float sweetly into the future due to the understanding they’ve acquired from story.  People need to experience the vagrancies for themselves.  But, using myself as an example, in the last several years, I’ve turned back to Holden’s humanity in Salinger (not to mention my absolute love of Franny and Zooey) and to doddering Vonnegut early in Slaughterhouse Five (and even to The Breakfast Club), these most important works to teen me, and I’ve used them as measuring sticks for adult me, and I’ve made changes and I am less crappy.

Yes, I find stories for kids to be the most important stories.  So, I write for young adults.  That’s what I have to do.  Maybe I’ll go back one day to the literary, but it would probably take a hit on the head for me to do so.

Let Martin Amis alone.  Just write what you have to write.


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I am…

Geoff Herbach. I am the author of Stupid Fast and Nothing Special, among a bunch of other stuff. When I'm not writing, I teach writing at Minnesota State, Mankato.

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