Thursday, November 13, 2014

Guest Post: Pam Stucky

On Genre, Teens, Loneliness, Connection, and Being an Aunt

So let’s talk about genre.

I have a new book out, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse, a young adult sci-fi book.

What I’ve learned since I started writing: When you write books, people ask you all sorts of questions you’ve never really thought about.

Among them, things like, “What made you want to write for young adults?” and “What made you want to write science fiction?”

So I’ll let you in on a secret: I never wanted to write for young adults. I never wanted to write science fiction.

I just wanted to write stories. I wanted to explore ideas. I wanted to write stories I wanted to read, and share them with others. As with all my novels, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse is a story I wanted to read.

I know there are authors who pick a genre first—romance, chicklit, western, dystopian—and then write to that. That’s probably easier, but that’s never been how I approach writing. I have an idea I want to explore, I write the story, and then I see what genre it fits into.

This latest book apparently is “young adult” because the protagonists are seventeen, and, as I understand it, that’s the primary criterion. I have a friend, a grade-school librarian, who read the book, and she tells me it could even be “middle grade,” based on content—because almost all young adult these days has sex and killing and other violence, and my book does not.

Is that how it is these days? Things have changed since I was a kid reading Nancy Drew and Little House on the Prairie and Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Which brings me to this. I’ll let you in on something else that’s not such a secret: I don’t have kids. I don’t have kids, so I’m not privy on a daily basis to what the kids are doing and reading and thinking these days.

You might think that would be a disadvantage for a person writing a young adult book, and maybe it is, but remember: I didn’t write a young adult book. I wrote a story.

And the thing is, because I’m the auntie rather than the mother, I think I have some advantages. If you’re the parent, your mind is filled with things like “Did I fill out the permission slip?” and “Is that lice?” and “Will my child be bullied today?” and “Will my child be the bully?” and “What is the right age to talk with my child about (fill in the blank)?” and “Am I an awful parent if the only green thing my child has today is a green lollipop?” and “How do I talk with my child about school shootings, and drugs, and love?”

As the auntie, and a very successful one at that (by which I mean I think I managed to avoid changing diapers about 99.9% of the time), I don’t have all those things in my head. And let’s be clear, that’s a lot of stuff to have in your head, and I know it.

But because I’m the auntie, the friend, the second-cousin-once-removed to these teenagers and children, I don’t have to worry (much) about their well-being. And further, the relationship between auntie and child is far different, far less complex than the parent–child relationship. There’s not the pushing and pulling away, the need assert independence. Being an auntie is much easier.

Which means I have the time and opportunity to talk with these young kids in a very different way, sometimes, than parents do. And I do. I talk to them with respect and curiosity, and it’s amazing the things these kids tell me once they trust me and realize I’m really listening and really interested. They open up.

And I’ll tell you something: Even if their frontal lobes aren’t going to be fully developed for another decade, they still have a lot going on in their minds. They aren’t stupid. Their minds are whirling and they don’t always know what to do with everything inside their heads, but believe me, there’s a lot going on. Parents who ask, “What did you do today?” or “What’s going on in your life?” may hear the answer, “Nothing” (ad nauseum), but as the auntie, I get glimpses into the truth. Glimpses into their fears and insecurities and hopes. They are trying to figure out this complex world, and it’s overwhelming and confusing.

That’s why, once I realized I was probably writing a young adult book, I didn’t dumb it down at all. I still told the story I wanted to tell. I still used the big words. (That’s how we learn! They can pick up meaning from context!) But the themes, well, the younger ones might only get the adventure part of the story, but the older ones, they’ll pick up on the deeper themes.

One of the big themes in the book is the idea that “You are not alone.” We all feel alone at times—I definitely do—and I think teens are still in the process of learning the universality of experience. What do I mean by that? I mean, they’re still learning that just because someone is a student athlete or gets all A’s or is beautiful doesn’t mean they don’t struggle. (We’re still working to learn that as adults, too, right?) I recently read (I tried to find the article just now but I can’t) that teens are lonelier than ever. I believe loneliness is a huge issue in our society right now; personally I think loneliness and people feeling they don’t belong are at the core of so many of our society’s problems. We need to have discussions about this. We need to find ways to connect and to talk about connection. I’m hoping my book will not just entertain and amuse and take people far afield into the universes and their imaginations, but maybe also provide an opening for some very important conversations. Maybe kids will talk about it, maybe with friends, maybe with parents. Maybe not. Maybe it’ll simply help them to see things in a new way.

Madeleine L’Engle (author of A Wrinkle in Time) once said:

“The writer whose words are going to be read by children has a heavy responsibility. And yet, despite the undeniable fact that the children’s minds are tender, they are also far more tough than many people realize, and they have an openness and an ability to grapple with difficult concepts which many adults have lost. Writers of children’s literature are set apart by their willingness to confront difficult questions.”

I didn’t set out to write young adult, but now, having done it, I love it. And I’ll definitely do it again.

Author Bio

Pam Stucky, a native of the Pacific Northwest, is the author of the Wishing Rock series (novels with recipes), starting with Letters from Wishing Rock, and the Pam on the Map travelogue series, books that take readers along on Pam's journeys and adventures around the world. The Universes Inside the Lighthouse, Pam's eighth book, is Pam's first foray into both YA and sci-fi. The Universes Inside the Lighthouse was released November 11, 2014 and is available in print at Amazon, and in ebook on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo.

Book description: The Universes Inside the Lighthouse

Introducing the Balky Point Adventures!

An exciting new series, reminiscent of A Wrinkle in Time with just a dash of Doctor Who, that will take readers on adventures throughout space and time.

The Universes Inside the Lighthouse
Seventeen-year-old Emma and her twin brother Charlie think they’re in for a boring summer vacation. That is, until Emma notices something unusual in the lighthouse lobby. Unraveling this mystery proves to be just the beginning of an adventure that will take Emma, Charlie, and their unlikely new friends to distant planets, throughout the multiverse, and to a place where everything is possible ... and will ultimately lead Emma to discover the unfathomable powers that reside within her own mind.

Buy links: The Universes Inside the Lighthouse

More information on and purchasing information for Pam’s other books at

Connect with Pam Stucky

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