J Keller Ford: Five reasons why I live and breathe YA Fiction

Today I have a fellow Sisterhood of the Traveling Pens member, J Keller Ford, aka Jenny, guest posting. She is also a fellow J Taylor Publishing author. The similarities don’t end there, but I’ll let her tell you more about herself and why she’s a YA fiction fiend! Take it away, Jenny!


I am 53-years old and I love writing and reading YA books.

When I was young, I was never allowed to be a “teen”.  I grew up in a military household.  You didn’t argue.  You didn’t talk back.  You did as you were told or there was hell to pay.  Don’t get me wrong.  That sort of lifestyle forced me to be a better person, to understand right from wrong.  To value my parents and their wisdom.  However, I lost a little bit of me in all that strictness because I wasn’t allowed to be ‘me’.

Young military brat gives thumbs up while wear...

Young military brat gives thumbs up while wearing pilots helmet at base special event (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When my dad died (I was almost 12 years old), my mom took over both mom and dad roles.  Needless to say, I had strict curfews, and because I was a girl, I was not allowed to do a lot of things most teens do because it might put me in a “compromising situation”.  In short, I was never allowed to be a teen ‘coming of age.”  I was never allowed to stumble, make mistakes or do things that weren’t considered ‘wise’.  Trust me when I say there were plenty of arguments between my mom and me, yelling matches over how she was stifling my youth, and at the age of 18, I high-tailed it out of my mom’s house and I never looked back.

The first novel I wrote was a contemporary fictional piece about a young woman who befriended Elvis Presley before he climbed the ladder of fame and fortune, secretly fell in love with him, and watched him rise to greatness before watching him fall to his untimely death, her secret locked deep inside.  While I loved the story, the book didn’t encapsulate me, my voice, and I truly believed the story fell flat in many ways. (Claire’s rude interruption:  I would totally love to read this!)

I remember avoiding writing YA, even though the genre screamed at me.  Instead, I wrote a bunch of literary short stories, tried my hand at a few adult novellas (writing erotica and/or porn brought out the worst in me, but that’s a whole other chapter in my life we won’t discuss), and then I gave up writing all together because life sometimes has a way of interfering like that.

When I returned to my writing, I followed my passion:  fantasy mixed with YA.  The two together resonate deep within me.  I embarked on a quite ambitious project, a trilogy that I am still working on despite my multiple attempts to let it go.  It calls to me.  It infiltrates my dreams; its characters and story are part of every breath I take.  So what is it about YA fiction that has its hold on me?  Here are 5 reasons why I live and breathe YA fiction:

  1. I wish I could redo my teen years.  I would live them fully, make lots of mistakes, love openly and deal with the consequences later.  By writing YA, I am allowed to relive my youth vicariously through my characters.
  2.  YA is so broad in scope as a genre.  My ‘thing’ this time around may be fantasy, but who’s to say I can’t write YA contemporary, dystopian, or a romance?  Maybe a touch of all three.  I love the freedom YA provides to me as a writer and a reader.
  3. The audience is vast and devoted.  Young children to adults read Young Adult fiction.  People of all ages ‘get’ what YA is all about.  They yearn for adventure, and they are incredibly devoted to their favorite authors.
  4. The characters are sympathetic.  They’re kids. They’re meant to make mistakes and we, as readers, can forgive them, root for them, stand beside them while they’re trying to figure themselves out. As a reader, we’re right there with them, immersed in their trials and tribulations.  As a writer, we can manipulate their ‘lives’.  We can give them whatever barriers we want them to overcome.  Sometimes, it’s a fear deep within the writer, and through their characters, they can triumph.  YA is cathartic for writers as well as readers.
  5. YA is escapism. While I like reading adult fiction, it doesn’t provide the ‘escape’ I crave when I reach for YA, which is most of the time.  In writing YA, my imagination soars.  I can go anywhere, do anything.  I can literally fly if I want.  Reading YA provides me an escape from being an adult.  I forget worrying about paying bills or finding a job, or dealing with family issues.  I can choose to stop being an adult for a brief moment in time and forget about responsibilities that age places upon us.

When J. Taylor Publishing opened their submission doors for short stories to include in their YA anthology, ONE MORE DAY, my tummy tingled, but there were no ideas jumping out at me as something I wanted to write about.  That is until THE DREAM.  With only a few weeks left to submit, I hammered out Dragon Flight, a contemporary sci-fi/fantasy.  I have to say it is one of my favorite YA pieces. I hope you enjoy it as much as I loved writing it.


Would you like to win a copy of ONE MORE DAY?  Make sure you enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway! (click link to go to Rafflecopter site)

Claire, thank you for letting me take over your blog today.  I had fun.

(Claire’s note:  You are more than welcome! As a military brat myself, I totally related to how your military upbringing shaped your behaviors and views. If the physical outlets are stifled, the imagination is more than willing to fill in the void. We’re so lucky you’re able to share your imagination with us.)


 About J Keller Ford:

JKellerFord-web-300px croppedMy bio:  As a young Army brat, Reader’s Choice award winner J. (Jenny) Keller Ford, traveled the world and wandered the halls of some of Germany’s most extraordinary castles hoping to find the dragons, knights and magic that haunted her imagination. Though she never found them, she continues to keep their legends alive.  Her story, The Amulet of Ormisez, is available as part of the MAKE BELIEVE anthology. Dragon Flight, is slated for publication in December 2013.  When not at her keyboard breathing new life into fantasy worlds, Jenny spends time collecting seashells, bowling, swimming, riding roller coasters and reading.  She works as a paralegal by day and lives on the west coast of Florida with her family, three dogs, and a pretentious orange cat who must have been a dragon in his previous life.

Network with Jenny here:

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Writing for multiple age groups–author Emi Gayle vs. Aimee Laine

Today I have a special visitor, Ms. Emi Gayle (aka Aimee Laine for the adult readers). With so many writers now dipping a toe into the young adult fiction market (myself included), I nabbed the multi-talented Emi to tell me about the joys and pitfalls of writing for multiple age groups and maintaining multiple pen names.

Welcome, Emi, first of all.

You also write as Aimee Laine. Why a different pen name for YA?

Ah, this is an easy one. My adult stuff is ‘not suitable for children under 18’. I wouldn’t want anyone to confuse what I write for adults with what I write for kids.

What’s your strategy for keeping the pen names distinguishable but still capturing Aimee’s adult readers who also enjoy YA?

No strategy in fact. Like most of my writing (I’m a pantser), I just write and if it’s good enough, out it goes for consideration. Luckily, so far, my adult beta-readers have loved After Dark just as much.

Tell me about some of the things you do differently as Emi than as Aimee.

Heat level is far, far lower. What’s not ‘off camera’ in my adult world, but not appropriate for that under 18 age, fades to black so to speak. Another difference is that I write 1st person for my YA novels.

So, it sounds like you draw the line at sex in YA books. That said, where do you draw it?

(Sex) is a huge element of a teen’s life and while yes, I realize it happens, and my characters are ‘normal’ teens with those feelings, IF they ‘go there’ it will not be described. I leave that to my adult books. 

You have a different author photo for Emi (no glasses, more casual hairstyle and clothing) vs. Aimee. Was that deliberate and if so, do you think the age of the author influences readership of YA books?

It was deliberate. Though I wish I’d had my glasses. 🙂 I’m partial being able to see! I also wanted to be a little more relatable vs. professional.

What’s one of the biggest challenges for you in writing YA?

1st person perspective. 🙂 Oh and remembering what it was like to be a teen – meaning what I did or did not know. I knew a lot (was too mature for my age) but was also quite naive. Gotta remember that my experiences as an adult do NOT translate to when I was 17, 18, or even 20! 

What are some of the biggest changes you see happening in YA books?

I love the New Adult concept for the 19-21 years old (ish) … I see that breaking off from the traditional YA.

Do you see the traditionally longer timetable for YA books being compressed closer to that of adult novels, especially the digital model of indies, or do you think the longer to market model the big publishers use will influence the indie YA publishers? Why?

I think it depends on the writer. Many YA stories are actually more than one story (trilogies for example). And many aren’t written beyond book 1 at the time the trilogy is thought through. So some of that time needs to be writing and finalizing while the first book is out. So could it be faster? Absolutely. Will it be? Depends on the writer and probably the success of the book(s).

Adult readers comprise a large percentage of total readers of YA novels. When you write as Emi, are you targeting your YA reading contemporaries or are you thinking of the teen readers? Do you think it matters?

Mine will always be targeted to the teens, but I expect all age groups might be interested. 

OK so enough about writing YA, let’s talking about reading YA books for a bit.

Tell us who some of your YA book boyfriends are (not counting those of your own creation because they have an unfair advantage) and what you love about them.
Gray Mathews from Crux. Gotta love him. (Claire’s note: Crux is written Julie Reece)

What makes a YA book memorable to you?

Great characters, but that applies to adult books, too.

Do you like the generic heroines that your teen readers can easily project themselves into or do you prefer a strong, well-defined character or is it purely story-driven?

I’m always about the strong, well-defined character. I really want the character to come to life, but the story has to sing, too.

Love triangles in YA–love ’em or tired of ’em?

Hate them. And I’m sorry, but they are not real, either. Most people do not ‘pine’ for two other people at the same time. I think most of us think we’re lucky if we can get 1 person to love us or 1 person is there for us to love. It’s a contrived, plot conflict and I truly despise them.

As a teen, what were some of your favorite fiction books?

Do you know I didn’t read a lot of fiction, or a lot of fiction that I liked, when I was a teen. One of my ‘chores’ was to read, so I read whatever was around and sometimes, it was boring as sin (yet sin’s not boring in most cases, so not sure how that expression applies).

Thanks, Emi for giving us a little more insight into the mind of a multi-age group author and into the YA part specifically, and for sharing some of your YA influences and thoughts with us.

Before we let Emi get away, let’s take a quick peek at her debut novel, After Dark:

What eighteen year old Mac Thorne doesn’t know will probably kill her.

In exactly eight months, five days, three hours and thirteen minutes, Mac has to choose what she’ll be for the rest of her life.

She has no choice but to pick. As a Changeling, it’s her birthright. To Mac, it’s a birthchore. Like going to school with humans, interacting with humans, and pretending to be human during the pesky daylight hours.

Once darkness descends, Mac can change into any supernatural form that exists—which makes her as happy as she can be. That is, until Winn Thomas, the biggest geek in her senior class figures out there’s more to what hides in the dark than most are willing to acknowledge.

In this first of the 19th Year Trilogy, Winn might know more about Mac than even she does, and that knowledge could end their lives, unless Mac ensures the powers-that-be have no choice but to keep him around.


Where to buy After Dark:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Emi Gayle:

Emi Gayle just wants to be young again. She lives vicariously through her youthful characters, while simultaneously acting as chief-Mom to her teenaged son and searching for a way to keep her two daughters from ever reaching the dreaded teen years.

Ironically, those years were some of Emi’s favorite times. She met the man of her dreams at 14, was engaged to him at 19, married him at 20 and she’s still in love with him to this day. She’ll never forget what it was like to fall in love at such a young age — emotions she wants everyone to feel.

Find Emi Online :
Web  |  Blog  |  Twitter  |  Facebook  |  Goodreads