Sunday, May 11, 2014

Author Sarah Daltry talks about sexuality in Young Adult vs. New Adult writing

Sarah Daltry talks Young Adult vs. New Adult

I guess what’s really important to me, especially as I finish Ambrosia (and, in turn, the Flowering series) is the concept of New Adult fiction. I spent ten years teaching high school and I’ve also worked as a rape crisis and mental health counselor. In my experience, adolescence and the period directly thereafter can be incredibly confusing. Add to that this idea that you’re 18 and an adult now, so you better have all the answers, and no wonder it’s such a challenge. When I first learned about the push toward New Adult, I was intrigued. Here was an opportunity, both as a writer and a reader, to explore the topics and issues that YA starts to touch, but is often held back from exploring in depth. Because the YA target audience is so diverse in age (usually 12-18), many writers, not to mention publishers, shy away from getting too intense with topics of sexuality, abuse, violence, etc., because although it may be needed for those 16-18 year-olds, it’s scary to imagine a 12-year-old thinking about those things.

I’m not interested in addressing the delusion that high school freshmen don’t have sex. They do. We all know they do. My high school freshmen students knew more about sex, drugs, and violence than I did as someone in her mid-30’s (who wasn’t completely ignorant of them, either). Let’s just assume that sex and suicide and real-life issues are still vague to most YA readers. Now, here is this new genre that addresses those concepts with 18-25 year-olds. Obviously, college students have sex. A lot of it, if you consider statistics. Tinder is not a popular app because people love firewood. When I set out to write about college and started the Flowering series, I went into it with a simple thought in mind. This was going to be YA for real New Adults. This would address the issues at the heart of growing up, but it was also going to have a lot of sex, because college kids do. These characters, in particular, have a lot of sex for two reasons.

First, Alana. She’s a peripheral character to Jack and Lily’s love story, but she’s still integral to the series. She was raped and abused – by two different men – as a child. Over time, she has come to see herself as a whore, because everyone says she is. It’s not uncommon for young women, especially those who have been through this kind of trauma, to face confusion about sexuality. In Blue Rose, I really wanted to dig into that. What happens to a girl who is repeatedly used and abused? To a girl who believes her only value is in her body and her sexuality? She’s still normal in many ways, and she can’t identify why she enjoys sex, when it’s been so damaging. I think that’s an important topic and I believe we need to have these conversations. We have a tendency to be very puritanical about sex in this country. Meanwhile, Amazon’s bestseller charts are populated with books about young women being kidnapped by sex traders – and falling in love with their captors. I would rather deal with helping and healing women who have been tortured and abused than perpetuate the oversimplification of Stockholm Syndrome.

As to Jack and Lily, he’s suicidal. He’s basically on the path to becoming a serious alcoholic. He has been through one hell of a trauma and he has not developed coping skills. He uses sex and his anger as his way of hiding from something he hasn’t really dealt with. I’ve known many Jacks in my life – and I relate to him a great deal. Mental health is misunderstood in our culture and we tend to prefer that people keep their problems to themselves. Instead of finding comfort as a teen, Jack found that his trauma made him hated by others – and he reacted accordingly. Now, along comes this perfect girl who shouldn’t want him, and she does. In Lily’s case, she’s just a typical girl. She’s always been sheltered and she likes sex. She’s not ashamed of it. She’s off at school and she finds it fun. Through her relationship with Jack, though, she learns about other perspectives beyond sex.

I think it’s important to bring realism into the market. We need to speak to this audience. We need to tell college kids that it’s okay not to have the answers, to like sex, to be different, to make mistakes. We need to embrace all that is true and diverse about the human experience, and that was what I set out to do. Yes, there is a lot of sex, but it’s about so much more.

About Sarah Daltry:

Sarah has written in a variety of genres. In addition to the New Adult contemporary series, Flowering, which is detailed below, she has also written Bitter Fruits, an urban fantasy romance, Backward Compatible, a YA/NA gamer geek comedy, and a variety of novellas and short stories in different genres, including literary fiction, historical romance, and erotica. She can be found at

The Flowering series consists of Forget Me Not (Lily’s Story), Lily of the Valley (Jack’s Story), Blue Rose (Alana’s Story), Star of Bethlehem, Orange Blossom, and the upcoming Ambrosia. There is also a short erotic story that was set before Forget Me Not, entitled “Her Brother’s Best Friend.” This story is included with Forget Me Not, Lily of the Valley, and Star of Bethlehem in the volume 1 box set. Also available is a box set “cleaner” version that includes Forget Me Not, Lily of the Valley, Blue Rose, and Star of Bethlehem with the more explicit scenes removed.

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  1. Thanks so much Savannah for talking about this writing subject. I do wonder if readers know the difference? Even some YA books are getting hot...maybe that's not a bag thing as it's reality today.

  2. I think realism is necessary in YA and NA books. Not only does it allow people to become more compassionate about others but can open a dialog between people.