|Bea tweets at @DalagaProject|
My cultural background sort of resembles the end-of-week soup cobbled together with whatever’s still in the fridge: a bit of this, a bit of that, sometimes at odds but nothing time can’t reconcile. Growing up, concepts like suburban America were foreign but strangely familiar. Even then, I sometimes identified more with Western culture than the highly conservative society of Indonesia. It’s an experience I remember as all-encompassing but also alienating.
A lot of my perspective was therefore formed by books. In Asia, we sort of took it for granted that the books we read would be by authors from the West, often about characters who looked nothing like us, visiting places we’d never been. (I wonder if that’s why I favored fantasy, where the worlds were new and unfamiliar for everyone!) As aspiring writers, we dreamed of sending our manuscripts to New York—manuscripts about young, troubled love at Groveport High—trying to disregard the fact that as foreign writers, the odds seemed stacked against us.
Now, of course, e-books and self-publishing have changed the landscape drastically. The greater accessibility of publishing—on both the supply and demand side—has given rise to niche markets that suit a wealth of audience tastes. Diversity in books is no novel concept, but an underlying consciousness of which all authors should be aware. Most importantly, traditional publishers are not the only ones who get to decide what books people read.
My Personal Criteria for New Adult Stories
When I look for stories to read, I don’t drill down to specific characters, settings, plots or even genre (though I’m a sucker for a good romance). I don’t need to completely understand to a character’s situation to appreciate a story, though it’s great when it happens. I just want a good story, and for me, good NA stories ought to contain some form of the following:
It’s increasingly difficult to ignore diversity in New Adult; for the 18-25 age group, this is when the world opens up. They are, or they meet, people of different races, beliefs, and sexual orientation. This shouldn't be farfetched. Your readers are of different races, beliefs, and sexual orientation.
By diversity, I refer to diversity in both characters and experiences. The experience of a college student in Indonesia is completely different to the experience of a college student in the US. The experience of a wealthy twenty-something is different from that of a poor twenty-something. I look for stories that address these issues with depth and nuance, and not as situational background.
2 ) Universal elements
A Filipino director whose independent movie became an global festival hit credits the film’s success to its ability to convey universal themes, despite being set in Manila’s criminal underworld. Broken hearts, first loves, being independent, familial pressure, pursuing dreams, questioning the status quo…through themes such as these, we connect to each other on a deeply human level that transcends cultural boundaries. New adult is no exception; in fact, given its audience, it ought to lead the way!
3) Identity building
In my opinion, one of the differences between YA and NA is that YA is almost exclusively an internal journey—“who am I in this moment?”—whereas NA is about asserting one’s identity in relation to the environment: “what do I believe in and what is my place in this world?” Consider that from age 18-25, one is exposed to new ideas and new places that shake, shatter, or reinforce one’s cultural beliefs. Sure, it can be an exhilarating and confusing time, but a ripe premise for characters undergoing these challenges and fighting for what they believe in.
Above all, I look for authors who fully commit to the story they want to write, whether it be about a hot-and-heavy workplace fling or activists bringing change to their oppressive society.
I fear that my generation’s heightened self-awareness often leads to an unhealthy proclivity for cynicism and self-consciousness; and, consequently, makes us hyper-sensitive to its presence. I don’t want to read a story where the author is apologizing between the lines. Don’t shy away from the feels, the cheese, the uncomfortable conversations, the racy language; whatever your story needs! Sincerity, and bravery to tell the story building in your gut, no matter—to quote the Backstreet Boys and risk dating myself—who you are, or where you’re from.
Bea Pantoja is a graduate student studying creative writing and publishing in London. Send her a line at email@example.com.