by Donna Brennan
Kids who are too old for chapter books but not quite ready for teen books are part of the huge (and growing) audience for tween books. Author P.G. Kain is right at home in this vast market, and his session will acclimate you to this expansive environment.
Donna: What ages are tween books marketed for?
PG: Generally between 9 and 14, but this is an age group where reading levels can really vary. Not all nine year olds are the same and not all fourteen year olds are the same. But now that I think of it not all 35 year olds are the same either so I’m not sure this is a good answer.
D: What made you decide to write for this age group?
PG: For years I had worked with a very successful international best selling women’s fiction author. I ghosted some of her work and we worked together on other parts. She suddenly died so it became impossible to remain her ghost. For a while I considered continuing to work in women’s fiction but my agent at the time suggested writing a YA novel so I took one of the concepts I had come up with for adults and tweaked it to become a YA concept. When we started shopping it around we got an offer from a tween imprint that seemed to be a good fit and we took it. If I had known back then that seventh grade would play such an important part in my life, I would have paid more attention.
I really love writing for tweens because they are deeply dedicated readers. When they love a book, they let you know and when a character does something they don’t like, they also let you know. It’s a little like Misery but without the kidnapping and sledgehammers, at least not yet. I fell in love with books when I was a tween and reading was such a apart of my life at that age. It’s really a joy to have an impact on kids in this way.
The added bonus that was a total surprise to me was the community of tween and YA writers. I’ve become friends with so many talented writers and we really encourage and support each other. Some, like Madeleine George (Looks) or Carley Moore (The Stalker Chronicles), I’ve known for years in other careers. But others, like Taylor Morris (Hello Gorgeous, BFF Break Up) and Julia DeVillers (Liberty Porter, Trading Faces), I’ve met while writing and publishing and we have become fierce advocates of each other’s work. See, I’m even plugging their books in this response.
D: Very often YA and tween books appeal to an older audience as well. Do you get fan mail from grown-ups? Do many of your students at NYU read your books?
PG: Yes. All the time. Sometimes I get email from parents who tell me how much their daughters loved the books and that made them read the book also. I write in first-person girl so people often assume I am a woman before they meet me. I here Flaubert had this problem too before he started a Facebook page. Once I got an email that said something like, “Dear Ms. Kain -- You are probably very surprised to get an email from a guy in his thirties…” Well, the surprise was on him.
Sometimes adults are little surprised to find out that the person writing for 13 year-old girls is NOT actually a 13 year-old girl but the truth is NONE of the writers I know working with this group are 13 year-old girls either so we are all mostly stuck using our imaginations, Teen Vogue, and Google.
D: How much of your own tween/teen-years can be found in the pages of your books?
PG: All of it. I basically used all of the same streets and icons from the suburb I grew up in in New Jersey. A few years ago I got an email from a mother who had read my book because her daughter had given it to her. She wrote to tell me that she had recognized all of the places, streets and people and then got out her yearbook to confirm everything. It turns out we went to elementary school together. I had always thought I would change those things but then I never did.
I’m often asked if characters are based on people and I think that’s hard to do. Certainly aspects of characters are there but writers need their characters to do so much in the service of the novel that it is hard to stay true to an actual person.
D: What are some tips you can offer to make our readers care about our characters?
PG: My current series starts off with a very unlikeable character. This girl is mean and has the ambition of a soviet gymnast behind the Iron Curtain! I really understood her so I liked her just fine but when I shared this draft with other people they found the character off-putting. I think readers care about characters when they understand them. I think characters can do awful things but if you show why that character believes what they are doing is right, it helps develop empathy. On my next draft I did more to explain why this character was so ambitious and why she felt she had no other options and this really help make the character more likeable. She still does awful things but as a reader you understand why she does them.
I learned this from my cat Biscuit. Sometimes he bites but he usually does this when he wants attention so I’ve learned to hate the biting and not the feline.