Look, who I found lurking around.
It's Cora Camack, author of Losing It. I convinced her to hang out and talk about sex in New Adult Fiction.
Bliss Edwards is about to graduate from college and still has hers. Sick of being the only virgin among her friends, she decides the best way to deal with the problem is to lose it as quickly and simply as possible-- a one-night stand. But her plan turns out to be anything but simple when she freaks out and leaves a gorgeous guy alone and naked in her bed with an excuse that no one with half-a-brain would ever believe. And as if that weren't embarrassing enough, when she arrives for her first class of her last college semester, she recognizes her new theatre professor. She'd left him naked in her bed about 8 hours earlier.
Let’s Talk About Sex (Baby)
Hi! My name is Cora Carmack, and I’m the New York Times Bestselling Author of LOSING IT. I write New Adult fiction, which is essentially fiction that tackles the issues faced by characters aged 18-25ish as they go to college, enter the job market, leave home, etc. If you’d like to know more about the genre, you can visit this post where I discuss my thoughts at length.
But today, I don’t want to talk about what New Adult is. I want to talk about what it isn’t.
There has been a lot of exposure for New Adult in the media lately like this article in the New York Times and this feature on ABC’s Nightline. It is wonderful to have this kind of press for New Adult, but in some ways it has done as much harm as it has done good. I’ve kept mostly silent about it because my books were included, and I just let it roll off my back. I thought… press is press, right? But I couldn’t really stay silent any longer. All you have to do is look at the headlines to know the media only wants to focus on one thing about New Adult—sex. The more risqué, the better.
And hey, if that’s what they want to talk about… fine by me! But let’s talk about it honestly and realistically… not in the most shocking way possible so as to get the most attention.
Yes, some New Adult books (including mine) have sex in them. Are you surprised? I don’t think anyone is naïve enough to believe that twenty-year-olds aren’t having sex or at the very least thinking about it. Sure, there are some college students who are waiting, but even they aren’t walking around pretending like sex is not a part of life. I LOVE that New Adult books are tackling this subject in a realistic, honest way because art is supposed to imitate life. If we want our twenty-something characters to be realistic and lifelike, we have to talk about sex.
That being said… it’s not okay to portray New Adult books as smut or as YA with sex added in. It’s not okay to lump all New Adult books in with erotica. It’s not okay belittle this terrifying and important life-stage as just an excuse to write sex scenes. New Adult is more than that. So much more.
So, first let me tackle the idea that these books are all smutty or slutty. I can’t speak for all authors, but the main character in my first book was a twenty-two year old virgin. How in the world could anyone call her slutty? Yes, Bliss does set out at the beginning of the book to lose her virginity. But she doesn’t do it because her hormones are just so out of control she can’t stand being a virgin a second longer. She doesn’t do it because she’s immoral. She does it because she feels alone and ostracized by being different. She does it because she’s afraid of being developmentally behind her peers. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a person who hasn’t let their fears or insecurities influence their actions. I know I’m guilty of it. And even if she weren’t a virgin… having sex doesn’t make you a slut. That’s a dated, patriarchal way of thought that shouldn’t have a place in a market that is dominated by female buyers.
Moreover, there is only one full sex scene in my book. There is only one sex scene in my second book. Why? Because I don’t write sex scenes to shock or stimulate. I write sex scenes only when they directly influence plot and character. I don’t fade to black because the act of sex is a key plot point, and it changes things, just as it does in life. I might very well write a book in the future with no sex scenes, if the sex isn’t inherently part of the story. And if I do, the book will still be New Adult with or without the steamy scenes. Sex is not the defining characteristic of this genre. So many New Adult books are beautifully written, emotionally devastating, powerfully motivating—these books are more than sex. The authors know it. The readers know it. It’s time we make sure everyone else knows it, too.
The other issue that bothers me here is the idea that New Adult is just YA plus sex. I can understand people’s reasoning behind explaining it this way. YA is something familiar and easy to reference, but it is not the same. For one… there’s already plenty of sex happening in YA books. It’s not like sex is this new thing that New Adult authors have dared to tackle. It’s more prominent in New Adult books, yes, but that’s because it’s a more prominent part of your life in your twenties. The issues that face a teenager are not the same issues that people face a few years later. When I was in high school, I didn’t have to worry about making ends meet or my future career or living on my own or how I was going to pay off my student loans. I didn’t have to watch my friends get married or have children and grow up before my eyes. Those are experiences unique to New Adult.
By calling NA an aged up YA, the media has angered parents and teachers and librarians who are afraid their teenagers are reading books too old for them. I, myself, firmly believe that in a book is the safest place for teenagers to experience the harsh realities of life. Better in a book than in real life. I do, however, understand their concern. But the truth is… my primary audience is not teenagers. My primary audience is the readers who have been reading teen books even though they aren’t teenagers. And I’m hitting that audience spot on. Using my Facebook fan page as a demographic model, 95.1% of my readers are over the age of 18. NINETY-FIVE PERCENT. And I have a feeling the 4.9% of readers under 18 are the kind of teenagers who read insatiably—everything they can get their hands on. And I’m willing to bet that my book is nowhere near the most risqué thing they’ve read.
Now, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with smutty books. Hey, I’m sure all of us have read one or two (or a lot more). There’s nothing wrong with sex in books—whether it’s in YA, NA, or Erotica. I’m only here saying—New Adult is a new, fragile category. In my opinion, it’s a category that’s desperately needed (I sure wish there had been NA books when I graduated high school and went to college). And as such, we have to nurture it and care for it. If we want it to survive and succeed, we cannot let it be shamed or belittled or misrepresented. We have to know what it is and what it isn’t. It’s up to the authors and readers to keep this genre genuine and true to the struggles that it so bravely tackles.
This genre doesn’t belong to the media. It doesn’t even belong to publishers. It exists because talented indie authors believed in it and went against the grain. It exists because readers supported those authors passionately. It belongs to us. And we won’t let it become something it’s not.
If you love NA and want to see it stick around without becoming lumped into another category, take a moment and spread the love this week. Make a post about NA on your blog. Leave reviews for your favorite NA books on Amazon and B&N. Recommend a book to a friend. These tactics are what first made the genre successful, and it’s those tactics that will help it continue to be so.