Why Write Dark Stories for Kids?

I write almost exclusively for kids, specifically young people in the age range of around 12 to around 19. Stuff you’d find shelved in the ‘young adult’ section. There are several reasons for this, one of them being that it was during this time of my life that it was most difficult to find books ‘for me’ that I actually wanted to read. I spent most of my tween and teen years making up stories rather than reading them and still want to write books for my 12 year old self.

One criticism I’ve seen lobbed against young adult fiction is that some of it is just too creepy, or too dark, or too intense for people too young to drink. Do a Google search for any reasonably popular kids’ book and you’ll likely find several results criticizing the book’s age-inappropriate content on the grounds of it being some ill-defined sort of unsettling. These complaints are, of course, made by adults. There’s the problem.

Pictured: Every single road you ever walked down at dusk as a kid.

As we grow older, I think we gradually allow ourselves to forget just how upsetting and, yes, creepy childhood actually is. Our imaginations shape our expectations far more than our limited experiences, and we often imagine the worst because our developing brains see that as the best way to be prepared. You’re small and weak in a huge, unfamiliar place full of malice, and confusion, and all the lurking dangers your parents and teachers make absolutely sure to tell you about. On top of that no one with any power in the world takes you seriously. That weird neighbor you’re entirely certain is a serial killer? Nobody’s going to listen to you. Absolutely nobody. In retrospect, as a rational adult, it seems absurd. Not so much when you’re eleven years old.

Dovetailing nicely into this is the fact that people tend to like having their fears, rational or not, validated by the fiction they consume. It’s nice to be told that we were right all along even when it’s a work of fiction vindicating us. Think of all the airport fiction with plots hinging on diabolical terrorist schemes that are, big bonus here, taken out by characters oddly similar to the target audience’s ideal selves. These desires aren’t limited to 50 year old guys on cross-country flights, or even to adults in general. They’re basic human wants. We want to be told, “Yes, you’re right, the world is scary. But someone like you can set it right, and getting there can be really exciting.”

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Can we afford to lose our lost generation?

I am not important. An unusual claim for a writer and more so for a blogger, I know, but let’s all accept the statement at face value when I say that my personal experience is not worthy of being added to the thousands of stories collected at wearethe99percent. Instead, I offer a bleak revelation: Educated, driven young people are finding themselves jobless, hungry, homeless, and hopeless at an incredible rate. And winter is coming. In record numbers, America’s next great leaders are faced with the very real possibility of freezing to death. Artists, entrepreneurs, inventors, writers, politicians, poets, homeowners, mothers, fathers.

Somewhere, on the mean streets of some no-name strip mall town with no shelter, the next Martin Luther King Jr. could be gradually wasting away. Sleeping behind the dumpster at Sears, malnourished with no healthcare to combat the complications this creates, her heart will quietly stop one early morning in mid-November. The opening shift manager, who’s been on a pay-freeze since 2006, will find her when he steps out at 9am for a smoke break. Good grades, played by all of society’s rules for success, dead behind a dumpster.

This is, of course, a hyperbolic story written to tug the heart strings of people who couldn’t otherwise see the danger in creating a generation of distrusting, disillusioned debt slaves who were educated to succeed and got nothing for their efforts. We stand to lose the drive, the innovation, the spark and fire of millions of young minds. The boomers can’t carry this country forever, and we can’t afford to break the backs of those next in line.

The Lost Have Less to Lose: Creative comfort for a lost generation

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

-Janis Joplin

The media has taken to calling American young adults like myself The Lost Generation, left in the lurch by the recession and saddled with crippling loans from predatory institutions. High unemployment, high underemployment, no healthcare, no government assistance. Our degrees, vocational or not, have become liabilities. They scare off employers afraid of paying for educated workers and lock us into endless cycles of debt. Our trust in a system we were raised to revere is shaken and shattered. We have the lowest rate of upward social mobility in generations. We are a generation ruled by uncertainty, disillusionment, and despair.

On the other hand, a certain freedom can be found in acknowledging that you’re most likely to fail regardless of your actions. Being financially and socially boned is especially freeing, since we’re taught from childhood that hard work brings lots of money and lots of money brings all you could ever want. What we’re being taught as young adults is that hard work gets you absolutely jack, and having jack to show for your hard work gets you labeled as lazy and stupid. Before now the only people who poured their blood, sweat, and tears into trying to sell their talent only to be called lazy and stupid for it were artists. Ah, and that’s where this is going.

I have been more productive as a writer, three times as productive, since I came to the realization that at this point I will never secure a lucrative career programming computers or doing field studies for advertising firms. I will never sit quietly at a desk compiling data for exactly eight hours and drive home in a car newer than I am to a home that I own. A little soul-crushing considering I was raised to attain these things and see anything less as failure, but oddly freeing at the same time. While I will never have these things, I will also never be limited by the fear of losing them. I am no longer locked into a career that would pervade my life in a field I’ve learned to resent.

I write more because the realization has given me the freedom to say “Screw it. If I’m doomed anyway, I might as well be telling stories when I’m not throwing resumes into the void.” There’s comfort in coming home from a long day of being turned away from even the simplest of jobs and knowing that you can create something. And if by some fluke you keep at it and wind up with something long enough/good enough/pretty enough to try and sell, the worst that could happen is that it won’t be bought. When you’re already doomed and have created something for its own sake, this prospect isn’t so terrifying. You’ve already tried to sell every other talent you have and been shot down, so why fret over it?

If you like me are a part of this supposed lost generation, I implore you to create. Write stories, write your memoir, write songs, draw, paint a landscape, take up a cheap instrument, something. Once you’re creating, put yourself out there. On the market, in the net, wherever.

No one can deny that these are difficult times, but it is not a time we should allow to pass us by. We are the fresh young voices being shut out of American society by hiring freezes, downsizes, and overqualification. Our experience is a unique one that imparts a unique change in perspective. Keep throwing your resumes into the void – I do, at least five times per week – but create when you allow yourself a break from that. Write instead of watching TV, paint instead of playing video games, write a folk punk tune for your $7 harmonica instead of staring out the window wondering what the Hell happened.