I have three aspects of “time” to cover today, in terms of young adult (YA) mysteries.
1. What age are the readers of YA mysteries? The target age is usually described as 12 to 18, although 12 to 15 is probably more realistic — older teens are often reading mainstream (written-for-adults) fiction, especially with the state Common Core Standards pushing reading levels so that high school seniors read at an adult level. Bear in mind that most kids “read older” by a year or two, so that 10-year-olds read about kids who are 11 or 12, and so on. These are basic generalizations, not rules. Moreover, YA is a crossover area where a lot of adults are reading (nope, adults do not follow the pattern of reading “older”!). All of that adds up to one prime rule: A YA mystery has to be the best book possible to hold readers, no matter the age. (Also see related discussion from Ellen Larson, editor for The Poisoned Pencil, here: http://thepoisonedpencil.com/blog-2.)
2. What time period are YA mysteries set in? I picture a bell curve similar to that for adult mysteries: some are set in Medieval times, some in the future, most loosely “now.” Exceptions: There are fewer YA historical mysteries than in the adult mystery genre, I believe, and I’d bet that the percentage set in the future (especially dystopian futures!) is higher. That said, for the Sept. 30 issue of Publishers Weekly, Sue Corbett interviewed agents in the YA field, who said the dystopian future route is overloaded right now — if you’ve got to set your mystery in a post-apocalyptic world, you’ll have to reach a higher bar because of that. Corbett also said about YA as a whole, “What was once a fledgling segment of the market, kids 12 and up, has matured into a vital category.”
3. Which leads me to the last aspect: When, in the trends of the market, do you grab an idea like “paranormal” or “dystopian” and hang your mystery onto it? Ideally, you’d be the first, or part of the first wave of, say, a hundred authors getting on that ship. But if you’re not — and if the time period of your mystery has to be within one of the “flooded” areas — then, Corbett concludes, “Agents say two elements are key: a strong voice and a good hook.”
I have two books on my shelf to read, as I look at how other authors are achieving those two qualities: Three Quarters Dead from Edgar Award winner Richard Peck, and Seizure from Kathy Reichs. And to boost my own abilities in YA mystery writing, I’m looking at revision tips from Laurie Halse Anderson (http://madwomanintheforest.com/wfmad-day-18-revision-roadmap), and attending the New England Crime Bake in November (http://www.crimebake.org/index.htm).
How about you? What’s the “when” of YA mysteries for you right now?