Sunday, September 05, 2010

Me and YOU

I am absolutely delighted that this week's guest blogger is the lovely and talented Charles Benoit who needs no introduction to readers of Type M. (Although I have provided one at the bottom)


It’s great to be back at Type M, even if it is just for a day. For many happy years I was the regular Friday blogger on this site, and since I’ve stopped blogging, Type M has gone on to win several impressive awards. Coincidence? I sure hope so.

Not so coincidently, my guest appearance comes a week after my first Young Adult novel, YOU, was released by Harper Collins Teen. It’s the darling of fans and critics alike (at least for this week) and if the emails are any indication, it’s making waves with teachers, librarians and young adult readers. So how does a quasi-successful mystery writer become a we’ll-see-if-he’s-successful YA writer?

I haven’t got a clue.

Seriously, that’s how I did it.

If there’s one thing that all of my books have in common is that they focus on people who don’t have a clue—no clue as to what they are doing, how much trouble they are in, who to trust or what to believe.

In my first book, Relative Danger, the unemployed bottle washer/exceptionally na├»ve hero finds himself in Morocco, Egypt, Bahrain and Singapore, tracking down a missing diamond and trying to avoid the pros who are also on the diamond’s trail. The hero in Out of Order, a tightly wound guy who likes things neat and organized, found himself trying to make sense of the senseless order that is India, all while trying to find a woman who may not exist so he can deliver a gift that attracts the wrong sort of attention. And while the hero in Noble Lies appeared to have his act together, I showed him that he could be just as lost as the novice adventurer.

Being clueless has worked well for me.

The protagonist in my new YA is not all that different from the ones in my other books. He’s smart, but it doesn’t always show, he has goals and dreams, he just isn’t sure what they are, and he’s in way over his head in a world that, to outsiders, seems exotic and frightening. In this case it’s a modern suburban high school. While the tendency is to call any YA book targeted at male readers some sort of coming of age story, that’s not what this is, nor is it an adventure mystery novel like my other books. What it is is up for debate. One reviewer called it Young Adult Noir and that’s my favorite so far. It hints at the book’s nihilistic sensibilities and the consequences of our choices, but at the same time sets it in the context of a YA world.

About that YA world. It’s easy to dismiss the fears and concerns of teens. As adults, it seems impossible that we would have had ever stared at the ceiling all night, worrying about what others thought of our clothes or the way we talked or how we looked, or that thinking about our future put us in a near catatonic panic. But we did. It’s not the same terror of having to track down a serial killer or matching wits with a clever villain, but in that world, in that reality, with that limited set of life experiences under your belt, it’s no less terrifying.

There were a couple things I did find rather challenging about writing for a YA audience. While most YA authors don’t shy away from swearing, I’ve made it a personal writing challenge not to. In my YA writing anyway. Finding a way to keep it authentic without peppering in the f-bombs that teens rattle off like ums is a lot harder than it sounds. I’ve also chosen to avoid any overt sex scenes, not because teens don’t have sex (they do, but not nearly as much as adults fear or teens wish), but because I don’t like writing sex scenes in my adult books. They always have a creepy, voyeuristic quality to them and if writers like Donald Westlake and Elmore Leonard can choose to write around them (most of the time), I can too. Not as well, of course, but that’s true for any writer.

Now that the book is out and getting good reviews, interviewers ask me what I’d like this book to be called. Is it YA Noir, teen crime writing, fatalistic fiction for high school students, contemporary realism? I’m not sure what to call it either, but I’d be very happy if the papers started referring to it as a best seller.

When he’s not staring at a blank screen, waiting for the muse to speak, Charles Benoit spends his days as a copywriter for a Rochester-based ad agency. As part of an elaborate Ponzi scheme, Charles will be serving as the Master of Ceremonies at NoirCon this November in Philadelphia. Get all the Paparazzi-quality details at

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