Why YA? David Arnold Explains How He Found His Voice and His Readers


One of our favorite questions to ask an author is, why this and not that? Why short stories instead of novels? Why poetry, not prose? Why nonfiction? Why a blog? For readers (as well as fellow writers), it can be fun to trace an author’s path to the style and format that becomes their signature.

We decided to toss our favorite question over to emerging writer David Arnold. He’s the author of the fantastic new novel Mosquitoland, the March pick for our YA Signed First Editions Club. Why YA? In his words, here’s how he found his way to writing for a young adult audience.

davidarnoldVoice is a funny thing. In writing, people talk a lot about “finding your voice,” but here’s what they don’t tell you: with each new project, you have to find it all over again.

Mosquitoland was not my first go at writing a book. Years ago, I wrote some adult short stories, and piddled around with the occasional screenplay. I even tried my hand at picture books for a while, until I learned you couldn’t have an ensemble cast of characters and multiple subtle subplots in a picture book. I tried — and loved — writing middle grade novels, and have every intention of getting back to a few of those dusty manuscripts one day. But in none of these places did I find that ever-elusive… voice.

From a review in the latest Entertainment Weekly: “The pendulum has swung in YA . . . Just as doomsday Hunger Games copycats saturated the market two years ago, the glut of angst-ridden first-person novels about the everyday trials of adolescence are starting to blend together. So it’s a breath of fresh air when a novel like David Arnold’s Mosquitoland bucks the usual classifications and stands defiantly alone.”

Four years ago — the day after my wife and I found out we were going to have a baby, and the day after it was decided that I would be the stay-at-home dad of said baby — I shelved my middle grade manuscripts, and turned to face a novel I’d been too afraid to start. (Ideas are like that sometimes, unwieldy and sly. You have to be threatened with something scary before you find the courage to see them through. Being attacked by a panther, for example, or the threat of nuclear holocaust; or perhaps the thought of one day being the father of a teenager. Any of those should do the trick nicely.) I spent two years writing Mosquitoland. Like T.S. Garp, in Irving’s masterpiece, The World According to Garp, I found that the everyday routines of taking care of a baby meshed beautifully with my writing schedule. I wrote while he napped. I wrote while he watched Sesame Street.

I wrote when I could because as a new father, my should had shifted. And if honesty is the most important element in writing (and I think it is), then it follows that one cannot lie while doing it. In a sense, my son gave me that honesty. Because I can lie to myself pretty easily. But I cannot lie to him.

Writing for young adults is an incredible privilege, though it was never a conscious decision. I never set out to write YA, only to find the most unique, authentic voice I could. Maybe it’s because I vividly remember my own childhood — the pains of not fitting in, of moving to a new town where cliques are long established and everyone knows the ins and outs of basically everything — that my voice naturally comes from this place. Whatever the reason, I am thrilled to write for young people. Because kids love the weird, the authentic, the true. They want to understand the value of the world, and have the world understand their own value. They want to be taught without being underestimated, to learn without petty parameters. As such, I believe it is my job to tell the story, to be true to myself while doing it. It is my job to write without fear. It is my job to stand up when standing is required, and to sit down when sitting is required. It is my job to understand the difference between writing with urgency, and writing in a rush. It is my job to listen, learn, read, live, create, think.

It is my job to write as honest a book as my bones and brain will allow. So far, for me, this means writing for young people. I can honestly say I’ve never been more excited to do my job. — David Arnold

For more about Mosquitoland, check out this great review from our friends at Chapter16.

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Meet David Arnold at Parnassus Books

Tuesday, March 3, 6:30 p.m.  

This reading and signing event is FREE and open to all!

Mosquitoland (Hardcover)

ISBN-13: 9780451470775
Availability: Coming Soon – Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: Viking Juvenile, 3/2015
ISBN-13: 9780345418012
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Ballantine Books, 6/1997