Stephanie Morill

Stephanie Morrill is a twentysomething living in Kansas with her high school sweetheart-turned-husband and their daughter. She loves writing for teens because her high school years greatly impacted her adult life. That, and it's an excuse to keep playing her music really, really loud.

Falling Short of Serious

In high school I dreamed of being a serious novelist. I had always wanted to be a writer, but in high school English we started reading books by amazing authors like Anne Lamott, Toni Morrison, and Barbara Kingsolver. Someday, I thought, I’ll write serious novels like them.

Because I didn’t have any ideas for “serious” novels, I wrote others instead. I borrowed experiences from my dramatic teenage existence and wrote lousy, cathartic pieces about being a modern teenager. But just wait until I graduated. Then I’d have some real ideas. Then I’d write the Wuthering Heights of our time.

The trouble was even after I’d graduated and started work as a receptionist, I still couldn’t think of any “serious” ideas. My stupid brain seemed to be stuck in high school. I’d recall something from those four years, then think of a way to twist and tweak it into a plot line.

For a while I dismissed these juvenile ideas. Because what would Anne, Toni, and Barbara think if they knew I wrote books for teenagers? What about my dear English teacher, Ms. Bromberg? She told our entire class that she believed I’d do it, believed I’d get published. What would she think if I took her education on fine literature and squandered it on writing silly high school love stories?

I put up a good struggle. I wrote several beginnings for what I hoped would turn into serious novels, but I never wrote more than a couple chapters. I couldn’t get excited about the story.

And then a couple years later, as I flipped through a Delia’s clothing catalog, I came across an advertisement for several new Young Adult series being released. They were series that eventually became very familiar to me, but at the time I’d never heard of them—The A-List, The Clique, and Gossip Girl. I stared at the page, shocked to find that I was well out of high school, yet so interested in reading these books. And the question I’d been asking God for nearly three years—What do you want me to write?—was suddenly answered. He wanted me to write Young Adult fiction. (Yep, God’s so big he can even use Gossip Girl to reach someone!)

At first this revelation thrilled me. I had a genre! Okay, sure, I knew nothing about it, but I could fix that. I’d make lists and plans and got to writing.

Of course, that niggling thought returned when the initial excitement wore off—the Brontё sisters would be very disappointed in me if they knew what was going on. And Barbara Kingsolver probably wouldn’t even want me reading her books anymore.

But God’s opinion mattered infinitely more. I felt as sure of His calling as I did my own name. And now, five years later, His calling has come to fruition as I prepare for the release of my first YA series.

I’ve read a lot of YA fiction in the last few years, both Christian and general market. Some I loved. Some I hated. Some I thought, This is for high schoolers??? I’m in my twenties and I’m not even sure I’m mature enough to be reading this! That’s what’s so funky about this genre. Anything goes. No subject is too dark, too weird, too hopeless. Even in the Christian market, we’re delving into dark subjects our teenagers deal with, but we’re shining the light of Christ on them. Yes, drinking is real. But it’s not glamorous. Yes, sex happens. No, it doesn’t happen without some kind of consequence, whether it’s internal, like questioning self-worth, or external, like an STD.

I once heard Robin Jones Gunn, YA author extraordinaire, speak about why she continues to write for teenagers. With tears running down her face, she shared about letters she’s received from girls who have come to Christ, whose lives have altered course because of the words Robin wrote. Bryan Davis, author of the Dragons in Our Midst series among others, tells a story about a girl who wrote to him that she found strength in one of his female characters and changed her mind about committing suicide.

These are the stories that make the young adult market so special: teenagers being reached and changed and told how they’re loved and valued. These are the reasons why if I someday do come across Toni Morrison and she asks what kind of books I write, I will smile, look her in the eyes, and proudly say, “I write young adult fiction.”

Me Just Different