Friday, January 6, 2012

On Gossip Girl and Growing Up

or Why I Haven't Gotten Anything Done Since Christmas

We television lovers know the holiday season, despite its joys, can be a desolate time. After eating yourself into a coma at Thanksgiving, you plop on the couch and... gasp! Re-runs. You can no longer lose yourself in an addictive, magical world full of perfect-looking 20-year-olds pretending to be unsupervised 17-year-olds exchanging clever sexual innuendo with 30-year-olds pretending to be immortal 22-year-olds who drink scotch like alcoholic 40-year-olds.

In other words, Vampire Diaries went on Winter Break. (Until last night!)

My older sister came to the rescue this year when she told me she couldn't wait to catch up on Gossip Girl while she wrapped presents.

Really? Gossip Girl? Isn’t that about high school students who, ah, gossip a lot? Secretly I thought, “Okay, sis, you've passed the 4-0 mark and you're watching high school drama that doesn't even have vampires. That's just sad.” And then, equally secretly, I checked Netflix to see if they had it streaming.
Gossip girl titlecard
"Mind-blowingly inappropriate" - Parents Television Council.
What more endorsement could I need?

They did. They do. I watched the pilot while wrapping ten gazillion Legos. I'm hooked.

I'm not going to tell you how many episodes I've watched since Christmas. Fellow Proser MaryAnn is kindly waiting for me to send her the next batch of my behind-schedule novel for critque, and I will lose her respect forever if she finds out the actual numbers behind my procrastination.

So I'll just say this: After a non-stop writing focus through December, I took a break for Christmas and getting back in the swing of things feels like trying to hop on a moving zoo train filled with angry lions. So much easier to watch it ride off into the sunset without me while I sit on this comfy bench and fire up the Netflix.

Moreover, I really, really, need to see Nate and Serena get together. Or Nate and anyone. I don’t care. I’ll watch Nate kiss a tree. (I avoid reflection on what a creepy old lady this makes me by watching another episode.)

Still, as I sink into another 42 minutes of glammed-up teenagers non-chalantly ordering martinis at an exclusive Manhattan nightclub, the never-ending novel is in the back of my mind—specifically, a conversation I've had several times about my genre. It goes something like this:

Friend: What are you writing?
Me: Urban fantasy, I guess. Or maybe paranormal romance. I'm not sure where it fits yet. I don't know if it's quite a romance, but it's not quite gritty enough for UF. (Translation: My writing style just doesn't match up to the first-person, action-packed exploits of a bad-ass heroine with a tramp stamp.)
Friend: Why don't you write young adult?
Me: But I don't want to write teenagers.
Friend: Just make your characters 17 and then find a way to get school and parents out of the picture.
Me: That seems a little sneaky. Plus I want my characters to be able to get naked if and when I learn how to write a decent sex scene.
Friend: Forget that. Skip the sex and write YA. Your book sounds more YA. I like YA better than most adult books, anyway.

I write adults because I want my characters to be able to travel on a whim, buy and sell real estate, order liquor at a bar, have adulterous affairs, and pay their own bills.

I've never had a martini. Sad.
Photo: Microsoft Office Images
I turn on the television and find out—news to me—these are all things that teenagers do! Who knew?

And there's the crux of why I can't turn my characters into teenagers. Teenagers are kids, and kids shouldn't be doing the things my characters do, let alone what TV teens do. I think that Gossip Girl, as fun as it is, isn't really about kids, and it shouldn't even be for kids. What happened to kids having a different set of behaviors, a different set of rules to live within? Where's the drama in being a teenager if you don't have a curfew?

Sometimes I wonder: Are we portraying teenagers as grownups because they relate to it, or because adults do? Is it that we "grown-ups" really aren't so different from our teenage selves, except that losing the holiday weight has gotten fifty times harder? I don't wanna grow up... except for the money, sex, and alcohol please. Those are pretty sweet. But I'll keep the youthful skin tone, thank you. Whose fantasy is this?

One of the themes that makes Gossip Girl great—that keeps it from being just parties and fashion and musical beds—is characters constantly making mistakes that force them to question who they are becoming. Are their friends just stops on the way to a greater, more important destination, or are they the connections that ground them? What is the difference between having a social network that can get you into any party and having a friend who will come over in the middle of the night? They question their values, they question the roles that other people play in their lives, they flirt with independence and push people away, and they do stupid, hurtful things and then try to make amends.

They attempt to reinvent themselves, only to be haunted by their own most deep-seated beliefs about who they are.

Chace Crawford
Chace Crawford. Sigh.
Photograph by Christopher Peterson

I was always more Jan Brady than Serena van der Woodsen, but adulthood happened: I’m married with two kids, plenty of bills, and a doctor who now answers my physical complaints with, "Well, you're getting to that age..." Yet no matter how much reality I throw at myself, I’ll always relate to that person who longs for adventure and excitement and fairy tales. I’ll never stop being someone who would trade my right arm to be five inches shorter, I may never stop getting zits at the worst times, and I will definitely never stop trying to blossom into a different flower, trying to shape who I am into who I want to be. It’s in my nature. Perpetual teenager.

So bring it on, Gossip Girl. I’m with you all the way. 
And if I had a daughter, I might even let her watch, too... When she was 30.

But for my own writing, I'll stick with characters following the rules I grew up with, which means if they want to take adult risks, they'd better be adults.



  1. Why mess with Nate when Chuck is down the hall, owns the building, and can clearly use his powers to work so well? I don't want to watch him, I want him to take me out and take me home.

    Wahoowa, Grown-up Girlfriend. I'm so very fond of and hopeful for you, your work, and this blog.

  2. What? I thought you had family in town, and here I am dying to know what happens between Astrid and Sam, and you leave me hanging?

    Okay, I guess we all need a break now and then. I'll forgive you. :)

    I've never watched Gossip Girl, for the same reasons you have, but now I'm not sure if I want another WB addiction. :)

    I agree that TV and even some YA books don't portray teenagers correctly. I'm a little sick of the absent parent trope. I think it would be more interesting for characters to have good even over-protective parents that they have to somehow get around to hook up with their paranormal boyfriend or save the world.

    Great post!

  3. Oh man, this made me laugh. I used to be a hardcore Gossip Girl-crackhead because that show is so so so seriously crack. And I'm 30. But then, I DO write YA, so I let that be my excuse for YA guilty pleasures (and my hubs, who unwillingly got hooked on Gossip Girl, too, used the whole "I'm married to a YA writer" as his excuse, which totally flies, in my book).

    But yeah, I'd never want to WRITE characters like the ones in Gossip Girl - not for teens. Because yeah. I wouldn't let my daughters watch that show until they're 30, and wouldn't want my readers to have to wait until they're 30 to read my YA books, either. :D

  4. As a non-YA writer, I find that conversation a little odd. I mean, as you said, in Hollywood twenty-somethings always portray teenagers, but that doesn't mean their behaviors should be interchangeable. I'm not talking about drinking and partying, but the very different sets of problems we face in our teens versus our twenties.

    Maybe make it a challenge - make your books so awesome that your friends will be forever converted to your genre. Whichever you decide to pick. :)

  5. I tend to write about college-age people when I write, (though they aren't always colleges in my worlds) and I was happy to find out there's a new label for that. It's called "New Adult" and apparently it's the Next Big Thing.

    I can't quite bring myself to tell people I write "New Adult Fantasy" though. It sounds like porn. :(

  6. A while back I Netflix-binged on Veronica Mars. I think that show did a fairly good job of letting the mc do her thing, but still have a concerned parent on the premises. Any other shows or books (other than like Happy Days) that you can think of where teens still have decent boundaries and parents?

  7. @Anonymous, assuming you're R. and not a creepy stalker, then I am very, very fond of you, too :)

    @MaryAnn, Sigh. Having family in town was how I jumped off the writing train in the first place. I think I posted a public confession to guilt me into getting with the program, since I've managed two straight days without GG now ;) (But of course I *did* watch the new Supernatural. I'm not a martyr.)

    @Sabrina, I think genre has a lot to do with it. Paranormal or UF YA often deals with very similar problems as adult urban fantasy, but with a more character-centered approach. For example, Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series - one of the side characters has some teen problems (keeping his mom from finding out he's a vampire), but the main character and love interest seem to have more in common with college kids than high schoolers. Another example is "Daughter of Smoke and Bone," where the 17-year-old MC is completely independent, even living by herself in her own flat.

    I think problems centered on magical battles aren't very age-specific.

    @Melanie, I really hope New Adult takes off, but until it does, I think it's kind of a risky market to go after. On the other hand, I think writing what you want to write is always the smartest decision. There is definitely more New Adult coming out. I agree that it sounds like porn :)

    @Susan, I've never seen Veronica Mars. I'm drawing a blank for other teen stuff with good boundaries right now - probably because it wouldn't appeal to my search for vicarious wish fulfillment, since I don't actually long for the days when I lived with my parents :)

  8. Oh, and @Marisa: That is hysterical that your husband got hooked, too! Mine makes a big deal of leaving the room when it's on :)

    My issue with it being inappropriate isn't so much what the characters are doing as how old they are supposed to be when they are doing it - I'd rather let a teenage daughter watch the same amount of "bad" behavior but with the characters in their twenties.

    In fact, my main issue with Gossip Girl gets a lot better after the first two seasons, when most of the characters are out of high school. College is when you are supposed to experiment with freedom, so I have different standards for that age, I guess.

  9. I also Netflix-binged (love that!) on Veronica Mars. That's a great example. Her dad was amazing. At least at 5:30 in the morning, it's the only example I can think of though.


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