How YA Helps You Fall Like It’s Your First Time — A Guest Post by Author Michael Barakiva
The hardest thing, I think, about writing a YA Romance is that as much as we’re rooting for the characters to be together, we all know that in the long run, very few people actually get married to their high school sweetheart. And often, when they do, it’s a hot mess. So the question becomes, for me, why do we all enjoy reading about first love so much when chances are we’ve already moved on?
The first reason is that the first time is special. Before we’ve experienced the anguish and heartbreak in which most relationships end, we allow ourselves to fall in love faster, deeper and with more wild abandon as teens than we do as adults. Reading about young people falling in love with each other reminds us of when we were innocent in that way, before we’d bitten into the bitter fruit of adult relationships, full of betrayal, deceit, misunderstanding and abuse. And those were my good ones. (Until, of course, I met Rafael, the man who is now my husband. We never fight, deceive each other, or get into weird fights on our anniversary.)
Part of falling in love, for reals, as an adult, requires you to remember what it was like to do it the first time. Reading YA Romance sparks that extinguished ember or hope and youth and naïveté, that ember we need to kindle the flame of our grown-up love.
Writing One Man Guy also had a huge fantasy element for me, since the book’s protagonist comes out when he’s fourteen and I didn’t come out until I was twenty-one. I don’t regret those closeted years (in fact, my Dear Teen Me letter is all about those years). But one of the questions I asked myself when writing One Man Guy was what might have made me come out earlier than I had. And the answer, obviously, is an incredibly hot chaos pixie skater boy. So fantasy is a huge reason why I write YA Romance, and why I think people read it.
Although I could imagine writing hetero YA (HYA?), I felt especially inspired to write gay YA (GYA) because I wanted to contribute to this growing field, a field that was non-existent when I was a teen. I also knew that I didn’t want to write a coming-out story. Even though Alek comes out over the course of One Man Guy, his coming-out isn’t the event. It would just be something that happened.
I realize that there are, unfortunately, many places in this country (not to mention the world) where coming out is still uncomfortable at best and incredibly dangerous at worst. But because coming out was such a non-event when I did it to my friends and family fifteen years ago, I wanted to write something that reflected my own experience. Also, the genre has moved on.
Coming out is momentous, but it’s just the beginning of the story, really. Now that enough of those stories have been written, we’re free to move on to richer ones. I’m excited that there have been enough books and plays and movies about the trauma of coming out that the world is ready for the next evolution, what I think of as the, “So what now?”
Michael Barakiva is a theater director and writer of Armenian/Israeli descent who lives in Manhattan with his husband, Rafael. He is a graduate of Vassar College and the Juilliard School, an avid cook and board-game player, and a soccer player with the New York Ramblers.