Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Parental Supervision?

There are a lot of YA books out there with parents who die in car crashes or some other accident so they are no longer in the picture. I'm not criticizing these books at all. Sometimes there's a definite need for the parents to be out of the story. But it got me thinking about my own manuscripts and how present parents are in them.


Without naming the manuscripts, here's my rundown:
  • single mother who only has a role in about half the story
  • absentee parent who briefly comes back into the MCs life
  • happily married parents who remain in the entire story (mostly in the background)
  • happily married parents who are never seen because the MC runs away
  • happily married parents who have an actual role in the story
  • deceased father leaving behind a wife and two kids
  • controlling parents who want a say in everything 
While I do have three instances of happily married couples, I think the family types are pretty varied because of their situations. The only common thread between all of these parents is that they aren't major characters in the stories. They take back seats to my teen and/or pre-teen casts. 

The funny thing is I'm the product of a happily married couple who did play a big part in my teen years. My friends came over for family dinners. My friends even hung out with my parents when I wasn't home. Yes, my parents are that awesome. But, in fiction, they aren't really believable. Maybe I'll write the cool parents one day, but I'm afraid no teen will believe me. (A topic for Friday's post)

What are the parents like in your manuscripts or favorite books? Do they play a significant role in the story?

65 comments:

  1. Absentee parents are one of the major clichés in YA novels. It makes sense though - with parents in the picture, there's only so much a young adult can do.

    I personally tried out a lot of different settings with parents.

    - One of my WIPs has a single Mom, and a Dad who passed away. The Mom is very caring, and plays an important role in the books. Not that important, but she appears in a couple of scenes each book.

    - I have another WIP with an entire family appearing regularly. A happy family with Mom, Dad and a little sister for the MC.

    - In another WIP, both parents have passed away but Mom is still around in ghost form. The MC can see her and correspond with her.

    - Another WIP is set in a fantasy world. Both MC's parents are dead, but she's been adopted by a stepmom who clearly loves her, and she has two stepbrothers now. However, the stepmom leaves early on so the rest of them can go on adventure, so technically she's absent for most of the book.

    - I also have one set up with both parents happily married and two younger siblings for the MC. She leaves them behind early on in the story though.

    What I've come to realize is that for YA contemporary, it's easier for me to write a full set up with Mom, Dad and possible siblings. For YA fantasy, in which I want the characters to go on fantastic adventures without being constantly watched over by Mom and Dad, parents have to be out of the picture. It could be temporarily - like characters go on a school trip, or go on an investigation outside of their house - or indefinitely - parents passed away.

    Also, sometimes the set up helps define a MC. A character who's had both his parents pass away, usually has more emotional issues to deal with than a MC whose parents are living together as a happy couple.

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    1. You are absolutely right about the genre playing a part in how present the parents are. Looking at my manuscripts, they follow that same pattern. Great point, Majanka. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  2. I grew up on the wonderful books of E. Nesbit, Madeline L'Engel, and the Mary Poppins books. Did this generation of writers set a precedent for young characters who have wonderful adventures quite apart from the adults who are benign, shadowy presences in their lives? It's funny, I am not a YA writer, but I assumed that absentee parents (not always in a bad way) were a requirement of the genre!

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    1. You may very well be right, too. And great point about those classics setting up this pattern. That's very true.

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  3. I agree with Majanka, absent (one way or another) parents make perfect sense in YA books, because that way MCs get more room for doing things, not to mention it's easier to put your MCs into a bunch of serious problems when there are no supportive parents to help them out of it. For that reason, parents in my stories are often not exactly helpful -- if they're even there, and if they're not abusive. I would appreciate a YA book with supportive and capable parents, though.

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    1. I just wrote one with supportive parents, and it was actually a lot of fun. Still, they didn't have a huge role in the story because I was afraid it wouldn't be realistic.

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  4. I remember reading If I Stay and loving how crucial the parents were to the story and her ultimate decision. I can't remember to many other books like that.

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    1. I haven't read that yet, but now I definitely want to. Thanks!

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  5. You have such a point. Actually I watched a youtube video of Laurie McLean and she explained how common this is in YA. It really does make sense. You can only get away with so much. I found myself going with the easy way out in my latest story. How could my main character NOT get in trouble for driving 4 hours to Miami with her little brother? Yeah, mom just wasn't gunna remember ;)

    My first book had no parents. The girl thought she was an orphan and raised by a man she thought was her father. Then she goes off in search of her real dad.

    Second book had for the most part happily married parents. Their role was smallish but it was the daughter's job to save them in the end.

    Third book. Divorcing parents. This one I pulled some of what I knew (divorced parents over here--means double the presents!) But this is one in the midst of a divorce with a hardworking mom and absentee "free spirit" of a father. Made for an interesting dynamic.

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    1. I haven't written divorced parents. I really should because so many teens can relate. It sounds like you've used a great blend of family types. Good for you!

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  6. In my first published book We Hear the Dead, the father is driven away by religious objections while the mother supports her daughter in her career as a spirit medium -- and never realizes it's a fraud. And that comes from real life -- the true story of Maggie Fox in the 1850's. So I suppose absentee, clueless, or ineffective parents aren't solely restricted to modern times!

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    1. No, not at all. There's a reason why they appear so often in books. They are very real and have been around forever.

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  7. Hhhmm very interesting post. I don't think parents are given a lot of attention in YA. Unless the main plot involves them (divorce, absentee, controlling, etc.)

    In my current WIP one of my MC's has a single mom and a totally out of the picture father. The MC, his parents are together but...lets just say that home life is pretty traumatizing. There are other examples of happy marriages throughout so I think that I have it pretty well covered :)

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  8. I think it depends on the story whether parents are present or not. In my latest YA novel,the parents and runaway father play a vital roll in the plot. Parents are important too in my YA Historical. Come to think of it, my Tween novel's parents are prominent in the story. The main characters though deal with their parents who of course go against everything the teens want to do. I'm not sure I explained this the way I mean to.

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    1. I totally understand so I think you explained it just fine. :) And it's nice to see you do allow parents to have a role in your books.

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  9. At a seminar once, I was told that if parents are in the picture, kids can't have any fun. There's a certain amount of truth to that, but I'd like to see more over-worked single parents (like in Of Poseidon), then the dead parents. The former feels more realistic to me than the latter.

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    1. I have an overworked parent in Touch of Death, so I'm happy to hear that's what you like. ;)

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  10. My manuscripts have involved parents in them and they usually play a big role in the story. I do appreciate stories with a variety of a parental figures, though. It's realistic. You have the overinvolved, involved, underinvolved, absentee, and deceased parents.

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  11. Now that you posted this, I've noticed that even Disney killed or jailed parents in his cartoons. Bambi & Dumbo, 2 cartoons I didn't like as a kid and still don't.

    Teens are dreaming of a day when parents are not hovering or involved in their every move. I think that is why YA books are set up that way...

    in fact the only recent movie I've seen with happily involved parents, Easy A with Emma Stone. I loved that movie....

    interesting topic :) Thanks for posting it! I have some thinking to do about my YA WIP.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the topic. And you are right about Disney. My daughter gets very upset when parents die in those movies. I have to watch which ones she sees because of it.

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  12. What an interesting topic and it has really made me think! I know a lot of YA books have parents that are not around- but I do like that you have varied parents in your books. Kids come from all different backgrounds and have all different parents. I have divorced parents- and so did most of my friends. But- there were also some families with parents who were happily married. My book is MG- but the parents are quirky and happily married. They paly a role- but the main story revolves around the kids. :)
    ~Stephanie

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    1. Yes, I like variety. That way no one feels left out. There are books for all family types.

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  13. Great topic! My books have parents, but it's usually one of them that's the villain! I know, I know, what does that say about me? But it's true.

    In another book of mine, the dad is off at war, leaving the mom behind with the three kids. So there's a way to have them be important, but not present.

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    1. I completely agree. Even when the parents aren't present, they can still impact the MC.

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  14. Parents begin to seriously disappear in MG. (One might surmise that half of our civilization is made of young orphans.) Even some chapter books have kids go on great adventures leaving parents behind (Magic Tree House) and every kid-lit writing coach stresses that kids are the center of the tale.
    Interestingly, parents return in adult (especially literary) fiction, even if only as internal voices for the characters.
    We know parents are very important in real life. Somehow Kid-lit, largely escapist, is less about real life and more about kids as full authors of their lives.

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    1. Very true! My MG chapter book will have a happily married couple who will only be in select parts of the book. The kids have to be able to have their own adventures.

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  15. I don't think a large population of teens relate to 'happily married or connected to their parents. I think it's perspective. I think (based on my own experience as a mom of teens) is you have supportive parents but ensure that the teen has a go to adult they trust and can talk to if uncomfortable with Mom and Dad. I always thought I had an average set of parents growing up but friends always told me my parents were either strange or out of this world. I had no idea what they were talking about until years later. Mine are eccentric. Ah! I had someone to go to when I didn't think I could talk to my parents, which worked. I make sure my kids have had the same. I wonder if this is more plausible in a story... somewhat stable family (regardless if both mom and dad or two moms, or dads, etc), but have that older cousin or Aunt. What do I know, I am the by product of eccentric parents.

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    1. Why not? I think that's totally plausible. My parents were unusual in the sense that they played a big role in my teen years. To me it wasn't odd but to others it was. And the best part was they understood what it was like to be a teen and they let me have my space while still trying to look out for me--if that makes sense.

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  16. I think parents are intentionally set aside in YA stories so that the teens (and the main characters of the story) have all the room to make major mistakes, deal with the mistakes and hopefully learn something from them:)
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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    1. I totally agree. It's essential to have the parents out of the way somehow to allow the teens to go throw this on their own.

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  17. It's seems like most book I read the parents are deceased or out of the picture for one reason or another. I have one with parents out and another with them in.

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    1. Hmm, it seems like a lot of us are going for a balance. :)

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  18. I don't usually have parents with big roles in my books, but they always have Aflac or weakness that the MC needs to learn from or overcome. :)

    Angela

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    1. Having the MC learn something from their parents like that can work really well.

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  19. In my only YA manuscript, the father is a widower, but has a large role in the story. Now that I think of it, in my published romantic comedy one protagonist's father is a controlling jerk and mother is off living on a commune, while the other protagonist's mother is a widow. I was the product of a broken home and two really horrible step-parents, so who knows how that's effected my writing?

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    1. I'm sure our own experiences do affect the way we write and portray parents.

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  20. I think perhaps it stems from the idea that as a teen we view our parents as strange people who were never teenagers or forgot what it was like to be young. Therefore, how could they understand what the MC is going through.

    Great post!

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    1. That's a great point! I think you are definitely on to something there.

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  21. Those are common setups for teen reads, because after all, the MC is the teen :) The parent plays an important role in real life, yes, but I'll think that teens prefer to read more about other teens, with whom they can relate better to! Haha, just speaking for myself.

    -Alicia
    bookaworld.wordpress.com

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  22. Mine are usually single parents, or parents (in my current MG WIP) whose presence are felt even when they aren't 'physically there' as my MC has to go away. They're definitely significant. Great topic, Kelly!

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    1. Thanks, Claudine. Your MG kind of sounds like mine, as far as the parents are concerned.

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  23. I do think it's plausible in the storyline - sorry I wasn't clear-- what I was trying to say, but failed, is I think a large number of the population of teens don't always connect with their parents and it doesn't matter if mom and dad are model parents. The connection has, in my opinion, to do with their social setting, who they choose to hang around with etc., I saw this a lot with my daughter's friends, great family, etc., good student, but child couldn't for whatever reason sit down and talk to their own parents. My point is even if parents are great, there's always a strange period for a teen when they don't feel like they have it all together or know how to articulate the whirlwind of emotional turmoil, stress, angst, going on inside of their heads.. I hope this makes sense.

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    1. Yes, that makes perfect sense. Sorry, I think it was my response that was confusing, not yours. LOL. I was in agreement with you. :)

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  24. I never thought of this question before. I have to say, no, in none of my writings do parents play a significant role. But then I don't write YA, so maybe that's the difference.

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    1. That could be, Donna. It makes sense. With teenagers, we know the parents are there somewhere (or some guardians) because they aren't really old enough to live on their own, unless they've run away.

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  25. Kelly, I think this is another reason why YA scares me, and felt like the most offbeat teen in existence when I was one, I mean seriously, how many teens did you know who was obsessed with animal fantasy and still watched the little kid shows on PBS, and didn't watch an R-rated movie until he was 18, and had no interest in much of pop culture stuff, and even now, I feel like finding like minded people my age is a pipe dream.

    Anyway, getting back on topic, you know, in my last novel, the MC's parents are in it, but I tried not to include more than was necessary, and I do think in that respect I succeed.

    There was a time early on I contemplated taking them out to avoid any inclination that the MC can't stand alone, and I he can, but it was both better for the story, and it challenged me personally as a write to write about non-abusive/absent parents.

    Because my family is so emotionally detached. devoutly religious on my grandmother's part, and pragmatic to a fault (That's NOT me, which my writer friends learn the hard way, but those who get that and like me anyway), it's harder for me to write involved parents who aren't self-righteous pricks. Remember all the help you had to give me with my MC's mother, I had to struggle with how to portray parents in general, and since most everyone who's read my writing in process are either parents or teachers, or parents/teachers, and Kelly aside, many of them had such a narrow view of the kids they raise and/or teach.

    Don't even get me started on the gender stereotypes some people refuse to let die...! They should be thankful they didn't have to teach a kid like me, or they might've contemplated retiring in shame... (Okay, I'm being extreme here, but only to prove a point and semi-vent too...)

    The dads are easier, even though I never knew my father, I know the kind of father I wanted, and what about types of fathers turn me off as a reader or just plain human being, and reserve them for when the story demands a difficult father.

    Mothers are harder, not just because of my own non-relationship with mine, but also because it's hard for me to write mothers who are close in demeanor or personality to mine or my grandmother, who was my stand-in parent. I'm grateful to grandma because I'd likely have coasting through foster care otherwise, but things between us have become hard, and it's just hard to live with people who are so opposite you in so many ways, which is why I loathe "Apple doesn't fall far from the tree" type sayings because that isn't always true.

    Just because there's a DNA link, doesn't mean I'm destined to be like my family in every way. Alternatively, adopted kids don't have to be mirror images of their adoptive family or birth parents they never knew. There ARE things that are just unique to US, bad or GOOD.

    Kelly, even though you've told me you don't feel you can write adult fiction, you CAN write about those cool parents. If you want, I can recommend books I read where you're not going to be "attacked" by readers for it.

    They frankly gave me hope that are still parents out there who care and are involved, but don't have to be overbearing, paranoid dictators about every, freaking, detail!!!!

    SIGH...It's taking all I have not to turn this into an in-depth, hard-hitting editorial, long as this comment is. LOL.

    I sometimes think Barbra Walters had an indirect influence on me, even though I barely follow her, and mostly know her from 20/20, which I haven't really watched since I was 16.


    As long as the cool parents don't come off as overly lenient or downright irresponsible in every way, you won't have the problem your fearing.

    Take Care,
    Taurean

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    1. Thanks, Taurean. I appreciate you saying that. Tomorrow I'll be talking more about my parents, who are amazing by the way. But I know that they aren't normal as far as parents are concerned. I wish they were. Every teen should have parents as great as mine. I'm so grateful for them. But again, I know that if I only wrote about parents like mine, I'd lose readers. They wouldn't find it believable, at least not all the time.

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  26. My moms and grandmothers are important in my stories, but I have to admit I've left out the dads. I'll have to make up for that in the future.

    As to teens relating to parents and visa versa, this time of life is so strange--the teen trying to establish himself as separate, the parent wanting, but not wanting him to do so. It's often a bumpy time for both, so it's great material for writers.


    Loved the post.

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    1. Glad you liked it. And I'm really glad so many people are willing to share how they handle parents. It's great to learn what others do. :)

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    2. Maybe part of the problem is that teens in particular want some of the same things their parents do, but both are too stubborn and embarrassed to admit it.

      Yes, everyone at some points wants to be their own person, not in their parent's shadow, and obviously
      most parents want to their children to be independent and not need them for everything, but these same parents, who often make cruel-sounding(However true) jokes about how they just can't wait until they can be more hands-off. Yet they give their teens little if any freedom to make their own decisions about even the most basic things.

      How's that helpful to you or them?

      Teens on the other hand, may not want (or frankly NEED) constant coddling, yet that doesn't mean they don't need love and attention, it's just not needed the same way as little kids, which in this context are kids under 12.

      I think some parents don't always see that, this especially seems to be touchy in mother-son relationships, as in the case with me and my grandma, my mother lives with us, but she wasn't an active parent due to her own problems, yet her bossy and insensitive nature towards my grandma (Her mother) is becoming harder to live with.

      If money was not an issue (but it sadly is) I'd have moved out, because it's hard to maintain any positive outlook when my mother's brand of attitude is everywhere and nowhere.

      Plus, my grandma and I are just growing apart, and as I said above, it's hard to live with someone who you have nothing in common with, and nothing you say or do can fix it. With all the family you live with is your exact opposite, you often wonder what's good about you since no one in your space seems to see it.

      That's why I'm grateful I met Kelly and Terrie (A mutual friend of ours) they see the good about me that others around me find more an annoyance, but out of respect try to edure, and vice versa.

      There are good things about how practical my grandma is, but it's hard to relate to someone who frankly has lived her life in "Have tos" for so long, she can't grasp any "Want tos" it's like she has responsibility drilled so harshly into her head, anything she wants versus needs feels like being a skiddish foreigner in a strange land.

      I better get why now than when I was youger, but it's still hard to live with, but also to watch, because she's suffered to, and now she thinks it's "Too late" and envies "My youth", like a writer told me recently, and it's not always an advantage being youthful, because it seems people value experience FAR more than youth in many respects today.

      My grandma's in her 60s, my mother's turning 50 (Yet she still acts like a demonic three year old) and I'm 25 now, and you know what?

      I feel just as trapped and lost as my grandma.

      I may have youth on my side, but she has money, freedom and options I don't, and I'm more at her mercy and good fortune than I feel is normal.

      I guess that's why people over 30 on average think I have a chip on my shoulder, because they think my "youth and potential" can overcome anything, yet that's not been my experience at all.

      Sorry to be a downer, Kelly, but I hope you also feel less "ashamed" because you had good parents.

      Trust me, when your daughter's grown up, and still loves to spend time with you, you're better off than me and most in my situation.

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    3. Taurean, I don't feel ashamed. I just wish others would've had the same experience. I'm so grateful for it. And I'm grateful for my relationship with my daughter. I can't imagine it any other way. ou, in my writing I have to. I have to imagine what others go through.

      I'm sorry you didn't have the same loving upbringing, Taurean. I hope things get better between you and your grandmother.

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    4. Thanks Kelly. So do I. I try to stay positive, but it's not like this is a new problem, this has been ongoing, and I at lest now see no way out.

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  27. In my first two books there basically wasn't any parents involved...they were adult mystery/suspense. But the book I'm out-ling now is YA and it focuses on two separate families...both of which are dysfunctional. One centers around a single mom who's spent time in a mental facility, and the other a couple who are both on their second marriage.

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    1. Interesting. Sounds like you are tying the parents into the story. I like it.

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  28. This is such a good post for a lot of reasons. While my parents were very involved in my teen years, I tend to write manuscripts where the parents are not as invovled. I think the main issue is more that the circumstances I often want my characters to encounter simply couldn't happen with parents hovering around. Awesome post.

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    1. Very true! We kind of have to get the parents out of the way to allow our MCs to go through the trials we need them to go through. :) Glad you liked the post.

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  29. This is an interesting issue. While I don't write YA, my current adult readership work in progress features a single mum and the children's book that I'll be looking at again later this year features a widowed father.

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    1. Very interesting, Fi. You don't have to answer this, but I'm wondering if that mirrors your upbringing. I'm trying to figure out how our own situations impact the portrayal of parents in our novels.

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  30. I'm writing in the adult genre, so it's different for my work. In the collaborative work I'm doing, the character whose POV I write is in his mid-thirties, and lost both of his parents when he was eighteen because of a drunk driver.

    The characters in my solo work have parental issues themselves: my male lead is also an orphan, but in his mid twenties. My female lead has a widowed mother, with a relationship that's strained.

    Oddly, my relationship with my parents is good.

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    1. Hmm, so you write almost the opposite of your experience. Interesting.

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  31. My favorite series at the moment is the Drake Chronicles- parents are extremely involved in all of the books so far.

    Thanks for the follow! I am now following you too as Sommer!

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    1. Thanks for following!

      I'll have to check out the Drake Chronicles. Thanks for the suggestion. :)

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