Michele Ashman Bell on Her New YA Novel
Michele Ashman Bell, popular LDS romance writer, has been the Meridian reviewer of Young Adult Fiction for over four years. Recently, she has published her first Young Adult novel, Summer in Paris.. I was interested to interview her about this, as YA fiction is becoming such a hot item in the LDS and national market.
GG: Why do you think that all the agents and publishers in the world are currently beating the bushes for YA authors? Why is it that profits are to be found in this area, when fiction publishing in general seems to be on a downswing?
Michele: There has been a surge in the YA market, I think, because in the last ten years there have been some fantastic books that have converted youth to reading. I have to give a lot of credit to JK Rowling. Her books turned even the most disinterested reader into a fanatic. Her stories became magical and helped kids learn to love books. Stephanie Meyer’s books have continued that upsurge. The fantasy market has taken over the world and kids can’t seem to get enough.
GG: I recently attended a banquet where President Eyring spoke, saying that people in today’s world all have the Light of Christ and that that light was like a computer’s search engine, looking for light it could cleave to in the world. For this reason, he declares that it is very important for LDS writers, artists, and musicians to publish “light” in the darkening world. This is a great responsibility. Is your switch to writing YA fiction in any way tied to this mission?
Michele: I love that thought of President Eyring’s. People seem to be looking for something but don’t even know that they are, or, don’t know what it is they are looking for. They can tell they are missing something or needing something, but they don’t know what it is. Our world is darkening and scary and every member of this church has to let their light shine. Being a published author, in the LDS market, or the national market, is a wonderful opportunity to share my testimony through my writing. I feel a powerful responsibility to make sure that my writing is consistent with my beliefs. I want to lift and edify readers while they are being entertained.
GG: How do you approach writing for teenagers who are so worldly-wise these days?
Michele: As much as I want to keep my finger on the pulse of the young adult market and what teens want to read, I want very much to provide reality based and emotionally packed stories, without promoting or glorifying some of the negative trends or topics that plague youth. There is plenty to write about without giving attention to things that aren’t positive and uplifting. I’m not Merry Sunshine, but I do want people to feel good after they read one of my books. That’s why my book shows a character who has been surrounded by wealth and materialism all her life, who is stripped of all of it and discovers what really is important. I also believe that there are many more good kids out there than bad, kids who want to read books with values.
GG: Along that same line, what do you hope non-member readers will take away from your book which has no vampires, werewolves, overt violence, or screaming hormones?
Michele: This book has several themes and my hope and prayer is that readers (especially youth) will have a desire to stand up for what they believe in and that they won’t let others determine their choices and actions. Peer pressure is tough, at any age, but especially for kids/teens. I also want to establish the importance of family and marriage and priorities. I know I have my work cut out for me. It’s hard to compete with a vampire, but I’m gonna try. And I do have a goal to bring in some fantasy to my stories, but I will always keep it consistent with my goals and values.
GG: Why does it seem that youth are reading more these days? At signings, I notice that the bookstores are filled with young adults.
Michele: Again, I think the market has been blessed with some incredible authors who have given us some of our greatest literature, and popular commercial stories, of all time. It’s exciting to see a kid’s face light up when they talk about a book. That’s the magic of books!
GG: Please share with us how you embarked on this mission as an LDS writer and what your lifetime goals are in this area.
Michele: Writing isn’t my job. I don’t have to write to support my family. For me writing is a privilege and a blessing. I worked hard to get published and I never take it for granted. But I have learned a valuable lesson along the way. I can only expect to have guidance and inspiration for my writing when I am keeping my priorities straight. That means putting my family and my Father in Heaven first. As long as I keep my ducks in a row, I feel connected spiritually and can write. When I don’t, I feel like I’m banging my head against the wall. My goal is to grow as a writer and provide worthwhile books for people of all ages. It is imperative to me as a person, to stay true to myself. I can only justify my writing when I do it the way I know my Father in Heaven wants me to do it. Nothing makes me happier than getting a letter from a reader who tells me that they were inspired and touched by one of my stories. That’s what makes it all worth it.
G.G.:Thank you for having the courage of your convictions, and writing of your faith in such a way that readers experience it, instead of feeling they are being preached to. That is a real talent.