"You can make a lot more money writing adult novels," my friends always tell me. "Why don't you give it a shot? Why write for teens?"
"It's not about the money," I tell them. "Besides, I like writing for teens."
My answer is simple and truthful. But it's not the complete truth of why I write for teens, which is a lot more complicated.
I seem to be stuck in my teen years because it's the only time in my life that I felt unhappy, fearful, and lonely. My father died when I was nine, and my mother remarried when I was eleven. My stepfather was a stern man. Though we got along okay, I secretly resented him. I considered him an intruder in my life, a stranger, someone who didn't belong. I refused to call him Dad or to acknowledge him by his first name. Ever. I felt different from my friends, all of whom had two biological parents—I was an outsider. I hated trying to explain to everyone why my mom's last name was different from mine: "My dad died and my mom remarried, and her new last name is...but my last name mine is still..." I hated that.
After graduating, I worked third shift in a General Motors automobile factory in my hometown of Saginaw, Michigan, and couldn't stand my job. My girlfriend dumped me to become a nun. Finding nothing at home that pleased me, I joined the Navy for four years and served aboard the battleship USS New Jersey during the Korean War. Despite being in a war, I had a great time in the Navy. I pulled two years of shore duty in Hawaii—can you believe that?—and while aboard ship I pulled lots of liberties in Japan.
Those teen years finally over, I got out of the Navy, went to college, met and married a beautiful, black-haired Irish girl named Colette Shannon. Together we raised six great kids. I taught English for thirty-five years in public high schools. I enjoyed my work and finally retired in 1994. Life has been good, but those years as a teen still nag me. Decades later, I still dream about them sometimes.
Whenever I sit at the computer to create something new, I automatically drift back to the only disturbing time in my life—my teens. When I think about that and when I consider the over ten thousand young adults I taught in high school, I feel like a wimp. I mean, my teen life compared to the life of teens today was not difficult at all. I experienced only a death in the family that left a hole in my life. Unlike today's teens, I didn't experience divorce, blended families, abuse, drugs, porn, gangs, or violence.
Still, I feel compelled to write about today's struggling teens, maybe because in a small way in the late 1940s and early '50s I was one myself. And I can't get that thought out of my mind.