“Warning! Adult Book!” In the Eyes of the Beholder Lea Wait

Since I write in two genres, at book events focusing solely on books for adults OR solely books for children, I often find myself the only author wearing two hats.

That’s what happened last weekend.

Lea Wait

While it felt as though most of the mystery writers in the United States were in St. Louis at Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, I was in the little town of Warwick, New York, at a children’s book festival with 50 other authors and illustrators of books for children. 

Typical of such gatherings, most of the attendees were teachers, librarians, and parents with children under the age of 10. The youngest attendees happily picked out books about trucks, baseball, dinosaurs, and pink birthday parties.  Older children were clearly either a) addicted to reading, or b) being dragged by a parent.  

The most popular author in the room? No contest. The one who’d brought a giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroach in a cage for “show and tell.” How could any mere book compete with live action?

I write historicals for ages 8-14. Maryrose Wood, who sat next to me, also writes “middle grade” books, as they’re known in the trade. Across from us was an author who wrote YA titles with dark covers. Most of our customers were librarians and teachers.

With the exception of one book.

Maryrose Wood & Lea Wait

Those ordering books for the festival had, in addition to my books for children, ordered (in error? I didn’t ask) copies of my latest mystery. It sat on my table, apart from my historicals, behind a large “ADULT BOOK” sign. Shadows of a Down East Summer might not include any on-camera violence or sex … (in fact I suspect some of the YA books in the room contained more of both) but it was not written for children.  In this room of books about piglets and airplanes that talked, this book was clearly “R” rated. 

Time and again children, usually aged 11-14, picked it up, sometimes surreptiously, and then begged their parents to buy it. And, bless their parents, most of the time they won. One young lady whispered that she’d like me to sign her copy to “Detective Sarah, please,” because she was going to be a detective when she grew up.

A man, overhearing me discussing the book with a parent, interrupted to ask, “But would your book be appropriate for a 40-year-old?”

I assured him it would.

“Good,” he said. “I’ll take one. My wife and I like children’s books like yours.”

He winked as I signed his book. 

I hope both he and Detective Sarah enjoyed their purchases.     

I remember being about 12, and feeling very grownup (and a bit sneaky) when I managed to elude the librarian and settle into my favorite windowseat at my local town library and devour science fiction and mysteries shelved on the second floor — in the adult department. 

Funny thing. By the time I was old enough to take those books home, I’d moved on. Mysteries and science fiction no longer interested me. Maybe I’d been fascinated with them because they were forbidden. 

I hope those, of all ages, who bought Shadows of a Down East Summer at Warwick last weekend enjoy it. And that they continue to seek out books that have enticing labels and covers. It’s not the only way to discover new worlds. But it’s a beginning.  And no books should ever be forbidden.

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7 Responses to “Warning! Adult Book!” In the Eyes of the Beholder Lea Wait

  1. Oh, Lea, I remember the allure of the “adult section” of my small town library, too. I kind of snuck in sideways; my favorite genre was science fiction, and the (all-volunteer) librarians apparently didn’t distinguish between Robert Heinlein’s juveniles and much stronger stuff by Harlan Ellison and Joanna Russ. It was all shelved in the children’s section. (I don’t recall there even being a separate young adult or Juveniles section back in the 70s. Maybe in some of those big-city libraries.)

    But the thrill of reading grown-up books! The appeal to both your sense of maturity and your pride in your advance reading ability! I’m delighted to hear the next generation is still experiencing this.

  2. Barb Ross says:

    I don’t really remember YA books in my youth. I think in my day it was straight from Nancy Drew to the adult shelves. I remember that passage and feeling like I was never turning back (although I actually enjoy a good YA book or children’s book today).

    My mother had a rule that she would never tell us not to read anything, but she might ask us not to (though I never remember her invoking this). She said her mother had the same rule (which is kind of surprising consider that during WW2 my mother would often come down to breakfast to find articles clipped out of the morning paper because they were too disturbing for children). Anyway, my mother reported that the only book her mother ever asked her not to read was Forever Amber, at 1940s bodice ripper that was banned in Massachusetts (and 33 other states). I’ve never read it, but I’d guess it’s probably pretty tame by today’s standards.

  3. Lea Wait says:

    No one in my family moderated my reading, either … only those mean librarians! In fact, when (I know, I’m dating myself!) Lady Chatterly’s was (really) “banned in Boston” and the paperback was available (with big red words on the cover identifying it as “banned in Boston”, in case you hadn’t known) my grandmother had a copy. I was in 7th grade and I sneaked it out of her room. About two weeks later she came into my room and mentioned, casually, that she was “missing a book.” In case I knew where it was, could I return it? She hadn’t finished reading it. I was mortified. Clearly she knew which granddaughter to ask. But she didn’t seem shocked, and the book ended up back in her bookcase. Not all ladies from Boston were prudes! And, after all, D.H. Lawrence was “literature!”

  4. Interesting post! Since I also write for kids and adults, I’ve had similar situations. I often do a book table at some non-specific event, with books for both audiences displayed. Generally not a problem, and I think the cross-marketing is beneficial.

    • MCWriTers says:

      I agree, Kathleen. If it’s a general event I have both types of books. In fact, this weekend I’m speaking at a Romance Writers of America conference about writing in two genres — and they’ll have both my mysteries and my books for children for sale. That’s great. It just gets tricky when you’re at a mystery conference with children’s books that aren’t mysteries … or, as I described, a children’s event with an adult mystery! But I do love the crossover sales that happen in both directions.

  5. MCWriTers says:

    I have several young teen volunteers. One of the joys of having them help out (aside from their infectious enthusiasm) is watching them stop dead in their tracks and start examining a book they were about to re-shelve. Every week they discover something new and intriguing.

  6. Meredith Phillips says:

    Lea, I wondered why “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was one of your tags (for your interview yesterday). I guess it’s b/c of your response above?

    I’d always wanted to read “Forever Amber” b/c of the fuss about it in my youth, but couldn’t find it then. Once I could, years later, I’d lost interest.

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