As young adult authors, P.C. and Kristin Cast don’t talk down to their readers.
P.C., who taught high school for ten years, said teens will rise to the occasion and aspire to more abstract thoughts if you ask them. With that, however, comes ramifications from some parents.
“There’s a lot of authors that feel how I do about it, who ignore whining and crying parents that say we can’t put any sex in our books because, ‘Then my teen will want to have sex!’” P.C. said. “Well, newsflash, okay. Your teenagers don’t need to read my book to want to have sex.”
The Sisters of Salem series is the third collaboration between P.C. and Kristin and the first installment, Spells Trouble, was released in May 2021. The mother-daughter authors are best known for the “House of Night” series, which P.C. penned and Kristin edited at age 19. They have lived in the Portland area since 2014.
Although P.C. has published both adult and YA fiction, both New York Times bestselling authors have been integral to the YA genre as it’s grown over the years—and have witnessed the changes within it.
One of the major changes has been the content of the novels. Despite publishers still acting as gatekeepers, Kristin said their hold has loosened on what should and shouldn’t be censored in a YA book; however, she noted there is still a lot of “disrespect” for young readers about what they can manage.
“[Publishers] don’t think they can handle certain things that not only exist in our world but people are handling very well every day,” she said, “and [readers] can also learn from characters with different experiences.”
Although YA has been seeing more diversity with BIPOC and LGBTQ+ authors featuring more diverse character representation, and there has been more sexual content allowed in novels, Kristin said there still isn’t a good picture of drug and alcohol abuse.
“It sometimes feels as if we’re still operating under the belief that young people won’t be impacted if adults just don’t talk about it,” she said. “This thought process doesn’t work.”
By the time Kristin had graduated high school, two of her peers had died from overdoses and in college she knew more people who had problems with drugs and alcohol than not. In her 20s, Kristin had her own struggles with addiction and said she wants publishing to “allow stories to be told no matter the main character’s demons.”
Kristin also struggles with mental health issues, and said there is a direct influence of who she is and her lived experiences that are embedded into her characters. Through them, Kristin explores what it looks like when a character continues down a path fueled by anger, as well as when and how the healing process comes in.
For example, in Spells Trouble, the character Kristin wrote—Hunter—deals with feelings of inadequacy and rage.
“My characters always have, I call it a bit of darkness. but I don’t mean that in a negative connotation,” she said. “I like to explore more stereotypically negative emotions and how living with those will impact someone.”
Kristin added that her main characters are all cathartic ways to experience feelings of anxiety, lack of confidence, PTSD, and depression. She enjoys figuring out how her characters handle each emotion and discovering what works for them.
When both P.C. and Kristin write their books, they don’t dwell on the fact they’re writing for the YA genre. Kristin writes for a younger version of herself, and P.C. said she writes a young character that is allowed to make mistakes.
“The only difference in the writing style of [adult novels] and Sisters of Salem is my adult characters can’t get away with the immature things my younger characters can,” she said. “I go into it crafting a character and setting, and I have the characters react to conflict age appropriately.”
P.C. added that she loves taking a character that makes a lot of mistakes and seeing their growth over the course of the novel. When people ask her about the paranormal elements in her books, she said they are just “icing” to the story.
“My YA books are about kids growing up,” she said. “That is what’s most important and what’s most interesting and successful in our genre.”
“It sometimes feels as if we’re still operating under the belief that young people won’t be impacted if adults just don’t talk about it. This thought process doesn’t work.”
P.C. first started writing YA in 2005 when her agent brought up the idea of an adult series about a vampire finishing school with “sexy-coeds.” At the time, P.C. was teaching high school students and argued instead the series should be YA, which was taking off at the time.
But it’s not just teens reading YA anymore. Kristin said one of the other changes that has happened in the YA genre is with its audience: As readers who discovered YA when the genre was taking off 15 years ago approach their 30s, publishers have now shifted their sales tactics to reach an older demographic.
“It’s strange to me because looking at the beginning of YA, it was Harry Potter, House of Night, and Suzanne Collins—teenagers were out buying those on purpose,” she said. “To sell to [readers] 15 years older, it’s a change that doesn’t make much sense to me. Especially because I’m not writing a book for a 35 year old.”
The publishing industry as a whole has also changed over the years. Kristin said publishers have shifted the responsibility of generating sales to the author, without increasing their percentage. Although this has been happening since before the COVID-19 pandemic, Kristin said the pandemic has exacerbated the challenge of promoting their work.
“We just had the surge of not just authors, but everyone selling anything, having one way—which was putting it online, primarily social media,” she said. “Consumers were getting burnt out. No one wants to log on and see ‘buy this,’ they want genuine interaction.”
That interaction is important to Kristin. She said she wants to leave the readers with a theme or a feeling.
“I like my readers to feel seen, and when I think of my audience, that’s important to me,” she said. “I want to point to you in the crowd and say, ‘I understand you and I see you, and I very much feel your story.’”