Who could have predicted the rise of young adult literature — the celebrity status of the authors, the fast-selling pace of popular series or the fact that 55 percent of YA consumers are actually older than 18? Or that, of that 55 percent, 28 percent are between the ages of 28 and 40, according to a recent survey, making YA hardly Y at all?
Perhaps Stephanie Stamm, who has written two young adult novels of her own, could have — she understands the attraction to series like Twilight, Hunger Games and Divergent.
“I think that part of it is these questions YA answers — who you want to be and who you are — are questions that don’t go away,” Stamm says. “I would say that I hit these questions every decade or so. Even as an adult you can relate to this cycle.”
Originally from Kentucky, Stamm moved to Kalamazoo 14 years ago. She’s worked as a press operator, educator, potter and technical writer. It’s that last job that prompted Stamm to move from Kalamazoo to Atlanta in March.
“I’m so going to miss Kalamazoo,” she said in an interview before she left for Georgia, “but this opportunity came along and I couldn’t say no.”
Before she left, Stamm self-published the first two books of her three-book Lightbringer series — A Gift of Wings (2012) and A Gift of Light (2014). Both tell the story of a late teen exploring a newfound world of half-angels. The Lightbringer series was Stamm’s first foray into YA, self-publishing and novel writing. She had previously contributed to the anthology Into the Storm: Journeys with Alzheimer’s, a collection of true stories about Alzheimer’s and dementia, and Undead of Winter — An Anthology, a collection of wintry horror stories.
“I was reading and writing a lot of essays and autobiographical pieces when all of a sudden all I wanted to read was (young adult) fantasy, so I indulged myself,” Stamm says. She found that her dive into young adult literature as a reader was also pulling her in as a writer. She kept thinking about how she would write a YA novel and after a while she decided she had enough ideas to start. After asking a close friend who had published both traditionally and independently about the two options, she decided to go it alone.
“I thought, ‘Why not? Let’s try this,’ because I’m kind of a control freak so I knew I would like being able to make all the decisions,” Stamm says. “I think if I knew then what I know now, how much self-publishing would entail, I might have been too intimidated.”
Learning how to format books for e-publishing and print publishing required Stamm to read up on HTML coding and design formatting and to become familiar with the artistic elements of the novel, including the all-important cover. In publishing her first book, A Gift of Wings, Stamm decided to change the cover from a line drawing of wings to something more dramatic, fantastical and dark.
“The first cover was a very nice cover,” Stamm says, “but it didn’t speak to the age group or the genre as nicely as this one does.”
Although Stamm’s readership is small, the response to the Lightbringer series has been generally positive. On Amazon, A Gift of Light receives a five-star average, but its sequel, A Gift of Shadows, gets one poor review from a reader who hates the new love interest. Both books consistently receive four- or five-star ratings on Barnes & Noble and Kobo. A Gift of Wings also received a 4.5-star rating on IndieReader.com, earning it an IndieReader Approved designation on this website dedicated to independently published literature.
“It’s no exaggeration to say there are way more paranormal novels out there than any one person can be expected to read, and a lot of them have angels in them,” writes reviewer Niko Sylvester. “So I hope I’ll be forgiven when I say I approached A Gift of Wings with … considerable feelings of doubt. Stamm’s writing, though, soon had me setting my misgivings aside — while it’s not perfect prose, it’s definitely good, and it’s very evident the author has spent a lot of time honing her craft.”
With all the paranormal fantasy novels out there, why do readers keep reading Stamm? What draws them in?
“I think it’s related to an appeal to the extraordinary within the ordinary,” says Stamm. “Fantasy allows readers to explore modern mythology and questions of being and to reclaim and domesticate the dark and scary.”
When it comes to writing urban fantasy YA novels, Stamm herself feels drawn to the questions they present about identity, purpose and place.
“Or maybe I’m just immature for my age,” the 49-year-old jokes. “That’s my secret identity — I’m really a young person in a middle-age body.”