If I’m doing my job, my work stands up to DFW and Franzen and Egan no matter where it gets stocked in bookstores. But frankly, I’ll never be as purely gifted as those writers. There are, however, YA writers who are among the world’s best living novelists: M. T. Anderson and Markus Zusak, for instance.
I don’t really think novels for adults have inherently different themes from YA novels (like, Egan’s Good Squad is functionally a kind of coming-of-age story, albeit not one about teenagers. And David Foster Wallace is certainly very popular with teenagers).
I like publishing the way I publish partly because it reminds me that books are supposed to do something other than just prove to the reader that the author is intelligent. (I don’t think that criticism applies to DFW or Franzen or Egan, but too much literary fiction is merely clever.) I’m very prone to that kind of self-indulgence, and honestly it is only when I am writing for teenagers that I feel like I am doing work that is useful.
And that’s very important to me: Writing novels takes a long time, and it’s completely impossible for me to do it unless I feel like the thing I’m working on is going to be helpful to people.
Maybe to my discredit as a writer, I like to make stuff that is useful more than I like to make stuff that is beautiful.* In short, I write because I share DFW’s belief that books can actually make human life better. For me, at least for the conceivable future, that means writing YA novels.**
And I don’t feel like you’re taking the easy way out if you read my books. There’s plenty of room for both Franzen and me. Reading isn’t an easy way out. Watching NCIS is an easy way out.
* although of course books are seldom useful unless they are also beautiful.
** I mean, of course I am not saying that adult fiction is not helpful: DFW’s work, for instance, is extremely helpful to me on a literally daily basis. I just mean that I personally feel most useful, as a writer, when writing books about teenagers. And readers, at least thus far, seem to agree.