Planting Faith and Spirituality in MG, YA, NA and Adult: What are the differences?


Back in February I did a workshop on Planting Spirituality in MG, YA, NA and Adult books. Today Myrria suggested that I might want to share the workshop with you.

Before I start I want to tell you a little bit about how I came to be doing this presentation and a little about myself. When I was asked to do a presentation I wasn’t sure I should or what I would even talk about. After some prayerful consideration and talking to a colleague and doing a little bit of praying  I concluded that I should talk about the differences between writing YA and Adult with a little side note about getting spirituality into the stories.

As I prepared this presentation with Jesus at my side I kept the two subjects as separate things to be addressed. I found a Bible verse from Paul and applied it to the spirituality part but not the differences part, which had expanded to include Middle- grade and New Adult.

Then a friend critiqued and gave me some suggestions and God chuckled.  One of the suggestions was to carry the spirituality through the whole presentation, in essence combine them.  Once I started to do that St. Paul’s exhortation to the early Christians also made more sense. The presentation became Planting Faith and Spirituality in MG, YA, NA and Adult: What are the differences?

Before I dive into the presentation let me tell you a little about myself and my books.

First I am a cradle Catholic. That doesn’t mean I am a perfect Catholic just that I have been doing it since I was an infant.  For the first forty years of my life I was a surface Catholic. I said and did all the right things but there was no depth to my relationship with Jesus. At forty years old God sent me a personal invitation in the form of my fourth child. I had raised three children already and was on the verge of empty nest. God had other plans and gave us Ana. While He chuckled at his change in my plans He also revealed to me a new purpose in my life. Along with raising my new daughter, He wanted me to write and share His word. Once I got settled with the new baby I took a few writing classes and I wrote.  In the years since then I have struggled, I have had days when I wanted to give up and I have had days of monumental highs, but all through this process God has been by my side. I now have several published novels including three YA fantasy books, Palace of the Twelve Pillars, Palace of the Three Crosses and Sanctuary of Nine Dragons, all traditionally published and available in digital format.  The  MG fantasy Sir E. Robert Smythe and the School Bully with five more under contract is also available in digital format. Women of the Bible: A Study that’s not shown here. that’s not shown here started its life out traditionally published, but after the publisher dropped me since it was in digital format, I left it on Amazon and then a year ago I went through CreateSpace and made it available in print. So I guess that makes it a hybrid.  I am currently working on a sequel to the YA fantasy series and finishing up the sixth book in the MG fantasy series.


So enough about me: here is Planting Faith and Spirituality in MG, YA, NA and Adult: What are the differences.

First a little word from St. Paul.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. (1 Corinthians 3: 6). St. Paul’s exhortation is to the Corinthians, a newly planted church in Corinth. There was disagreement about who they should follow to continue to grow the church. I think as writers we struggle with the same thing when it comes to writing faith and spirituality into our stories. We think we have to do it all. Paul’s message tells us that there is more at play when doing God’s work and we need to let God do the work that only He can do.

As writers our characters and their stories are the seeds we plant and nurture, but it is up to God to give the growth. So let us not usurp God, but instead be His faithful gardeners by using our stories to plant and nurture those seeds.

Our characters need to reflect the writer’s mission. They must plant and water the seed but let God see to the growth. They are not loud gongs, but quiet bells. Like the writer the characters job is not to force the conversion, but to encourage, to present God’s world to the other characters and then finally to let God reap the harvest.

The first thing that needs to be done is defining the different categories. Since I write fiction I will focus on that, but I think the definitions can be applied to nonfiction as well. So here is a list of what age groups each category is focused on:

Middle-age (also known as middle grade): 8-12 year olds

Young Adult: 12-16 year olds

New Adult: 16 and beyond.

Adult: 18 and beyond

Based on my limited experience these age groups are more guidelines than set in stone rules. Also you will note that middle-age or middle grade is not middle schoolers. While this category includes low end middle schoolers it also includes high end elementary school.  And the young adult category can include high end middle school (junior high) as well as high school. I also feel that the YA category can be bumped up to eighteen years old, but once the characters is out of high school and heading to college or independent living they definitely fall into the new adult category.  So it looks as if the basic definitions need to be expanded. To do that I’ll start with word counts:

Middle-Age: 20-55,000 In this age group, the attention span is shorter and the message needs to be delivered quickly and succinctly. While description is necessary you need to focus more on the actions of the characters.

Young Adult: 55-80,000 The attention span has lengthened but the reader with so much other stimulation in their lives still needs quick and succinct. More description can be used as well as more subplots.

New Adult: 70-90,000

Adult: 70-110,000

 I have learned in making the transition from YA to MG, writing for each category is different. Each has its own nuances that yes can be overcome, but not without some learning.

One thing to note about these word counts is that some genres like science fiction/ fantasy tend to defy these rules and have higher word counts, because the author is creating a world instead of using the known world.

Now you can see the older the reader the longer the word count, but it still doesn’t tell us what the differences are in the actual writing of the category. So I will go on to supply a more fleshed out definition and give some examples of books in each category.

Middle-grade is the levels were we Plant the Seeds. Readers in this age group are still being taught and exploring what they are learning. They are also beginning to learn and experience their faith.

Middle-grade:  For these readers

~ the story features pre-teen and teen characters, 10-13 year olds

~ is often told in third person.

~ usually a single inciting event

~ no profanity, graphic violence or sexuality (May include romance, crush or first kiss)

~ readers and characters are focused on friends and family

~ outwardly focused on the character’s immediate world

~ characters react to what happens to them with minimal self-reflection

~ material can’t be too mature

~ generally end on a hopeful note

 Middle grade: Sir E. Robert Smythe and the School Bully:

~characters are 12 and 13 years old

~ Lives with parents

~Paul and Nate are bullied by Billy

~ Paul reacts by disobeying his superiors and striking out on his own to learn about Billy

~ reacts without thinking about consequences or how others will be affected

~ story ends with Billy and Paul resolving their differences

~ fantastical creatures can serve as alternatives or helpers in conjunction with parents Sir E. Robert Smythe

Middle-grade Examples:

  1. Lisa Hendey; The Chime Travelers Series
  2. Ann Frailey: Georgios
  3. Dominic de Souza: The Ring of Fantasy
  4. Mary Jo Nickum: A Girl Named Mary
  5. Christina Weigand: Galactic Safety Council series


Young Adult: This is the Nurturing phase for readers. We’ve taught them and are still teaching, but we are also watering those fragile seeds planted in MG. Now the author focuses on nurturing as the reader begins to explore and expand their knowledge while the potter’s clay is still a little pliable.

Young Adult: Nurturing

~stories feature 14-18 year olds not yet in college

~ often told in first person, complexity in text and theme

~ presence/absence of parents add a wrinkle in characters story arc

~ like real teens- emotionally volatile wanting independence but needing parental guidance

~ more easily tempted by the present while developing a more mature long range view

~ profanity, graphic violence, romance and sexuality allowable

~ discovering how they fit in the world beyond friends and family

~ more reflective and analyzing the meanings, more inwardly focused

~ endings can be less optimistic

~ romance often an element

~ the world can be weird and scary, complex place

 Young Adult: Palace of the Twelve Pillars

~ Brandan and Joachim 15 years old

~ parental influence limited, still living with family at beginning of book

~ both struggle with independence: forced on Joachim when he is kidnapped, Brandan strives to find it while struggling against  parental  Interference

~ Both are tempted and led by the situations they find themselves in; Joachim would rather things stayed

The way they were, Brandan wants to rush into the future with no regard for the past

~ Both have definite ideas about their faith and their decisions show what their beliefs are

~ know what is right and wrong

~ focus inward to make choices based on what they have learned

~ at the conclusion the future is not so bright or clear


Young Adult Examples:

  1. J. Cattapan: Angelhood
  2. Regina Doman: Fairy Tale Novels
  3. Christina Weigand: The Palace of the Twelve Pillars trilogy


New Adult: This is the Nurturing/Harvest phase. At this point most of the teaching is done. There is a basic shape to the reader’s faith, but they still may need a little prompting and encouragement.

New Adult: Nurturing / Harvesting

~ stories feature 18-25 year olds in the real world or college

~ story lines include being on your own, college, jobs, dating, figuring out how to adult

~ can steam up the pages, no limit on sex, foul language

~ characters are independent, facing adult responsibilities


New Adult: Palace of the Three Crosses

~ Brandan and Joachim are in their late teens

~ They are living independently of their families and figuring out how to be kings and husbands

~ Each will marry; there is some courting and the loss of a child and later the birth of a child

~ there is consideration of the world beyond their own as they learn how to be husbands

and kings


New Adult Examples:

Karen Barbre Ullo: Jennifer the Damned

Carolyn Perpetua Astfalk: Stay With Me

Candace Simar: Birdie


Adult: This is the Harvest stage. Everything characters and readers have learned will be tested and explored as they find their own place in God’s world. Even in this phase they can still learn although what they learn is not dependent on teachers and parents, but on their own experiences and that of the other characters in the story. Little difference from NA except the characters are probably out of college and pursuing adult lives.


~ implies more about the characters thoughts and reactions

~ adult characters interact with other adults

~ little difference between NA and adult that I could find


Adult: Sanctuary of Nine Dragons

~ Brandan and Joachim are in their 20’s

~ Their interactions are with other adults

~ Brandan and Joachim’s faith is tested as each confronts their beliefs

~ They face adult situations like marriage and parenting

 Here are a few examples of Adult books. Like all the other examples these are just a few of the myriad of wonderful books in each category.

Adult Examples:

Jane Lebak: Seven Archangels

Karina Fabian: Mind Over Matter series

Linda Rawlins: The Bench, Fatal Breach


 Some authors that I used for examples might feel that their books belong in other categories,  but like Rick Riordan, J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and Veronica Roth to name a few others, their novels span more than one category. For instance I would have thought Rick Riordan’s books were YA and yet they are read by Middle-graders, New Adults and Adult. Even the Palace of the Twelve Pillars series that I wrote, I would have never said while I was writing that it was Middle grade, yet I know middle graders that have read it. I thought it was YA and even possibly New Adult, although at the time of publication NA was just coming on the scene.

The point here is; Yes there are guideline and it would behoove a writer to explore and learn where hers/his story fits. That being said I would only worry about the category after the book is written. Don’t stress about the category. Let editors and PR people figure out what box it fits into after it is written.

The one thing I haven’t talked about is your personal preference. There really is not too much I can say on that topic. Your choice needs to start with prayer to discern your niche. Only you can know what God puts on your heart. I started out writing for small children and didn’t feel up to the task. I then switched to writing for adults and yet again didn’t feel as if that’s where I was supposed to be. So I went back to where I started and took up YA again. It is there that I feel the most comfortable, and I believe it is where God wants me to be. Recently I took a stab at MG, and although I have been successful in transitioning from YA to MG I still feel my passion lies in YA.  Each of us needs to find our own little heart place and then write it.

Each category has its own unique set of parameters and while there is a little fluidity between the categories you must remember that just because you can write one transitioning to another may not be as easy as it sounds. I remember thinking when I took on the Middle grade project; how hard can this be? What I discovered is that those differences I mentioned before can be challenging. Younger or older audiences have different needs, different levels of comprehension and just because they are only a few years apart the writer really needs to consider those parameters when making the shift. The results can be rewarding when you find your niche. Just make sure to follow the guidelines while following your heart.

So to conclude this presentation here are a few things that bear repeating:

As writers our characters and their stories are the seeds we plant and nurture, but it is up to God to give the growth.

Like the writer the characters job is not to force the conversion, but to encourage, to present God’s world to the other characters and to let God reap the harvest.

So as St. Paul exhorted that young Christian community in Corinth: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. (1 Corinthians 3: 6).

So what are you going to plant?



Joachim’s Tests

palaceoftwelvepillars200x300 (2)A few weeks ago I posted an article about Brandan’s tests. This week I wanted to talk about Joachim’s tests. Joachim’s tests are a little different from Brandan’s. Sidramah’s goal is to either turn Joachim to evil or destroy him.






 The walls, carved of black onyx, created a dark, forbidding aura. Cold wet slime covered the floors; Joachim’s blood seemed to freeze as he walked on it. An eerie yellow light emanated from the corner, and though he tried to fight it, something inexorabably drew him closer. Trembling, he approached and stepped into the sulfurous light. His knees buckled, and he fell to the rock floor of the cave but continued to crawl forward. A dark, daunting presence appeared in a cloud of smoke and fog and floated in front of Joachim. The being’s black robe brushed the floor; straight raven-colored hair rested on its shoulders. The figure’s red glowing gaze seemed to penetrate Joachim.
The man held a silver goblet. Writhing snakes encircled the vessel, slithering up the man’s arms and wrapping around his neck. The prince stood and took a step back but could go no further. Something held him in place and then shoved him toward the figure. When Joa stood within arm’s reach, the being pushed the goblet into his hands. “Drink.” The prince tried to drop the cup, but the snakes wrapped themselves around his hands and began the journey up his arms. The mug was hot and felt as if it was fusing to his hands, yet the cup remained intact. His arms took on a will of their own and raised the vessel to his lips. When the cup touched his mouth, the vile potation slid over his lips and down his throat. The snakes released him, and he dropped the goblet. Waves of pain assaulted his abdomen while his mouth burned. He fell. * * * * “What was that?” Fuzzy memories of a peyote tea lesson and its effects filled his mind as blackness and dark visions took shape. The figure picked him up. “You don’t belong here. You aren’t worthy to be Sidramah’s servant. The volcanic fires of Mount Dablaya will temper your rebellion and be final proof of your unworthiness.” * * * *


The first is an attempt to convert him by convincing him that his family doesn’t care about him:

The man turned as the wall of the cave erupted into a sheet of flame. Joachim was catapulted into the fiery vision. Flames licked his body. Pain exploded in his brain, and fireworks erupted around him. He tried to find an escape from the intense heat. His stomach roiled as he inhaled smoke, and he threw up before he could move on. Bile lingered in his mouth, igniting the impulse to vomit again. Dreams of cool water streaming over his body and satisfying his thirst teased at the edges of his mind like chickens just out of reach of a chained dog. After catching
his breath, inhaling smoke and sparks, he resumed crawling and searching for an escape route. He cried out, “Father help me. Asha come to my aid!” The response was Waldrom’s laughter echoing off the walls. “They aren’t here. They don’t care. They won’t help you.” After what seemed like hours of crawling through the flames, he exited into a field. A thunderstorm roared around him. The rain pelted his burned, aching body. There was momentary respite before the cooling raindrops turned to ash. Rivers of lava flowed down the mountain on their journey to the canyon standing before him. On the opposite rim was a sun-dappled meadow with the Go Ruden River flowing lazily into the forest beyond. On the banks, his father and mother watched Brandan and Myrria dance. Disregarding the canyon, Joachim ran toward them. At the edge of a precipice, he halted. “Father, Myrria, it’s me. Help!” His father turned. Waldrom stood behind the king. “Your father no longer loves you. He abandoned his search and is making your brother king in your stead. Come to me. I’ll take care of you. You’ll become my heir, and together, we’ll avenge you by destroying your father and brother.” “No, you’re not my father. King Theodric’s my father. I won’t bow to you.” “You will, or you’ll die like your father and brother.” The dragon flapped her wings as if to fly to him but froze as Waldrom stared at her. Then the wizard focused his gaze on prince and king. They fell twisting and writhing as mist descended on them. Screams erupted but were soon silenced as the mist lifted. Their faces were grey-blue with eyes rolled back. Lava covered their bodies as colored glass rained on the smoldering field. “No!” Joachim stepped forward and fell into the canyon. * * * *
Joachim opened his eyes, and the man stood before him. “They don’t want you. They will not rescue you. Turn to Sidramah, turn to Waldrom. They will meet your needs.” “No, they can’t. Asha and Father will come for me.”



When Joachim doesn’t succumb then the Evil One steps up his game:

The man disappeared. Joachim sat on the floor, his head dropped into his hands, and tears fell down his face. “Will they come for me? Should I trust Waldrom? Asha please tell me what to do.” He looked at the wall, and the stone seemed to dissolve as black mist rose, revealing the great room at the Palace of Three Crosses. Waldrom sat on the throne with Lilia standing by his side. “Ahh, Joachim, I see you have arrived and just in time. You’re about to witness a great moment in the history of Mahorg and Crato. Lilia has agreed to be my bride.” Diving at the throne, Joachim yelled, “No, this isn’t happening. Mother would never agree to be yours. She is with Father.” “That is where you’re mistaken my boy.” Waldrom pushed him with his foot. “Your mother is mine!” “No, she’ll never be yours.” The vision faded as he turned to run from Waldrom and saw Lilia entering. He glanced back, and the previous scene was gone. Overjoyed, he ran to her. She was dressed in a black gown with a black hood covering her brown hair. The queen stopped his embrace with a stern look. “You must give in. Your father is no good for you. You’ll never be king. He will bestow that honor on Brandan. Waldrom is the only one who can make you king. Return to him, and you will get nothing.” “Mother, how can you say that?” “I don’t love your father. He blinded me, led me to believe he loved me. But he didn’t, and it broke my heart. Waldrom has always loved me. I now realize I should have been with him. Theodric is evil and treacherous. Accept Waldrom while you still have a chance.” “No, you’re lying. He has cast some kind of spell on you. Father loves you. He loves all of us. We’ll be together soon. We can forget all about Waldrom and his evil ways.” “I’m surprised you still believe that drivel, boy.” Waldrom laughed. “Your father doesn’t care. Brandan doesn’t care. There is nothing left for you but to come to me. I am the only one who cares.” “Do as he suggests,” Lilia put her hand on Joachim’s shoulder. “It is the only way.” This wasn’t right. Father would never abandon him. Brandan did care, and Mother would never go to King Waldrom. That wasn’t the way things were supposed to be. “It is the only way.” Lilia hugged him. He opened his eyes. “I can’t do this. But what if I don’t? Who will I have left to turn to?” The man in black reappeared. “You know what you must do. Sidramah is the only way. Give into him. Let him give you what you need.” Turning away from the man, Joachim fell asleep. Troubling dreams haunted him throughout the night. They were filled with harpies and banshees that caressed him while trying to lure him into their lairs. Giant wolves and Nemean lions stalked him and occasionally leapt at him, attempting to kill him. Joachim pushed the harpies away as he tried to run from the lions. Arms of skeletons kept reaching out, and Joachim batted them away. The creatures continued to come at him as he ran down a stale, dark passageway smelling of rot and decay. He moved toward a light at the end of the tunnel, but the closer he got, the farther away the light seemed. He tripped over a pile of bones, twisting his ankle.
His father appeared before him. Joachim reached out. “Father, I’m here. Help me… Take me home.” “No, Joachim, I’m not here to take you away. You must stay with Waldrom and learn from him. He’s your only salvation. I no longer need you. Brandan will take your place and be a fine king when the time comes. There is no need for you to come back.” His father’s image disolved into Waldrom who looked into Joa’s eyes. “I told you he no longer wanted you. Now, will you come to me and be my son and heir.” He saw the kingdom of Crato with himself as king and Waldrom, a great wizard. The last thing he saw was Waldrom and Lilia joined…and Waldrom became his father.


In one more attempt to sway Joachim, Sidramah plants seeds of death and doubt in Joachim’s mind:

He awoke on the hard ground. Sweat peppered his brow and chest as questions tormented him. He spoke, hoping to hear the answers and yet knowing he wouldn’t. “Who should I believe? Waldrom gave me no reasons to trust him, but Father hasn’t shown up to rescue me yet. Maybe he gave up on me in favor of Brandan. And what of the dark magic?” Joachim could do so much more if he embraced it, but it went against everything he learned and believed. A Nemean lion roared from the depths of the cave making Joachim jump. He ran toward the entrance, but a gray dragon blocked his path. Beyond the dragon he could see Mother, Father, and Brandan playing in the surf of the Takan Ocean. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them, Waldrom and Mother stood before him, beckoning to join them. A celebration surrounded them. Both were dressed in radiant white clothes. Rosas covered the ground beneath them. Mantion and humans danced and sang around them. Brandan stood beside a glass enclosed coffin. Father lay in the box, dressed in black. Brandan ran his hand over the casket and looked Joachim in the eye. “You’ve already killed. Come join us and share the power of Sidramah. It is the only way.” The battlefield lay before him. Father, frozen on the ground. Joachim stood over him blood covered sword in hand. The dragon roared, spewing fire, engulfing Joachim. The prince ran to the dragon screaming. He had to get out of this place of evil. He couldn’t succumb to the evil. There must be a way out of this and away from Waldrom. He would let them think he had given up till he could find another way. The prince collapsed in a heap at the feet of the dragon, his charred body crying out for relief from the pain. His mother appeared. She caressed his wounds and chanted a healing spell. The burns faded. “Joa, come with me. All will be well. Just give into the power of Sidramah.” “No, I can’t. I will never….” She stopped stroking his burns. The wounds remanifested. He screamed again. The queen touched him again, healing him. “To be healed you must. Please?” Once more, Brandan and Waldrom stood before him. “I will do whatever you ask, Mother.” Joachim bowed his head in defeat. The dragon and visions faded. Joachim limped from the cave, his burns healed and all signs of his travails gone as if dreams. He stumbled on an exposed glingkol root and toppled to the moss-covered ground of the meadow. He couldn’t give into the evil. He couldn’t do as Mother, as Brandan asked. He must not succumb to the evil.

Will Joachim give into the evil or will the evil destroy him? The answers lie in Palace of the Twelve Pillars: Book One. There you can see the struggles of both Brandan and Joachim. How will the twin princes respond to their very different tests and what is the destiny of the world they live in?


To see more of Joachim and the role he plays in the fate of Ramajadin check out Palace of the Twelve Pillars: Book One: