An open letter to a sharp young reader who would like my characters to just kiss, already.

Dear ______,
Thank you very much for writing to me. It makes me very happy that you liked Jackaby and that you care about how he and Miss Rook interact. You are not alone in your desire for a “ship” between them.

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Relationships matter, and not just the squishy ones.

There’s nothing wrong with “shipping” characters if you see chemistry—that’s awesome. It shows emotional investment and speculation—but platonic relationships benefit from strong chemistry, too.

Speaking of chemistry, biochemist Tim Hunt recently insulted one of the most intelligent communities on the planet by suggesting female scientists have no place in a man’s laboratory. To be fair to Mr. Hunt, he didn’t denounce women altogether, he just called them crybabies and told them to go build their own treehouse if they wanted to split atoms and cure cancer. Simply put, “the trouble with girls” according to Tim Hunt, is that men and women fall in love, and that gets in the way of important work (link).

Hunt can’t imagine a world in which men and women might value and respect each other without romantic entanglements. Why should he? Authors and publishers can’t seem to imagine it either. Hollywood certainly can’t imagine it. Storytellers paid to do nothing BUT imagine absurd realities can’t be bothered to imagine such a thing, so why should Hunt be held to a higher standard?

The fact is we’re more comfortable imagining superheroes fighting aliens above the streets of New York or genetically mutated reptiles practicing eastern martial arts beneath them than we are prepared to imagine their sole female companion might NOT become a love interest.

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Assemble a funny group of men or women and you’ve got a “buddy comedy,” but mix the genders and it invariably becomes a “romantic comedy.” Rom-Coms are great, but there’s something wrong with the pernicious theme that romance is the ONLY way men and women can interact.

To be clear, I’m not against love. Romance is exciting and sweet and—well—romantic, but there are already plenty of lovers in YA. What I’m against is raising another generation incapable of imagining male/female relationships that are NOT romantic. When we read about flirtation, passion, and heartbreak, we are learning valuable lessons about how to love, but there are other relationships—relationships with mentors, allies, colleagues, friends—which can teach us to respect the other people in our lives, too.

Stories matter. How many great women never rise to their full potential because they are perpetually taught that their role is to marry a hero, not to become one? How many great men subconsciously believe that the only women who matter are the ones destined to love them? Is it any wonder so many men grow up to act either dismissive or aggressive toward women?

I realize that these are gargantuan sociocultural issues, and I also realize that you are 11 years old and trying to enjoy your Summer vacation, so I’ll tone it down a bit as I wrap this up.

Basically, _______, what I’m trying to say is you’re sharp and you’re capable. You can handle big words like “sociocultural,” and you can handle it if my characters don’t kiss. Someday you’ll be able to handle flying jets or running for president or working in a lab. When that time comes, don’t let some sexist old fart tell you that girls are too much trouble.

Kiss. Don’t kiss. Find relationships of value and cherish them—all of them—for what they are.

—Will Ritter


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18 responses to “WHY AREN’T THEY KISSING YET?

  1. Well said! And a kind way to put it. There will be fan fiction here, you do realise this? 🙂 And it will probably have your characters do things some of your readers want to see, but you never intended. That’s what fan fiction is for. Readers get frustrated when it doesn’t turn out as they imagined, so they write their own. Hopefully, you don’t mind that. But you do give the right advice, though the young lady might take a few years to understand that it IS the right advice. 😉

    • I’m all for fan fiction and shipping—nothing wrong with imagination. If I’m feeling fancy, I might call it engaged, emotionally invested deep reading with inferential thought and creative synthesis. If I’m feeling like a fanboy I might just call it fun. (I wrote one or two of my own before publishing.)

      • I love both of your descriptions! And yes, I did quite a lot of fan fiction in my time too. Around 150 stories, before someone finally started paying me to write. I think it did me a lot of good, gave me discipline, taught me to think about characterisation and gave me a built-in critical audience. 😉

  2. Thank you so much for this! As my books feature for the most part platonic relationships, between both men and women (and a little romance on the side when there’s time) this really made me happy. Platonic friendships are my favorite to read about and despite popular belief, they are just as dynamic as romantic relationships, if fact, more so in my opinion, as there is no chemical attraction to start it off, just classic friendship and how you think of one another. There definitely needs to be more platonic relationships in YA.

  3. Pingback: Jackaby - William Ritter - Books Are My Thing

  4. Pingback: Beastly Bones (Jackaby #2) | Required Reading

  5. Robin Jenkins

    I love your books. As a female who grew up with a number of male friends and constantly heard “so, which one do you like?” I can tell you it is refreshing to see a fun, connected relationship without it being a RELATIONSHIP. Men and women can just be friends and love each other as much as same sex friends do. Keep writing! I can’t wait to see what Abigail and Jackaby get into next !

  6. I just finished Beastly Bones, and one of the things I think that makes this series stand out besides the clever writing, and fascinating characters. Is Jackaby’s and Rook’s relationship, platonic relationships are almost non existent in Y.A. Thank you for that!

  7. raven Shadowbird

    At the risk of sounding like all of the other comments above me, I also want to just thank you for the welcome break. It is so hard — nigh impossible — to find any Young Adult fiction that has good, old-fashioned friendships walking hand in hand with the romantic ones. This comment will probably be one, big dollop of honey, but I am also glad to see that Jackaby and Abigail have a more friend/father-and-daughter relationship rather than any romantic one. I’ve only read the first book, but from where I stand, if they did develop a romantic attachment, one must ask where that might leave Charlie. I have no idea if something happens to him later on, but there you go.
    So yes. All of this extremely wordy and possibly badly-punctuated shenanigans is to say thank you for not doing it any other way. It really was a breath of fresh air. 🙂

  8. James Hoover

    What do you think of as your greatest accomplishment?

  9. Ashli Lenox

    I was never one to “ship” characters, but I have to admit that since book one, a tiny part of me wanted to see something happen between Abigail and Jackaby.
    Now don’t get me wrong, I think platonic relationships are important. As someone who has many male friends, I completely appreciate a strong friendship between male and female characters. And honestly, there needs to be more of it in Y.A novels. Its pretty hard to find a good story that has a female lead that doesn’t involve the need to include squishy eye-rolling romance. So finally finding a series that breaks those “standards” is really a breath of fresh air. But in this case, that tiny part of me wishes that the friendship Abigail has with Jackaby would have been with Charlie instead.
    I don’t know, maybe I’m just seeing extra chemistry where there shouldn’t be….
    I know I feel differently from those above, but it’s in my nature to be a bit different.
    Either way, I absolutely love this series and can’t wait to read more!

  10. Mona

    I was definitely hoping that Jackaby and Abigail would get together while reading the book. They just seemed like such I good match and I guess I’m just a sucker for romance books and was a little disappointed when it didn’t happen. But you’re explanation was beautiful and I can see the book in a new light now. I do agree that the book may have had more economic value with a romance between Abigail and Jackaby but I can see that it has more true value without one. You’re making a statement and trying to teach a lesson and if I’m being honest one that I probably need to learn. But the things I really did admire about the book was how Abigail got to be the hero or “The dragonslayer” and quite literally. I love stories and movies where the women are hero’s. Hell the only superhero movie that could really hold my attention was wonder woman 😂 I also loved the wisdom shared in the book. I could immediately tell that the author was incredibly intelligent and wise. I also love how that wisdom was portrayed through Jackaby.

  11. Julia

    I’m honestly trying to pick what to say out of the swirling tornado of thoughts in my head. I LOVE your books. I don’t think that is good enough description because they had such impacts on me in so many ways. I have read all four and am half way through them a second time. I am going to to comment on this particular post but I have so much more to say, way more than could fit in a text box, and have been trying to figure out how write to you properly.
    Anyway, I really enjoyed reading and can relate to what you said here. I have a friend group that is three boys and me, and I like to just hang out with them. There needs to be more mixed gender relationships and friendships that others won’t just assume are romantic. For me, Charlie and Abbigail’s relationship was adorable and I loved reading every bit of fluff and flirting, but I enjoyed the moments where she and Jackaby were just being chummy just as much. I wasn’t sure at the beginning of the first book when Jackaby was observing Abigail in his weird way at the inn what kind of relationship that would pan to be, but by the end of the book I felt it would be a strong friendship, but nothing romantic, and I liked that. I saw a few fan fictions that immediately said on the cover that it made Jackaby and Rook a couple and I disagreed with them, but I respect their opinions.
    I don’t want to go into much detail from the later books for people who read this and aren’t far along in the series but, again, I hope I can later! Thank you so much!

  12. Thanks so much for your comments! I’m delighted that you enjoyed the series.

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