Monday, December 22, 2014

Why I Write Young Adult Novels

I've been thinking a lot lately about why it is that I write young adult novels. After all, those teen years of my life from middle school through high school honestly were some of the worst, most painful and agonizing times for which you could not pay me enough to relive. Between the jealousies, the girl dramas, the emotional rollercoasters, the painful breakups, agonizing over body image, popularity, the brand of my jeans, and bad hair days, it's a wonder I survived. So why would I ever want to go back there and immerse myself back into a world where every single event that happens, big and small, feels like the end of the world?

I suppose I write for teenage me, because in my stories I always favor the underdog, the stereotypes can be broken, the prettiest girl doesn't always get the hottest guy, and the longshot can pay off. I rewrite history - maybe my history. Maybe I simply give some other teenager out there hope that they can rewrite theirs too. Because when you are a teenager navigating those years, so much energy is wasted on all the wrong things and the wrong people. We judge ourselves by how we are viewed through the lenses of our peers, many of whom we do not even like or respect to begin with. We try to blend in lest we earn ourselves an unsavory label: geek, freak, loser, whatever. It's not until we become older that we realize that letting our freak flag fly is what makes us so individual, so cool, and that all those people that flew under the radar in high school are actually the ones with the genuine hearts and the real stories. I write for them too.

My stories are filled with humor and heartbreak and unlikely friendships where limits are tested, often by the social infrastructures of high school or family life. My characters are resilient and dig deep to discover their own self worth, even if they may not know initially it exists at all. Perfect is boring and bad decisions and scars are what make the stories compelling and stomach churning.

The first book I wrote, BAND GEEK, did not sell. A common thread of feedback was that a boy main character was a tough sell, because although a girl would be interested in getting inside a guy's head and seeing how he thinks, they wouldn't be interested in THIS guy's head. Why? Because he was an awkward band geek. I felt like that was selling a potential audience short, as well as perpetuating the idea that the only interesting characters to read about are ones who are handsome and super jocks or bad boys from the wrong side of the tracks. Nice guys fumbling their way through high school hoping to catch a break? Not so much. I ESPECIALLY write for THAT kid. For all those kids in the marching band with my son that year I wrote BAND GEEK who didn't have a place in young adult literature except as a negative geeky stereotype, but they were the kids who devoured books and loved to read. And they wanted to read about one of their own, someone like them who made it through okay and maybe even got the girl of his dreams or got noticed for all the right reasons. Maybe that story would instill a little hope. Because it's awfully hard to find hope sometimes when you are a teenager.

I write young adult novels because I want to help instill that hope. I go back into that world willingly in the hopes that the characters I create may help some reader find the humor and know that they are not alone. That anything (and anyone) can change for the better. And I will never stop writing the kinds of stories where the underdog wins, because those are the stories that fill my heart and make all the battle scars worth it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Procrastibaking and Other Hazards Of The Limbo Writing Zone

So you've finished your last book and it is sitting in the inboxes of half of Manhattan and you are anxiously awaiting news of any sort because you're in this funky sort of limbo state. If the book sells, the editor will want you to revise and you will need to go back in the heads of your previous characters, so you can't possibly dive into something new because that would be practically schizophrenic switching gears like that, right?

Put down the chocolate and log off of Facebook and stop your procrastibaking, my friends. This is what is known as an excuse. Because the truth is: there is no more important time to be writing than right now, while the book is out there. If it sells, editors will want to know what else you've got. Your agent certainly will too, as their relationship with you hinges on your ability to produce more books, not just the one. And because the process takes so long to go from offer to actual publication, there is more than enough time to get seriously knee deep in the next thing so it will not be years between projects and you can strike while the iron is hot.

Even if you can't manage to get the words on the page, begin to research and map out the project. I like to buy a fresh spiral notebook that I dedicate to that project and start to take notes. I write down ideas, scenes, snippets of dialogue, great quotes I find that might suit the story and somehow find a way to be worked in later, ideas on theme - anything I can think of. It makes it so much easier when I sit down to write to have even the vaguest sense of who these characters are going to be and where I want this to go.

That said, I am a total pantser. Often when I start to write, I am working off of a zygote of an idea, and it's my characters that end up taking me the rest of the way there. Other people make charts, or use Save The Cat or Scrivener or Plot Whisperer tecniques. I use it all, but at different times and as needed. But first, I start with characters and setting. Who are these people? What attributes can I give them that make them unique and interesting and quirky so that they will stay with the reader long after they have finished the book? What can happen in their lives that will make a reader want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next? What do they want and what is at stake if they don't get it? What (or whom) is standing in his/her way? Setting is important too, so where is the best place for this story to unfold? Is it someplace familiar to me or do I need to do research? And last but not least, are there other stories out there in the same vein as the one I would like to write? Or films? I begin to draw up lists and start to review them all to make sure I am not inadvertently duplicating something that already exists so I can make sure my take on things is fresh and fun.

The best part is finally diving in and meeting these new characters and finding out who they are and what they have to say. Immersing myself in their world helps me to forget the inevitable angst and anxiety of focusing on the last book and wondering when something will move with it in the ways that I am hoping it will. And when the other book does finally sell, getting back in the heads of those characters will be like meeting up with old friends.

This limbo time is precious. Don't waste it. DO take a break between projects, to clear your head, regroup, celebrate, and dust. (I can usually write my name in it by the end of a project: true story.) But then get busy.