I never set out to write outside the lines. When I wrote my first manuscript, I had a twelve-year-old unsophisticated daughter and I wanted to write something for her––and girls like her. Something fun and sweet. Something safe. Inspired by a novel written by a big name YA writer, I sat down and wrote that first manuscript. It was good enough to land an agent who sold the manuscript, and I envisioned my career unfolding as a writer of contemporary YA romantic comedies. And I was okay with that.
Then my editor was laid off and the new editor was not feeling the project. At. All. She cut the manuscript loose and we ended up back out on submission. Trouble was, the climate had changed while I was doing revisions for the first editor. Paranormal had shot through the roof and all my rejections expressed a fear that my sweet little contemporary would get lost.
We were still waiting on the final verdict from one last publisher when I decided to start something new. It was the story of a girl whose reputation was trashed by a boy’s lie back in middle school. Now the girl had just graduated high school and the boy was a Marine, home from Afghanistan. He was wounded, both emotionally and physically, and kind of an outcast––not unlike the girl. It was her story. And, again, I had another writer––whose style I admire––in mind when I began.
Except her story wasn’t working. So I tried alternating voices. And when I started writing for the guy, his story roared in my head. He was loud, clear, profane, and refused to go away.
“The first thought that enters my mind when I see what awaits me at the end of the concourse is a prayer––well, sort of. It’s more like Jesus Christ, please tell me my mom didn’t hire a fucking band.”
This was not what I expected.
I sent the first three chapters to my agent to get her opinion. After all, you don’t see many 19-year-old Marines in YA novels. She read it, loved it, and a week later told me she couldn’t stop thinking about the character. She suggested we submit a partial manuscript to a group of her favorite editors and I was beyond shocked when it sold at auction.
But as exciting as that was, this isn’t about the sale, the character, or even the story. It’s about finding my own distinct YA voice.
Like Danielle, I have a kindergarten scissors story. I had trouble with the lefties, too. They were too loose and when you tried to cut with them, they’d slip and crease the paper. So when we were given sheets of red paper with an apple shape to cut out, I put down the scissors and tore around the lines. My apple had ragged edges, but I’d still managed to maintain the integrity of the shape. Hanging on the bulletin board, mine was distinct. As I mentioned in Danielle’s comments, I got a “needs improvement” on my report card for my cutting skills, but even at five I was smart enough to know that my solution had still produced a recognizable apple.
I guess that’s how I feel about my writing these days. I’ve put down the scissors and let my own voice, my own style, emerge. Ragged edges and all.
My book, THE NEW NORMAL, is due Fall 2012 from Bloomsbury.