Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Independence--From My Internal Editor (Sydney Salter)

A snarky voice creeps into your mind as you stare at that awkward sentence that's supposed to hook your readers into the next page, you know, in your awesome page-turning novel... But somehow you're not quite writing that manuscript. It's a mess. You know it. And your mean internal editor knows it. She's stabbing the inside of your brain with a huge red pen, screaming, "Cut! Cut! Cut! All of it sucks! You suck. Go clean something. You're a terrible housekeeper, not an artist." And then she cackles.

Ah, the internal editor, always trying to keep word count low and progress slow.

I've learned to distance myself from that doubting voice by fast-drafting during National Novel Writing Month. Both My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters and Swoon At Your Own Risk were written during those crazy November sessions. I made six Thanksgiving pies between writing sessions! Somehow the process works for me--I pound out words without rereading and criticizing until I complete a manuscript that can be revised. Sure, I find huge messy sections, but I always find good stuff too.

Now there's some scientific evidence that fast-drafting works. In Imagine, Jonah Lehrer has a chapter called "Letting Go" in which he says on page 104, "We are so worried about playing the wrong note or saying the wrong thing that we end up with nothing at all, the silence of the scared imagination." Lehrer never mentions NaNoWriMo, but his research definitely encourages us to let go and create without editing. ***

That's why I'm going to try out Camp NaNoWriMo tomorrow: 50,000 words in August. I'm looking forward to ditching my internal editor and discovering my story--without baking all those pies.

*** UPDATE: So apparently, Lehrer used even more fiction techniques, faking some of his anecdotes, etc. Read about it here on NPR's blog. The publisher is offering refunds for people who purchased the book. I'm still going to let go while I write tomorrow, even if the Bob Dylan stuff is all bunk.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Spreading of Wings

When I heard the topic “Independence,” the book that came immediately to mind was Jumpstart the World. In which my 16-year-old protagonist, Elle, gets moved into her own apartment by her mom, because Mom’s new boyfriend doesn’t like living with a teenager. It feels like exile to her, especially at first. But she grows up fast. And when Mom gets dumped by the new boyfriend, and wants Elle to come home, Elle makes the observation that independence only goes one direction. “Independence has no reverse gear.”

Then, as I thought about it more, I realized that most of my YA books have independence as their theme. Sometimes forced, sometimes sought after.

We’ve talked a lot on this blog about YA books that are more or less parent-free. Because just about everybody has made the comment that an awful lot of YA books don’t have parents who factor into the plot in a big way. I think I’ve even addressed it before in my posts. My point at the time was probably that loving, involved parents make better life than they do fiction. No conflict, no story.

Now I realize there’s more to it than that. Independent characters make great stories. If I’m going to follow the story of a highly dependent character (the example that springs to mind is Maria in my YA-crossover Chasing Windmills) it’s to watch them finally break free. Strong is richer and more satisfying to read about, for my book dollars. And independent feels better than dependent.

So in The Day I Killed James, Teresa’s mother has long ago taken off, and her father is emotionally non-existent. Not to make a point about parents, but to give her a chance to stand on her own two feet and decide who to be. In Becoming Chloe, Chloe and Jordy are two street teens who form a bond because there’s no one else around to bond with them. And in The Year of my Miraculous Reappearance, Cynnie’s mom is so drunk so much of the time that Cynnie becomes a parent not only to her three-year-old Down’s Syndrome brother, Bill, but to her mom as well.

It’s a lousy situation in real life, and I wish no kid ever had to go through it. But it’s inspiring, at least to me, to read about a young person who steps up and takes the reins. Kids and teens are doing it, every day, all over the world. We do what we need to do.

Interestingly, the last two novels I’ve written carry through on this theme. They are not YA. They are coming of age novels intended for adults. In Walk Me Home, which will come out next year, a recently orphaned 16-year-old and her 12-year-old sister try to make their way back to a stepfather they think will take them in. But they end up on a Native American reservation, learning a different way to live. And 16-year-old Carly has to learn the tough truth that her younger sister is stronger, braver, and more independent than she is. But Carly steps up eventually. In the novel I just finished this month, 14-year-old (when the story begins) Angie has a mother. But, unfortunately, she wins every maturity contest, hands-down. And when they are thrown out of living space after living space because of her autistic sister, they land on their feet due to Angie’s efforts. Angie practices diligence while her mom practices falling apart. So…now…aren’t you happier to have the story told through Angie’s point of view? Who wants to be in the head of a character who’s always falling apart?

So the conclusion I come to is that I value independence. More than I realized. I had emotional honesty on the very top of my list of admirable traits, but maybe independence should bump it down to number two. Or maybe they should just sit up there side by side, reminding me what my characters might aspire to, whether they currently grasp it or not.

People are beginning to ask me if I have abandonment issues, because of the topics in my books. Not at all. I do very well on my own. Maybe too well. I write about characters who have been abandoned because I love to watch them spread their wings and become the person they were always meant to be.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Every author likes to think they have achieved success based solely on their genius, independent from any outside influence.Well, it ain't so. For me, I made it this far by bleeding dry anyone who could possibly do me any good. From my terrific editor, Claudia Gabel, to the unrecognized geniuses in my writers' group, I got where I am today by treading on the faces of giants. There remains a group, however, who I owe a very real and tremendous debt, which I will now repay by with this cliche gesture.

I never would have become a writer without the following people

The late Mrs. Dawkins (third grade, Hawthorne Elementary)
Mr. Harley Marshall (fifth grade, Progress South Elementary)
Ms. Pat Turpin (Speech I, Ft. Zumwalt South High School)
Ms. Kelly Deters nee Barban (Creative Writing, FZS)
Mrs. Elaine Somers-Rogers (English 20, University of Missouri)

Those people taught me the joy of writing long before I realized what an impact it would have in my life. I'm sorry about the gum and the fart jokes. Thank you. And Mrs. T and Mrs. U (Ft. Zumwalt South Middle School), you tried your hardest to make me hate writing, but failed.

Hey, if you're in Joplin, MO on July 31st, come by and see me at the public library!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Independent reading

When I was in school, we sometimes had time set aside for what they called “independent reading.” As I recall, this was reading on our own. What we wanted. Not dictated by the teacher or anyone else. As far as I'm concerned, this was one of the best ideas they ever had.

I became a reader because I was allowed—no, encouraged—at an early age to read what I wanted. My reading was rarely censored; my parents didn’t read the same books I did, and unless my grandmother—a big reader herself—was familiar with a book and told my mother it was too old for me, I had free rein.

(Because of a talk my grandmother had with my mother, I was told to wait until I was sixteen to continue Sophie’s Choice, which my grandmother was shocked to find me reading. At sixteen, with one of my first paychecks from my new job, I stopped in at a mall bookstore and bought my own copy of Sophie’s Choice. My mother’s expression when I brought it home said plainly, “I didn’t think sixteen would come so soon.” But it’s a phenomenal book.)

As an "independent reader," I approached libraries and bookstores and the Scholastic book club with the same enthusiasm I brought to the candy store. I spent my own allowance money on books. Although I’m glad that school pushed me to read a few things I would otherwise not have read, I have to say that if my only exposure to books had been through school, then I would not have become the voracious reader—and probably not the writer—that I am today.

Reading for school was drudgery, a chore. Even though I loved reading enough that the back of a cereal box could enrapture me, there were some books that were more duty than pleasure to plow through. And let’s face it: once we’re beyond the regimentation of school, we generally won’t keep reading unless there’s some pleasure in it.

The world of written material is so vast and varied that there’s something for everyone. Very few stories appeal to everyone, and this is where choice comes in. I have heard from many formerly-reluctant readers that the key for them was finding a “gateway” book, a story that spoke to them on such a visceral, personal level that it sent them looking for similar stories. They didn’t realize, until then, how magical a book could be. Readers need the freedom to find that magic.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

struggling to breathe - Alisa M. Libby

I think this topic highlights, in an interesting way, why I LOVE to read and write historical fiction. In different times in the past you can find teen girls chafing against the strictures of their era - you can't work, you can't vote, you are treated as your husband's possession, etc. Add to that the people who depend on them - the parents who rely on them to find a good husband and secure their future, rule their household, appear in society, have a family (sons!) of their own, and so on. While an independent main character is admirable, I like to give her something to struggle against, some ideals or expectations she's trying to break free from.

It's given me a lot to think about with my current WIP - a girl struggling with her desire for her own life and her fear of where it may lead. To be independent, we must trust in ourselves. Does my character trust herself? Do I trust myself? It depends on what day you ask me...

Friday, July 20, 2012

A different kind of independence (Lauren Bjorkman)

I had an unusual childhood. My mom died young. My dad raised my sister and me aboard an old wooden sailboat. For five years we traveled the world.

My dad wasn’t rich. He didn’t have a trust fund. Both he and my mom worked, lived frugally, and invested their savings. During the years we lived on the boat, we survived on almost no income. We didn’t eat out. We bought our clothes in thrift stores. Birthday gifts were mostly home-made and modest.

Through all this, my dad would say, “Money is freedom.”  He denied himself things most people take for granted—a car, plenty of clothes, anything new.

Though I often felt deprived, his message wormed his way deep into my consciousness. Oh, I wanted stuff. Lots of stuff. He didn’t teach me not to want things, but (by example) gave me the idea that living with less could mean leading a more interesting a fulfilled life.

I’ve wanted to incorporate his philosophy into a book for a long time—how experiences might be worthwhile than cool belongings. That money doesn’t buy happiness. Nor does it buy love. (I think there’s a song about that) ;-)

Still, I write for teens and remember my own burning desire to buy things and the pain of doing without. I would have to create a pretty unrealistic teen character for her to ascribe to my dad’s philosophy. Moralizing or heavy handedness never works in storytelling, anyway.

So, in my WIP  (tentatively titled PLUGGED IN GIRL), I put my protagonist Jak in circumstances where she can experience two lifestyles—one plugged into the dominant culture where everyone goes to school, most plan to go to college, and everyone expects to own certain things, and the other where a different choice is made. I hope that it will make at least one reader thing, "Hmmm. Could I try that?"

I've chosen a life in between the two, one with less money, less stuff, more time, and the freedom to write books. The shopping impulse has never left me, though. Luckily, most of what I want now is small or intangible. Check out STUFF I WANT on Pinterest.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

INDEPENDENCE by Wendy Delsol

Independence. Our July topic is a great theme for any piece of writing, fiction or non-fiction. Without it, our actions aren’t our own. And it’s the journey’s end in all coming-of-age stories. Big stuff. Important stuff. And scary stuff, at times.

It’s interesting to think of myself when initially experiencing independence. For me, college was the first truly liberating experience. And while admittedly heady and exhilarating, it was, I’ll admit, overwhelming, too.

I have a late November birthday, and Michigan has a December 1st cutoff for kindergarten. I, therefore, went away to college at seventeen. And I was a young seventeen. Shy. Naïve. Self-conscious. And somewhat untethered.

My father had passed away eighteen months prior. Money had always been the wolf at our door, but his death set the entire pack upon us. That’s how it felt, at any rate.

Though I was eligible for a monthly Social Security check, it in no way covered tuition and living expenses. Nor was my mother, who was dealing with her own financial and emotional crises, in a position to help. In the span of a single month, I went from barely being able to write a check to finding jobs (yes, plural) to securing a loan and to managing my own finances.

For the record, I’m not soliciting pity here. Many, many people deal with far more frightening situations. I hope, rather, to present the challenges and mixed emotions of independence.

Independence, IMHO, is an earned quality. As a writer AND a mother of a seventeen year old, I try to remember this. It’s a point of personal pride that I worked hard for everything I achieved. And while it’s easy (and necessary, I might add) to pile the obstacles upon my characters, it’s a tough parental juggle. And the balls are still in the air.

Wishing one and all (characters included) their own well earned and sweetly savored self-reliance.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Adventure of Independence (Cheryl Renée Herbsman)

When I was sixteen, I got on a plane in North Carolina and flew to Tel Aviv, Israel by myself. It was a trip I'd been dreaming of for nearly two years. In a week's time I'd be meeting up with a youth group tour, but first I was off to visit the boy of my dreams.

Was I terrified? Yes. But what a huge rush at that age to be given the chance to experience that kind of independence. I was going off to explore the world all on my own. Now, as a parent, I think my own parents were nuts. But at the time it made perfect sense to me. And I was grateful for the opportunity. I remember the feeling of starting out on an adventure all alone, the sense that I had only myself to rely on. (For those of you who don't know my story, it all worked out. I had an amazing summer, and five years later I married the guy ;))

Our world has changed a lot over the years. And I think teens tend to be more supervised than we once were. I still see high school grads going off to Europe in small groups. But again, as a parent, I'm sort of horrified!

When I write teen characters I remind myself to leave the parent-self out of the room. Otherwise I become too protective of my darling babies and don't let them face anything too scary. I write instead from the perspective of that sixteen-year-old I once was setting out on a grand adventure.

In BREATHING, Savannah lives a fairly sheltered life, growing up in a small town on the Carolina coast. But she dreams of something bigger. She longs for independence. And when her opportunity arises, she has to decide if she's brave enough to take it on, to leave behind everything she knows and everyone she loves to embrace an adventure all on her own. It's such an exciting time of life, those first big adventures.

The topic is especially salient for me today. This very morning I dropped my sixteen-year-old daughter off at the airport, where she met up with a camp program, where they got on a plane without parents, heading off for a month in Israel. She might not be completely alone the way I was at her age. But for me as a parent, it still seems monumental -- watching her go off into the world, embracing her own adventures. Now, if only I can remember to breathe for the next thirty days.
Wish me luck!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Musings on Independence Vs. Losing Control (Stephanie Kuehnert)

I kind of feel like I'm slacking by doing what I'm about to do, but A. Today is my birthday (though I feel weird drawing attention to it. Bad things happen when you do that, like waitresses interrupt your nice, quiet dinner and sing and everyone is embarrassed.) and B. I can't imagine coming up with something better to say about independence/freedom than I already have. You see, it is also theme at Rookie, the online magazine that I write for, and just this Monday, they posted a piece of mine about the fine line between freedom and losing control.

I worked hard to win my independence early as a teenager. I graduated a semester before the rest of my class and while they were still in school, I moved to another state and started to lead a grown-up life with an apartment and a roommate and a job... and eventually a boyfriend 6 years my senior who got me into nightclubs I was still 4 years too young to party at. But I did. I partied and it was awesome and thrilling and independent and free... and then it got out of control. However, seriously rather than me rehashing it here, just check out the Rookie story, which has been properly edited and revised and thought-out. Hell, check out Rookie in general because it is my baby/main writing project right now and if you like my fiction/blogs, you will probably love it.

I will also say that gaining my independence early and subsequently losing control before I figured out how to actually handle my independence was such a formative experience that I definitely bring it to my fiction. Hell, it's kind of what my first book I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE was all about. My main character, Emily, is a teenage rock star who uses her music to break free, but then chaos ensues. In BALLADS OF SUBURBIA, Kara (who is a lot like me in real life) tried really hard to be a good, studious girl for many years, but then things sort of bubbled up inside of her, she rebelled, and life spiraled out of control. I write those stories because those are the stories that really speak to and interest me. Even now I still struggle to manage my own independence. Working as a writer means being your own boss. Yeah, you have deadlines, but you need a lot of self-discipline to met them. So independence vs. control is a theme I ponder a lot and since books are my favorite sources of exploring the issues that are important in my life, I seek stories out with these themes. I'm always looking for more, so tell me, what are some of your favorites about independence and control issues? Hopefully I'll get some birthday money to buy them with :)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

From Wimpy Kid to Brave

When people ask if Jenny, the main character in my UnFairy Tale series, is like me, I tell them she's the type of person I wish I could have been at her age. She's spunky and brave and independent. Meanwhile, when I was in middle school, I was shy and wimpy and sheltered. Making Jenny all the things I wasn't gives me a lot to play with in the story, and it makes me really admire her character.

In thinking about my other characters, I've realized they're also far more independent than I ever was. My current work-in-progress, for example, is a YA mystery that takes place at a boarding school. Talk about independence! I find myself drawing on my college experiences as I work on the story since that was my first taste of true independence. For the character, Amelia, being on her own is a whole new world, and while it's a little frightening, it also allows her to decide what kind of person she'd like to be.

Ultimately, whether in real life or in stories, I think that's what independence gives us: a chance to figure out who we are and who we want to be. That's something that can only truly emerge when we're on our own. I think that's why I enjoy making characters independent, so I can really get at the core of who they are.

How independent are your characters? Do you find yourself giving them more freedom than you had in your own life?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Independence Dilemma--Jan Blazanin

Teens crave independence. They argue for later curfews, weekends home alone, road trips with friends, and dating without restrictions. As a teen that’s what I wanted. But I also needed the security of knowing my parents were there when I needed them. Paying the bills. Buying the groceries. Listening—or pretending to—when I whined.

Gothic romances were popular then. Teen girls, usually orphaned under mysterious circumstances, were sent to live with eccentric, emotionally challenged relatives. Suffering from grief and loneliness, they nevertheless sneaked onto the windswept moors at midnight and explored forbidden rooms. They uncovered dire family secrets. And each herione met a dark, brooding, impossibly handsome man who was powerless against her charms. I adored those heroines and longed to have even half their spunk.

Gothic romances may be out of fashion, but teens are still looking for novels with self-reliant, risk-taking main characters. My work in progress sparked a discussion in my writing group about how much alone time to give my female protagonist. In an early draft I left her at home on her 17th birthday while her parents vacationed in the Cayman Islands. My writing friends—mothers all—thought her parents were too heartless. For the next draft, I put my MC’s dad in the hospital in another city. Mom stayed with him; daughter was sent home. They gave me a no on that idea, too. So the next draft gave the parents more ink and my protagonist less freedom.

Enter my agent who said, “Get the parents out of there! Teens like reading about teens left home alone.” Of course she was right. My audience isn’t moms or dads. It’s teens. They want to take cross-country road trips, solve mysteries, fall in love with mysterious strangers, fight wars, and rebuild worlds. Books let them experience the adventure they crave without worrying about making curfew.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Indie in Me

My first inclination when I saw that this month's theme was "independence" was to talk about characters. I love independent girls - writing about them, reading about them, everything about them.

But then I thought about independence in writing. And my own "independence" day a few years ago. I'd just written four books in twelve months, including my last two YA books, which were written in three months each in order to meet a deadline for a simultaneous release. And when all the manuscripts were sent to my editors, and THE END was in sight, I just stopped writing. I couldn't even wrap my head around writing another book at that point. And the book my YA editor wanted me to write was not the same book that I wanted to write - I didn't want to write any book at that point!

So I did something I never thought I'd do. I took a pass on writing the book my publisher and editor wanted. And took a little hiatus. No deadlines, no daily word counts, no obsessing about where the next idea would come from. And it felt great, almost freeing. And when I started writing again I was actually excited. It was an idea I wanted to play with. And I've been writing it for over two years. Over two freaking years!! This from a writer who has finished books in mere months.

It made me realize that sometimes independence doesn't come from liberating yourself from someone or something else, but from your own expectations of what you're supposed to do. I was supposed to keep publishing a book or two a year. I was supposed to write what I'd written before. Only what I was supposed to do wasn't what I wanted to do. And real independence is having the courage to make choices and decisions that only you can make.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Weaving Independence

This month we're talking about independence and it occurred to me that I gain independence as I travel through the journey of writing a novel. When I start the writing process, I freely admit that I'm entangled with my characters and my concept. It's not very clear which threads belong to my "make-believe people" and which belong to me in real life.

If I'm honest it feels like a bit of a mess. It also scares me because I can't really hear my characters talking to me. I get nervous that I'm writing my story instead of THEIR story. And the whole thing feels a bit like trying to breath underwater. I wonder if I'll ever sort out what feels like a giant knot.

But one has to have a bit of patience to write a book or to be independent. Of course there is an exception to every rule, in life and in publishing--independence can be unwillingly thrust upon you. And of course you can survive it, but I believe that when you have a choice, it's best to take your time, unknot your threads and give yourself time to breath because often my best ideas come to me in the spaces in-between. One of the things I heard most often as a teen--who desperately wanted to grow up--was to slow down. Don't rush--you NEVER get this back again. I kind of think this applies to works of artistry too. Publishing IS a business, but that doesn't mean that writing is not longer art.

For me the process of become independent sometimes takes a third of the way or more through the manuscript. Ironically these feeling starts to come at the point that I actually begin to collaborate with my characters on the writing. LOL!  It's when they've become real enough to me that they start to tell their own story and they simply entrust me with their threads. It's a beautiful feeling and it usually leads to an outcome that is far different than where I first began...

And very worth the time and effort it took me to get there. 

How do you find your independence from your characters and your story? Have you ever read a book that felt like the author hadn't stepped far enough away from the work? Or have you read one where they went too far? What's your process?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

I Gotta Be Me (Joy Preble)

In my DREAMING ANASTASIA series, there's a huge focus on destiny. In book 1, Ethan tells Anne that she is destined to save the Romanov Grand Duchess, Anastasia. The series' villain, Viktor, believes that his true destiny has been denied him and stops at nothing to manipulate and destroy in order to get the power he believes should have been his from the start. And on and on through the various characters -- many of whom find themselves trapped by history or circumstance or both.

All of this comes to a conclusion exactly one month from today, when ANASTASIA FOREVER releases from Sourcebooks. And for Anne and Ethan, choice and destiny are still firmly on their minds.

I think about this idea a lot, and not just in fictional terms, although certainly so much of literature delves into the question of fate vs. free will and science and psychology debate nature vs. nurture and on down the line. Is our destiny somehow set at birth? Do our choices open some doors but permanently close others? (I suppose here would be a good time to state for the record that while I love science, I suck hugely at math even though I was raised in a household of wonderfully math-y people who looked at me like the Marilyn of the Munsters. "Find X" to me is like "Where's Waldo?" There's x. *Points* What's the deal? But I digress... except to say that math-centric professions will never count me among their number (funny, eh?). Not even if I wish very, very hard)

But to the point -- Changing your path is tough. Really. And the longer you wait, the harder it is to do. (Like if, say, you're married for five years and on day 1 of year six you say casually comment, "Hey, Honey. You know how you never put the dishes in the dishwasher but just dump them in the sink, sometimes with the napkin crumpled up in the leftover cereal milk or something else gross like that but somehow they end up magically washed? Well, contrary to your belief of the past five years while we have been on the honeymoon phase (here you can insert a different number; say, three days), we do not have a magic sink. And I am damn tired of being the dish fairy. So change your ways, Bucko!) We all know how the rest of that story goes... and if you don't, well, just pick up GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn and check out what happens when marriage goes to the really, really dark place. Yeah.

A friend said to me yesterday, "I can't believe that you have sold four books already."
To which I replied, well, you know since I begin tinkering with the idea that maybe, just maybe, teaching Julius Caesar to the unwashed masses six times a year until I died was maybe possibly going to make me fall on my own sword, sooner rather than later, it's actually been about 10 years.

Which is to say-- changing your path doesn't happen over night even if publishing makes it seem that books sprout on the shelves like weeds without much effort on your part. It is risky and scary and hard, hard work and in my case, I had to do it over and over and over until I got it right, which thankfully I eventually did. At times I have been envious of those who at 20 and 22 knew right then and there that they wanted to write novels and proceeded to do just that.

I was writing at 20 - began my first novel then, which I still have, like an artifact from an archaeological dig-- but what I didn't have was the understanding that I was free to do what I loved. I nattered a lot about all that I knew and how much I'd learned -- as if! But I had to meet that independence the hard way, scribbling stories on the back of an envelope while sitting in the paper robe waiting for my gyn exam, after which I'd  go back to work, then pick up the kid from daycare and chase him around the table to do his homework and maybe grade 175 Julius Caesar essays before I got back to writing the WIP at midnight.  Some of us come to the creative life that way, with a spouse who says, "Are you still writing?" after which you unfairly compare him to the spouses that other authors thank in their acknowledgement pages: the ones who make perfect grilled cheese sandwiches and whistle jaunty tunes and surprise them with homemade jam and read their manuscripts, leaving insightful comments, and bring them green tea and a blanket --those last of which yours does, but not without heaving a sigh that says, "You know, you were a lot more fun before you decided that you needed to do this."

Interestingly, the witch in the DREAMING ANASTASIA series, Baba Yaga, lives in a forest that is a vehicle for change. If you make it out of the forest -- which you may or may not do-- you will not leave the same as you entered. You will be changed, altered, possibly freed to do things you only dreamed of doing.

All of which is for the best. Trust me.

As someone once said, there's only one guarantee in this world: we're not going out the same way that we came in.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

We all want to be independent

As the mother of a teen, I’m reminded every day how important independence is to them. I could argue every day over clothes (“I can see your bra.”), friends (“Where did you meet her? How old is she?”), activities (“Don’t forget that the river is still plenty cold”), sleeping (“You do realize it’s after noon, right?), chores (“If the dishwasher is full, you could empty it.”) and a million other things.
Teens are hard-wired to be independent. And adults are hard-wired to want to clip their wings.
In real life, most teens don’t get to make as many choices as they would like. That’s why teens in books tend to operate pretty independently. Parents are often divorced, dead, drunk, or otherwise missing in action. 

Letting my readers fantasize about being independent

In Shock Point, Cassie faces what would be any teen’s nightmare: an overseas boot camp where even looking at other teens could get you in trouble. But then she manages to escape and make her way back from Mexico by herself to confront her evil stepfather.
In Torched, Ellie spends a summer in a tree-sit with a cute boy. And her environmentalist aging-hippy parents give their blessing.
In Girl, Stolen, Cheyenne is blind and kidnapped, but figures out how to escape anyway. Her parents barely figure into the story. 
In The Night She Disappeared, Gabie’s parents are trauma surgeons who spend most of their time at the hospital. 
My next two books feature a girl who has no memory (and thus can’t remember her parents) and is on the run, and a girl who is an emancipated minor. 

Even adults fantasize about independence

Four and a half years ago, I was able to quit my day job and work at home. And work I do - seven days a week, often into the evening. But I’m now in control of my life, just the way I fantasized about as a teen. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Independence & YA (Holly Schindler)

If I’m to define “independence” in the same way that I think many teens view the term—as a word interchangeable with “adulthood”—I’d have to say that I actually thrust independence on the main characters of both my published YAs.

Take Aura, the MC from my debut, A BLUE SO DARK.  Her mother, Grace, suffers from a mental illness.  And as the book opens, her mother’s sinking deeper into the darkness of that illness.  Grace’s condition leaves Aura to become, in many respects, the parent.  The adult.  (So much so, Aura and her best friend, Janny, a teen mom herself, come to a new understanding, toward the end of the novel.)  Aura, in many ways, longs for a “normal” life—to be the girl who gets to chase after her crush on a cute skater boy, whose deepest worry is regarding an upcoming exam.  In short, she wants to worry only about herself—a luxury that often accompanies most teenage yearsInstead, Aura has to care for another human being.  She’s responsible for that human being (her mother), which is a very adult problem. 

Take Chelsea, the MC from my second novel, PLAYING HURT.  Her dilemma isn’t quite as dark as Aura’s, but it’s life-altering just the same.  Chelsea’s a small-town athlete, a hero on the basketball court—until a horrific accident shatters her hip and ends her basketball career all in the same fell swoop.  Again, Chelsea doesn’t ask to be released from the demands of being a teen athlete.  She doesn’t want to be freed from the grueling schedule.  But she gets it, anyway.

In all likelihood, Aura and Chelsea would find themselves dealing with these scenarios later on in life: Chelsea would absolutely have to learn to deal with life after basketball, and there’s a strong possibility that someday Aura would find herself responsible for another human being, either as a parent or as a friend (I’m not sure it’s really possible to have meaningful, resonant relationships in life and not find yourself caring for others—in many ways, it can be one of the most rewarding aspects of adult life)…

But Aura and Chelsea are thrown into these adult roles, headfirst.  They’re tossed into their adulthood in such a way that it can’t really feel like independence at all.  I think in many respects, that’s the crux of a good story: by making a character’s world change around them, by forcing a character to adapt to and navigate their new world, you can’t help but illustrate how that character grows, changes, learns.  In many respects, I think those curves life tosses often make us who we are—and present a perfect opportunity, in YA literature, for our teen characters to become their best selves.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Because I know you'll judge the book by its cover

A 2008 article in Print, a magazine about graphic design, discussed publishers of old YA books designing new covers to make those books seem fresh and to lengthen their shelf life. Marc Aronson is quoted as saying of the physical book, “It’s a style—it’s saying, ‘We are exactly who you are. This is the world you’ll feel comfortable with. Nothing about this book is going to make you feel awkward to carry it and wear it. It’s as sleek and cool and as with-it as you are.’”

As a reader, I agree that a beautiful cover makes me love a book more. But I think there’s something else going on too. The cover needs to “match” what’s going on in the story. If a hip cover says of the publisher, “We are exactly who you are,” a cover that correctly depicts the mood, action, and characters in the story says, “We actually read this book. We love it as much as you do. We are not trying to pull anything over on you. We care what you think.” 

My favorite Hemingway novel is The Sun Also Rises, which I first read when I was 19. I remember how thrilled I was that it was nothing like The Old Man in the Sea, which I had read in high school and found depressing. And I remember puzzling over the cover. Why is Brett wearing a hat? In the book, much is made of the fact that she walks around Spain without her head covered, which was Not Done in the 1920s, when the book is set. Did the artist read the book? I cared so deeply about this book--and the publisher didn’t??? Come on, now, Scribner’s! I was so upset that I actually turned these obsessive thoughts into a Magritte-like painting that still hangs in my den.
My ninth YA novel, Such a Rush, will be published on July 10. Of my nine novels with eleven covers, there have been two I asked for redesigns on (and was a little astonished that my requests were granted). For three, I have asked for a change to the characters on the cover so they look more like the characters in the book. That wish has been granted once and turned down twice. Both of the latter times--including Such a Rush--I revised the book to match the cover. My book heroine has wildly curly hair--and when I wrote it, I didn’t even know about Brave! My cover heroine does not have curly hair. My revised book heroine is in possession of a flat-iron.

Scandal, you say. I allowed marketing to tamper with my artistic vision! Further, if the book survives long enough for a cover redesign, that cover might be different, or it might depict the heroine as she originally looked, or not at all, and my editorial changes will have been for nothing. Yeah, okay. I changed the book anyway. In selling and revising my very first book, I learned that getting a novel published is a collaborative process. My artistic vision made it into the book, but so did my critique partners’, my agent’s, my editor’s, and my readers’. When you buy a book, especially a hardcover, you want every bit of it to be thoroughly thought out and carefully presented. So do I.