The books that helped convince me (Brenda Hiatt)
I’ve read a lot of mind-changing (and even life-changing) books in my life. There’s no way I can talk about all of them in this space, so I’ll focus on the ones that eventually convinced me to try my hand at writing teen fiction, a complete change of genre for me.
As I know I’ve mentioned before, I spent more than a decade writing historical romance novels before experiencing burnout and taking a break. During that next year-plus of not writing, I mostly read books that were nothing like those I’d written. Because I wasn’t sure what (or if) I wanted to write next, I made a point of reading a few books that had received a lot of “buzz,” in hopes of figuring out what made those books resonate with readers. I read a couple of Tom Clancy titles, a Dan Brown or two and other “blockbusters,” but none felt like my kind of thing. The only “big” books I thoroughly enjoyed while casting around were the Harry Potter books, but those were just for fun, not the sort of thing I’d ever considered writing. Still, because they were so fun, when I finished what was available in that series I started picking up other bestselling middle grade and teen books—and enjoying them all way more than I’d enjoyed the last dozen or more bestselling “grownup” books I’d read.
For the first time, I started seriously thinking about writing in that genre, figuring that if nothing else, it was the one most likely to bring back the joy of writing that I’d lost. I began reading more analytically at that point in an attempt to pin down not only the kinds of stories that appealed most to me, but why they grabbed me—and millions of other readers. At the same time, I had the beginnings of a story idea kicking around in my brain. What finally convinced me to move that story idea from my brain to the written page was reading Twilight. Though I’d heard plenty of writers (and non-writers) disparage the writing in that book, clearly there was something about it that spoke to a huge number of readers, both teens and adults.
I’ll admit, when I first started reading it, I could clearly see why some people made fun of it. The emotions were pretty over-the-top, along with some of the descriptions. But then, a chapter or two in, I managed to slip into the mindset of my fourteen- or fifteen-year-old self and suddenly I totally got it! This book was pushing all the buttons—the longings, the hopes and fears, the stuff every young teen dreams of. Girls (and boys) that age really are bundles of emotions, so now those descriptions didn’t seem nearly so over-the-top to me. My emotions had been just as intense at that age, when it had felt like life and death whether a cute boy looked at me or even (gasp!) smiled at me.
When I started writing my first teen novel, Twilight became a sort of blueprint for me. Not for the actual plot—I wasn’t writing about vampires, after all. But for the emotional beats. I worked to push most of the same emotional “buttons” that book had pushed so successfully. I even wrote it while listening to Muse, the band Stephenie Meyer had mentioned in her acknowledgments.
At the same time, I wanted to emulate the wonderful world-building of the Harry Potter and Hunger Games books (among others). Even though my book wasn’t about magic or post-apocalyptic, I paid close attention to the sorts of details Rowling and Collins had used to make their worlds come alive for me (and other readers).
Given what I was striving for, I guess it’s not surprising that I spent the better part of two years trying to get my first teen book “right.” But I’m happy to report that according to numerous reviews, emails, and conversations with readers, I succeeded—at least for them. Just as importantly (to me), that book did exactly what I’d originally hoped it would: it rekindled my love of writing.
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