Of Tatas and Tats/ @LaurelHouck
As a young teen, I spent countless forevers bemoaning my bra size, feeling like a total boob…or lack thereof. I resorted to drawing in cleavage with an eyebrow pencil. I ordered (in a plain brown wrapper) a pink device to squeeze while I muttered, “I must, I must, I must increase my bust.”
I soon discovered boys didn’t really care. There were other parts that interested them even more. But I digress.
As spring has morphed into summer, that restless stirring for something different has resurfaced. I researched—as only a writer can—tattoos and tattoo artists. When the guy of my dreams, in an ink sort of way, texted me, I set up an appointment. A few hours later I arrived home with a tattoo on my right wrist.
I’m geeked. I have a wicked cool anchor bracelet that will never come off. My kids proclaimed it bad ass. I repeated this to myself several times. Oh yeah. And when I get another tattoo, even I’ll be even badder.
As a follow-up, I headed to the local salon and had my long, long hair sheared to short-short. And tinted chocolate-brown with highlights. Who doesn’t love chocolate? My big earrings are now visible, and I’m told I look ten years younger.
I may be a late bloomer, but I’ve finally the achieved that elusive cool factor. My new cool, bad ass self sat down to write. And discovered nothing meaningful changed.
So what is it about change that writers love and hate at the same time? How can we embrace unique and exceptional ideas while clinging to the genre we’ve always written? Why do we retain agents who are doing nada to sell our work just because we can say we have an agent? And finally, what’s the reason we cave to everyone else’s opinion of when our stuff is good and when it sucks? Or when we’re cool…or not?
It’s almost enough to make me run out and get a sleeve tattoo. Or visit Victoria’s Secret. Instead, I’m doing some literary musing on what I need to change. And what I need to keep the same.
Right now I’m comfortable with YA novels. The concepts, language, and complexity fit my brain. Yet in the past I’ve written picture books and MG novels as well. It’s okay to write cross genre, whether in age groups or subject matter. If it works at any given time, why not? Nothing should harness the capricious lure of creative energy.
Even the current diversity debate, for example can a middle-aged white woman write a black teen male protagonist in an authentic way—doesn’t have to be a bitter dispute. Each story does have to resonate, be true to setting, character, dialogue, and all the things that keep it real. But if it’s my story to tell, and I do the necessary work, I should tell it. Without fear.
The agent thing is a bit tougher. It’s not easy to find representation. Everyone wants a sure-fire winner. It makes business sense—unless one doesn’t happen to be a famous author, actor, or activist already. Which is where most of us in the great unwashed segment of kid lit find ourselves. Excellent writing and imagination are no competition for being a reality show drop out.
And yet landing an agent who doesn’t bust his/her butt for us is worse than no agent at all. Because with no agent we submit to editors independently, whereas with representation, no matter how lame, we must sit and do nothing. So when that niggling discomfort says there’s a serious disconnect between agent and author, it’s more than fine to take the plunge and move on. Scary and intimidating, but advisable.
I feel the need to embrace change when a perceived expert (anyone other than me) doesn’t love my work. Lose the first two sections of a book in three voices, cut to one voice and the final section, maybe ditch the project because the subject is too depressing? Sure, absolutely, let me get right on that. But wait. Rather than hitting delete all night, some reframing may be in order.
After scanning a few sample pages, my concept wasn’t grasped. Step one should be a thorough edit that explores the options presented. If it works and remains true to the story I want to tell, great. If not, use the advice that makes improvements without editing it all into oblivion. This is common knowledge—that bears repeating. We need to be imaginative explorers of our own brains.
As I sit in the sun, ponder all these things, and type, my wrist tattoo hovers over the keyboard. I like it. It has meaning to me. My neck feels free and cool. There’s no mass of hair clinging to it. And my sports bra is comfortable. Last year or even last month, I wouldn’t have been ready for these changes. Now I am.
Change is more about timing than anything else. There was a time I longed for big tatas. Now I’m glad that gravity hasn’t aimed me toward the floor. There was a time when I couldn’t understand why anyone would want a tattoo. Now I get it. Change is who we are as human beings, whether in fashion, taste, or circumstance. So why not let writing evolve as well?
Today, I will give my old padded bras to Goodwill. Today, I will forego a meaningless tattoo. Today, I will let my imagination take me where it wants to go. And tomorrow? We shall see.
As David Bowie once wrote, “Ch-ch-ch-changes…”
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