After working mainly from my home office for the last almost 12 years, I now work at an office two days a week, and not only is it to help with my clinical hours towards my license to become a psychotherapist, but it also has been a nice respite from my life as a writer. Those of you who have read previous posts know that I’ve been going through a major shift/change/artistic crisis of sorts, and so this change of scenery is quite welcome and needed for me. I work there to replace all the endless hours of staring at my screen waiting for inspiration, waiting for my agent to tell me “sold!”, waiting for a contest to say “Yes!”, waiting for goddam Godot!
But in my Gemini, dual-nature, I shed my writer-self to be my therapist-self with some ambivalence. Part of me wants to scream to the entire building of three offices of co-workers, “Dammit! I write and I’m pretty good and you should buy my books for yourself, your friends, your family, hell, anyone you know!”
And so, I did confess to someone in the office that I am, in fact, a writer and then a little later, when asked the routinely-asked question all writers get from non-writers, have you been published? I responded with, yes, I do, in fact, have things published. Then, upon an office wide Google search, I was discovered, found out—I have a secret, double-life as published, YA author.
When one of my colleagues asked where he could buy a copy of my books, at first I insisted that he shouldn’t…then I confessed that Amazon carries all of them…then, because I felt worried (insecure) that if he bought them and hated them, he’d resent the money he’d spent, I gave him all three books before he could hit the buy button on Amazon.
So the following day, after I gave all three of my books (that have been published) to the particular colleague, who is a gentleman older than my father and who I respect very much as a doctor and therapist, I felt that stomach-dropping sensation one gets when getting a case of the Oh-Nos.
As I handed them over, I told my pounding heart to chill, but it was too late; the assault began.
He’s going to hate them.
He’s going to think I’m a terrible writer.
He’s reading them to be nice.
This is a terrible idea.
This is a disaster.
He’s are going to think, thank God she’s going into psychotherapy because this stuff sucks.
In the days that followed, the older gentleman colleague showered me with compliments. “Great writing! Great metaphors! Great stuff! I can picture teachers reading this with their students!”
Then one day he came in and announced that he had finished the book and he wondered what I thought of the idea that maybe my book was a little dated. You know, because coming out isn’t a big deal any more, right? He went on about this, but I pretty much went somewhere else, not physically, but mentally; I continued to stand there, leaning against the cabinet that contained all of our CBT worksheets and therapy note sheets while my spirit went somewhere else, somewhere vague and cloudy. Somewhere dark.
When I returned to my body, he was going on about “Cynical? Is that the word? Cynical. Your voice in the book is very cynical…”
I left again, feeling stripped of any label that would be associated with writer, author, hell, human.
When I returned again, he was still going on, this time about the portrayal of the shrink, Josephine, in the story, “And that Josephine! She was one-dimensional. I mean everything she said was so trite…”
I don’t remember what I said back, but whatever it was, it wasn’t the truth of what I was feeling or thinking. The truth was this:
Do you have any idea how hard it is to not only write a book, but also to then share it with the world?
Eventually I went back to my office, but before I did, he reeled in another colleague, and repeated every single piece of feedback to her, finishing with an ironic, “You really should read this book.”
And she said some things back, most of which bounced off my somewhat numb self. One thing stuck: “Oh no. Coming out is definitely still a big deal.” Then she threw empathetic eyes at me, and I smiled back…with great effort.
That was not even a week ago and with each passing day, his words echo and echo through my brain, his words touch a deeper part of my mind where things can accumulate unless I properly take them out, look at them, and accept them for what they are and what they are not.
After falling into and coming out of the deepest depression of my life last year, I know that when the darkness comes, it’s a sign that something within me is off. Something within me is looking at the situation, which has triggered the darkness, with some distortion, but that there is also some value in what I am feeling.
When I take step back and use my logic mind, I can see that my colleague wasn’t trying to hurt me, wasn’t intending to send me into a deep dark depression. And, yes the critique wasn’t the most positive about my work…but he did say I was a good writer and he was enthusiastic about the books, enough to share them with people. Besides, I’ve been critiqued before, had worse things said about my writing, so why did his words sting so badly?
Because the words pricked at the insecurity within me about these particular books. I know that I wrote them a long time ago. I know the stories aren’t the most profound or deep or even the best that I can do now. And I’m frustrated that the work I know is that is better, deeper, stronger is stuck in my computer, not shared with the world.
My frustration isn’t with my dear colleague but with the situation—with the reality that I’m still waiting for Godot.
In the meantime, check out the books my colleague
“I’ll never write young adult fiction because you can’t have sex in it.”
I was at a cocktail party when I heard this. The speaker was an academic enrolled the MFA program at the nearby university. I was invited because I’d befriended his wife and our kids went to the same school. But when he found out that I was also a writer, of young adult fiction, he made that statement.
Perhaps you’ve been in a similar situation, where someone, oftentimes another writer, makes blanket statements about YA without really knowing what they’re talking about or taking the time to ask you, the expert. My response?
He actually walked away before I could respond, which is probably why I felt the need to write a piece about sex in YA.
So here’s the truth: teens are having sex. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the likelihood of sex increases with each school grade level, from 32 percent in ninth grade to 62 percent in 12th grade. And even for those who are not having sex, they likely have friends who are. They hear stories about it in the hallways, they see hyper-sexualized pictures online and in the media, they watch movies and play video games. In other words, sex is out there.
If we take a moment to think about our own upbringing and unpack the things we were told about sex, it’s often a variation of one of these themes:
“Wait until you’re married.”
“Sex is dirty.”
“Girls who have sex are sluts.”
“It’s your job to say, no.”
“Be safe or you’ll catch a disease.”
“Getting pregnant will ruin your life.”
Very rarely are young people told that sex is a normal, healthy activity that they might even enjoy. Instead, they’re often scared into thinking something will terrible will happen if they engage in sex. Meanwhile, their hormones are at full-throttle, making it nearly impossible, biologically speaking, to say, no.
Where does YA fiction fit in?
YA books allow the reader to experience another teen’s life in a safe environment. Through the story, they learn another teen’s thoughts, their hopes and dreams, and their fears. They see the teen interacting with their family and friends, with teachers, crushes and other members of society. Because of this, YA fiction is the perfect place to explore topics like sex. And there are many excellent YA books that do. With that in mind, here are a few tips for writing sex in YA:
Be real. Most early sexual encounters aren’t the stuff of Harlequin romances. Often they’re awkward, bumbling, nerve-wracking affairs. There is usually some anxiety involved in having sex with someone for the first time, even if you’ve had sex before. There are also some logistics involved, like condoms, that should be part of your narrative. Or, if your characters are engaging in unsafe sex, the feelings and motivations involved in that decision should be explored. Remember there are actual teens reading your book and they have a lot of questions.
Is the sex necessary? Does it add to your character’s development? Is it integral to the plot? Does it change the course of the story? Sex shouldn’t be treated like a token act that’s trotted out to keep the story interesting. It should enhance the story and advance the plot.
Sex can be good and it can be bad, but if it’s violent or non-consensual, you need to deal with it. This one seems obvious, but I’ve come across more than a few books where a rape or attempted rape scene occurs and the plot and characters continue on as if it never happened. Don’t include sexual assault unless you’re prepared to fully explore it. If your story is about sexual assault, treat it with sensitivity and make sure you know what you’re talking about.
Be prepared for push back. There may be editors who want the sex toned down or cut altogether. They may want you to pull a TWILIGHT where your characters disappear into the darkness to do mystical things that may or may not be sex. I’m not a fan of the allusion of sex because I think it feeds misconceptions. But editors know that it’s a lot tougher to sell a story to parents and librarians when there is sex involved, so be prepared to defend your artistic license and deal with the fallout.
Remember it’s all about relationships. There is great opportunity for tension and conflict around sex. Should we do it? Am I ready? Does he want to also? Will having sex change our relationship? Will it bring us closer together? Break us apart? Will he treat me differently after? Will I feel different? What will my friends think? My parents? Whether it’s the best thing to ever happen, or if it’s a mistake, don’t miss the opportunity to develop character and increase the tension in your story.
Now, for some required reading. Listed below are examples of books that cover a wide range of sexual experience. Each of them are great examples of the topic done well.
IF I STAY by Gayle Forman
FOREVER by Judy Blume
ON THE JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta
PERFECT CHEMISTRY by Simone Elkeles
SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson
STORY OF A GIRL by Sara Zarr
THE DUFF by Kody Keplinger
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green
Tell me your thoughts on sex in YA. Have you ever gone all the way? Any tips you’d like to share with the rest of us? Don’t be shy…
Laura Lascarso’s debut novel COUNTING BACKWARDS, which deals with mental illness, won the 2012 Florida Book Award gold medal for Young Adult Literature. Her e-novella series RACING HEARTS tells the story of two star-crossed lovers thrust into the world of competitive car racing. Follow her on Twitter @lauralascarso and enter here to win a free copy of Racing Hearts 1.
When Success Doesn’t Look Like Your Writing Dream
by Kimberly Mitchell/@KSMitch17
2014 was a tough year for me as a writer. I had a manuscript I had a lot of confidence in and delivered it to my agent early in the year. She loved it and immediately sent it out. I felt like I was walking around with my fingers crossed for months, waiting for an offer. And waiting. And waiting. And then rejections and more waiting.
Writers know we’ll encounter rejection. We know it’s all part of the process of honing our craft, paying our dues on that hard road to publication. We also know that the knowing doesn’t make rejection easier. I felt my desire to write slipping away. The current manuscript I was working on languished in murky middle ground and the ending lacked focus.
Come to think of it, I felt on murky middle ground and lacking in focus.
Towards the end of 2014, I had lunch with a good friend, who also happens to be a local social media influencer. She encouraged me to get more involved in the local writing community, especially with a group called Arkansas Women Bloggers. She didn’t tell me to stop focusing on writing for children; she simply asked me to lift my head a little from the narrow race I’d been running and have a look around.
I decided she was right. I needed a change, or I was in peril of not writing at all. When I set my goals for 2015, they looked quite different from the previous year. Typically, my yearly goals look like this:
1) Outline X novel
2) Finish revising Y novel
3) Come up with storyline for Z.
If I feel ambitious, I might add, read a book on writing.
This year, in addition to working on my novel, I would commit to maintaining my blog by posting at least once a week. This doesn’t sound like much, but if you’ve ever run a blog, you know it’s hard to maintain momentum. I also committed to look for other blogs where I could guest post, and local blogs or magazines I could pitch articles to. I even set a day and time – every Monday afternoon would be dedicated to these ventures.
Two-thirds of the way through the year, I’m proud to say I’ve far exceeded my own expectations. I’ve had the privilege of guest posting for Latin@s in Kidlit, All the Way YA, and Pine Manor College. I’ve also blogged professionally for a few local companies and gotten paid for those posts.
What? You mean writers can actually make money writing and blogging?
I’m currently pitching a few more ideas to my network of bloggers and letting a few others simmer. In one way, I’m more excited about writing than I’ve ever been. My personal blog isn’t going to break any hit records, but I’ve been more consistent and the stats back that up. This week I even signed a contract with an awesome local non-profit to be a blogging ambassador for them for the next year. A contact I made, incidentally, by attending a local chamber meet and greet. It turns out, networking does work.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, though. That manuscript I was going to revise in the first few months of 2015? I’m still slogging through it. That first draft of the new middle grade story I was going to knock out this summer? I’m on page 20.
I still only have 24 hours in my day, and let’s be real, 8 of those are for sleeping. I teach, partner a marriage, stay involved with friends and family. Something has to give, and for now, it’s the amount of time I spend on my middle grade novels – my first love, the reason I always wanted to be a writer.
It’s an uneasy balance, but finding another writing outlet that has drawn me into a supportive community locally and brought in a little extra income is hard to beat.
So for the next four months, I’ll continue to walk out my goals for 2015, starting at the end of this month by attending the Arkansas Women Bloggers Conference for the first time. I’ll pursue blogging personally and professionally, and I’ll work on my own stories, knowing that for a season, my time with my children’s novels will diminish a little.
I’m not going to lie. A little success feels good, even if it’s not the success I expected or hoped for.
And my dream of being a published children’s author? That dream lives on for another day.
Kimberly Mitchell is pursuing writing and life in Northwest Arkansas. When she’s not writing and blogging, or teaching preschool fitness, she’s cheering on the Razorbacks, playing soccer, and scheming ways to travel the world. Follow her on Twitter @KSMitch17 and check out her blog for updates on all of the above.
It’s been a while since I’ve typed THE END on a first draft. I’ve written, but I haven’t finished any long-form piece of fiction in a few years, and that really, really bugs me.
I’ve tried. And in typing that, I already have this voice inside my head telling me that real writers don’t try — they do.
Real writers nut through the hard times and just finish the damn thing. Maybe move on from there and smoke a celebratory cigar.
I guess I used to be a “real” writer (minus the cigar). I prided myself on my knack at churning out a quick draft. Three months (the length of a season, as Stephen King advised) and I’d have my very own shitty first draft, ready for massive edits.
But these days, well… I’ve started (and quitted) more projects than I’ve finished.
And here I am, starting another WIP. There are all the usual jitters, but also a mean little voice reminding me of all the manuscripts I’ve started, but left half-done. All the stories that I let run out of steam and turn into unfinished failures.
I worry a lot — that I won’t get it right, that I’ll get lost in the jumble of words and not be able to hack my way out. I worry that this novel will end up like the others: just another abandoned Scrivener file, untouched and unloved and abandoned because I just couldn’t stick it out.
So there’s that.
But hey, there’s also this: I have today. I have this story, and it’s one that actually caters to things that I feel natural writing about. The others were stretches for me, and while I think it’s good to flex the muscles a bit, there’s something to be said for a project that feels as natural and welcoming as sinking into a warm bath.
Maybe I’m fooling myself. Maybe I need to fool myself. Maybe that’s what it takes to finish anything at all — equal parts ass-in-chair time, inspiration, and self-delusion.
And for sure, I can control at least the first part of that equation.
Rosie David is a writer, artist, and book sniffer. When she’s not writing YA novels (most of which have kissing in them), she’s usually reading YA novels (most of which also have kissing in them). Lately, she lives in Indianapolis with her husband, two dogs, one cat, and the occasional goldfish. You can find her at @TheRosieDavid.
When I wrote the last line of my first full manuscript I jumped up and down for joy and eagerly accepted the glass of champagne my husband offered me. I was high. I was elated. I had never felt so good about what I had written.
And I never would again.
What I didn’t know that snowy Christmas day was that writing is actually all about revision. Not getting that first draft done. For that first monster of a YA fantasy manuscript (which weighed in at around 220,000 words or maybe even more) I wrote all the scenes by hand and then reworked it as I typed them up. I thought this was a great system and never felt my first draft was a ‘rough’ draft because of it.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I began querying my baby. And received… complete silence.
I started to doubt. Big time. I was already in several crit groups, I had recently joined SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators) and I had worked really hard on my book. It wasn’t my first attempt at writing, and I didn’t feel like a newbie – although my word count shows that I was.
Luckily, I finally got a personalized rejection from a friend of a friend who worked at Random House. His feedback was very direct. And harsh. The manuscript wasn’t in publishable condition even if the plotting was good. Overall, the manuscript wasn’t compelling. And it was way too long. By 100,000 words at least.
After a few days (or rather weeks) of avoiding my no longer favorite baby, I swallowed my pride and sat back down. And that was the beginning of what was to become a whole new world of writing for me: that of revision.
I have always loved writing – the ideas, the excitement of figuring out characters, plots, worlds. And since I even enjoyed getting feedback and making scenes better, I thought I knew about revision.
But I didn’t.
Revision on a larger level means pulling back and analyzing what is going on with the whole manuscript. From the plot to the character arcs to the pacing. And for this manuscript I hated it – because I discovered I had made so many plot twists I couldn’t figure out how to unravel it all. And I now knew I needed to cut half the manuscript. To say I resisted all that cutting would be to put it mildly. I bled all over my computer as I slashed and cut. But I finally got through it after nearly as many months revising as I had originally taken to write it.
And so, with my new favorite baby ready to go, I queried again.
Only to find out that this latest draft was also just a draft. A better one, yes. But still not market ready. And this time, as I once again attacked the revision process, I took a class on tension and discovered how to improve each and every scene without losing sight of the overall plot arc. I began detailing motivation and objectives and turning points. And the manuscript began to improve.
It was during this revision that I discovered the joys of revising. The manuscript I had was like a lump of clay. It had all the elements of being something, but it wasn’t yet shaped and polished and made appealing. I learned to massage scenes knowing what I wanted out of it for the book at the same time as I analyzed what the characters’ motivations were. My characters deepened and became more fleshed out. They became more believable and distinct. They no longer followed the plot but became active elements in making the plot move forward.
Even after that round of revisions, there were still others. In fact, since this is a manuscript I eventually put to the side since I wasn’t sure how to correct some of it’s inherent problems, it may one day see a new round of revisions. Or not.
But all the work and blood and tears that went into that first, completed, manuscript (which I was so sure was finished so many different times) taught me that revisions are where you dig in to your story, your characters and your craft. Each wave of revision, starting from the broader issues before going to the nitty gritty ones, improves the manuscript. Each wave of revision is another chance to love your characters, improve your story, create more tension and make your work shine.
And even once the manuscript is polished enough to land an agent or get a new contract, there will be yet another round of revisions before he or she sends it out on submission. And then once an editor buys it, there will be yet another round of revisions.
So embrace those revisions and enjoy making your book better each time!
Born in the US, Dina has lived on 4 continents, worked as a graphic artist for television and as a consultant in the fashion industry. Somewhere between New York and Paris she picked up an MBA and a black belt. Dina is currently the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Belgium, where she lives with her husband, two children, three horses and a cat.
Dina’s debut YA novel, Dragon Fire, was published by Twilight Times.
When the movie Tomorrowland was doing its press tour, an interview in Vulture with writers Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof (and also star George Clooney) in which Lindelof was quoted as saying the following when asked about rendering strong female characters. “What if she doesn’t get distracted by romantic entanglements? What if her “romance” is with the future?”
In my infinite insecurity (I am, after all, a writer. We’re all insecure.) I started to think about my story while panicking. Was there something wrong with romance in an adventure story? My story doesn’t involve a romance with the future! The relationship between my main character, Jacklyn, and her confused and confusing as hell potential love interest, Kyp, is a central part of the plot. It’s often the driving force. By not having my main character’s true love be adventure, or being a hero, or something more abstract, was I being somehow anti-feminist? Considering my strong feminist stance, I was genuinely concerned that I had miscommunicated my message.
Now, I’m sure Mr. Lindleof didn’t intend to panic me when he answered his interview question. He was speaking of one type of strong female, not the only type. Still, this is not the first time I’ve heard comments like this. People complain about the (admittedly barely existent) love triangle in The Hunger Games as though it is abhorrent for Katniss to love anyone at all in the midst of the dangers she is in. Is it impossible to be a strong female and still fall in love?
I believe that people’s problems with this dynamic started with the Twilight craze. People’s complaints about Edward and Bella were not based on the fact that they were in love, but were primarily concerned with the idea that Bella was a wet noodle in said relationship, whose life suddenly revolves around her boyfriend.
But is anything taken from Katniss because she has feelings for Peeta and Gale? She is made weaker by the attacks of President Snow, by the trauma inflicted on her by the Games, but she still stands strong and continues to fight. Even though she has romantic feelings for the boys, her true love and driving force of the story is her little sister, Prim. In The Divergent Trilogy, Tris and Four’s relationship is in the forefront, but she remains a strong warrior. Her life and her decisions, especially in the final book, are her own and often not what Four would advise. In Eleanor & Park, Eleanor’s feelings for Park don’t keep her from making tough choices that run against Park’s interests. Hazel Grace, in The Fault in Our Stars, stands firm as a strong character in the face of tragedy. Her romance with Augustus doesn’t dampen that strength.
The issue seems to be less about romance and more about how the romance effects the character. Does she suddenly go to her boyfriend to guide her through everything? Does she make her own decisions? Does she retain her own agency? Yes? Then, no matter the romance, you still have a strong female character.
Faced with this question about my own work, I started thinking about Jacklyn and her relationship with Kyp. When Jacklyn arrives at her new home, where she will be trained to use her powers, Kyp serves as a sort of mentor, teaching her the things she wouldn’t formally learn about the Order. In this way, the power in the relationship is most certainly in his favor. However, Jacklyn is definitely the more well-adjusted of the pair, able to handle her emotions way better than her slightly unstable counterpart. Her powers lie in her body, so she is physically stronger than Kyp, whose powers lie in his mind. And while Kyp is actually the leader of the rebellion Jacklyn joins, she often makes her own rules, finds her way out of tough situations, and many times, she and Kyp butt heads over the way things should be. At times she is right. At times she is wrong. But what starts out as a clear power differential, slowly becomes something a little more even-keel. Like Katniss, Jacklyn’s agency takes some hits because of forces out of her control, in this case, the female leader of The Order. But, also like Katniss, Jacklyn is often able to make tougher decisions than the men in her life, and is often far more headstrong and powerful.
When you’re writing about young adult characters, they should feel real, even in unreal circumstances. Some teenagers are not interested in romance. Many are. And if your character has a significant other, their lives are going to be impacted by them in much the same way having a best friend, siblings, parents, would impact them. Good relationships, of any kind, lift us up. They bolster our confidence.
If you still think writing a female character in a romantic relationship must somehow weaken them, then ask yourself this – is a male with a girlfriend made somehow weaker? Just because he has a girlfriend he cares about? If your answer is ‘no, that’s ridiculous’, you might want to consider why anyone believes a female with a boyfriend would be any different.
Justine Manzano is a multi-genre writer living in Bronx, NY with her husband, son, and a cacophony of cats. She maintains a semi-monthly blog at JustineManzano.com and a twitter account @justine_manzano, where she discusses her adventures in juggling motherhood, writing, and the very serious businesses of fangirling and multiple forms of geekery. The Order of the Key, the first book of her YA Fantasy series Keys and Guardians has been contracted for publication by Fantasy Works Publishing and will be available for purchase in Fall 2015.
As someone who may never get married and has no intention of ever having babies, it’s definitely something I’ve thought about: the fact that any books I go on to publish will become like my children. I do feel that the things I have written are that sacred to me, like gifts from God (or from the universe, depending on what you believe). They’ve sprung from my head, kind of like Athena sprung from Zeus’ head. The latter is an appropriate analogy. Athena was always one of those goddesses I was able to relate to. She never got married or had a kid either.
This theme of not marrying and not having kids is important. I will get back to it.
I have been writing about the same character for going on fifteen years. He’s gone through so many changes that it seems weird to say that, but I do think of him as one character who is helping me explore different facets of my own personality in ways that are sometimes literal and sometimes more allegorical.
And I can’t help but wonder if there are other writers out there like that, who have fallen in love with their characters as though they were their lovers or their own children. Maybe it’s just my way of justifying the way I choose to live my life and to find deeper meaning in it.
How appropriate that I should be writing YA fiction then, considering the fact that I feel responsible for these lives that I’ve created as though they were actual children. It’s my job to mold them and help guide them on the path that is right for them. And I can only do so much guiding. Eventually, they have to develop their own voices and tell their own stories.
A subject I’ve been exploring a lot in my own work is asexuality (presumably the sexual orientation where someone chooses not to get married or have kids, but as I’ve come to realize over the past few years, that is not always the case). Asexuality is not something that I’ve encountered too often in the media but something that fascinates me. There are books and movies out there that deal with the asexual character — like Dexter, and The Big Bang Theory, and Sherlock — but almost in a cursory sort of way. And often times, these characters don’t stay asexual for long because sex sells.
However, people are becoming more and more aware of alternative lifestyles and orientations. This is something that young people are grappling with especially — their own sexual identities — and is, therefore, a very relevant topic if you’re inclined to write young adult fiction.
I remember reading one quote in particular from The Perks of Being a Wallflower in 2012: “I just need to know that someone out there listens and understands and doesn’t try to sleep with people even if they could have. I need to know that these people exist.” And that quote has stuck with me for the past three years because I’ve realized that if I could pick a thesis statement for what my own writing is trying to say, that is it. I feel that there is a need for stories like that, and the main character of The Perks of Being a Wallflower only confirmed what I already believed. There is a need to feel that connection with other human beings that transcends the physical; a form of human connection that doesn’t come with rules and conditions and societal expectations that weigh you down at times and make you feel that you are unworthy of love, or simply pursuing the wrong things. I want to get to the heart of the matter — that connection that can occur between any two people regardless of age, sex, race, genetics, etc. And to get back to what I was saying earlier about asexuality, just because a character never ends up finding a sexual partner in the end, it doesn’t mean that they don’t long for the same things that your typical, often heterosexual, characters do. They may still want to experience companionship, or parenthood, or even romantic love. I am fascinated by the many different ways there are to feel connected to others and the many different kinds of relationships there are out there.
My critical thesis in grad school was on connection and disconnection in literature. A woman named Claudia Johnson came up with this theory that what makes a story so rich is not just the conflict and the drama, but also the connections, or disconnections, between the key players that serve as the driving force for the different messages on what it means to be human. She discusses this in her article “The Power And Importance of Human Connection To A Great Screenplay,” which I strongly recommend reading. And if there is one kind of fiction that excels at digging deep into what it means to be a passionate individual who is all about the connections and disconnections in life, it would have to be YA. Teens understand more acutely than most what it means to fit in, or not fit in, as the case may be, and the importance of feeling loved and accepted. Sure, sex, drugs and high school drama are all well and good, but the connection and disconnection is really what it all comes down to. Teens know all about peer pressure. About first love. And especially unrequited love. What is unrequited love anyway? If you care for someone and they teach you things about yourself and make you grow as an individual, is that not just love? Love for them, perhaps, and maybe even love for yourself. A connection with another person can be a powerful, life-changing thing, even if it is not reciprocated. Kind of like how you can really love a book and be moved by the message you got from it even though you may never find out what the author was really trying to say. One of the things I mentioned in my critical thesis in grad school was that connection and disconnection occurs between author and reader as well, not just between characters.
We don’t necessarily lose that desire to fit in as we grow older, though we may get sidetracked by all the grown up things in our lives. And maybe this is one of the reasons why so many adults love to read YA fiction. They still have these feelings, but they’re just maybe not as pronounced as they’ve gotten older. They’ve learned to control them better. Perhaps they’ve learned to hide them. And it’s the one thing that I feel connects almost every single person, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. Most everyone has that desire to be loved and accepted. Most everyone has that desire to create great things that impact the world around them.
And to get back to what I was saying in the beginning, sometimes those great things don’t come in the form of the traditional milestones such as a job, a marriage or a flesh and blood, screaming, crying infant. Sometimes they come in the form of writing a really satisfying book.
Christina Irace is a graduate of the Solstice MFA program at Pine Manor College. She recently published a piece of flash fiction, entitled “Your Best Friend’s Sister,” in Cantilever: Solstice MFA Anthology 2015. She is currently working on a YA novel that started out as a love triangle story involving two stepsisters and the boy they both like, but it may end up being about something completely different when all is said and done. She lives in South Portland, Maine with her cat Stella, who was named after the Tennessee Williams character. Maggie the Cat lives across the street with Christina’s grandmother. To read more of Christina’s posts, visit her blog: https://chmirasblog.wordpress.com.
It ain’t published until it’s published.
Makes sense, right? Like an out-of-context quote in a Facebook post or a Tweet to reassure your followers that you can handle this author thing.
But, it’s a lesson that I can’t seem to learn. I’ve written plenty of stuff, including drafts and finished products. No one has seen them except for me and a select few—either carefully chosen to gush over them or drop the editor’s equivalent of a mortar on my words. You’d think I would be ready for the next step, to get it out there, to see my efforts bear some freaking fruit. But then again, I’ve always been a poor gardener.
Why can’t I just put myself out there? Sure, my fear of rejection—that’s a good reason. A common reason. But in some ways, I think having the opposite problem is just as venomous. Sometimes a person is sure they’ll be published, that they’re the next JK Rowling, the next Suzanne Collins, or that they’re writing the next phenomenon that’ll get them all of the money. All of it. And they get complacent, secure in the unwavering belief in themselves. And they get lazy.
“Oh, I’ll resubmit this when I have time,” they say, savoring a glass of decadent brandy that they couldn’t afford with their day job. “I know I’ll do it.”
I’m not attacking a strawman here, if you haven’t guessed. This is all personal experience. A problem I have yet to overcome.
I’ve sent a draft of something out. No, I didn’t get the brutal, soul-crushing rejection letter that could turn one astray from further attempts. The comments I received were positive. Very much so. I was told that my story wasn’t quite right for the anthology in question. So, I relaxed.
“It’s good. I know it’s good. Hell, they told me so,” I thought. “When I send this sucker out again, it’ll be aces.”
I took security in the almost. The just shy. If it’s that close, then whenever I resend it, with some adjustments for the market, I’m in there.
It’s been like six months. I haven’t resubmitted. I’ve taken false security in knowing that I was close. That I could have made it there. I’m learning complacency is damning in its own right. Consequently, I’m still a guy with no publications to his credit.
Trying is hard. The reasons for not trying doesn’t really matter. If you’re not trying, you’re dying. Even if you think you’ve got a sure thing, don’t relax. Get on it. Ain’t nobody ever published something chillin’ in a notebook or lounging on a laptop,
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go admire my finished work and daydream about doing an ill-conceived Twitter Q & A.
John McKeown is an aspiring fantasy/sci-fi author from Flint, Michigan, with a penchant for procrastination. As such, he is woefully unpublished. When he’s not writing about magic, blue collar space workers and economic collapse, he either rots his brain with video games or destroys his body via competitive martial arts. Follow him on Twitter @Outfoxd21
So what happens when the industry rejects you or you reject the industry? What is a writer to do when no major publishing house wants to sign them, for whatever reason. Twenty years ago, there wasn’t much you could do but lick your wounds and try again, but nowadays, we have this thing called the Internet which has given rise to the self-published author and a myriad of small presses, both in print and online.
A quick True/False quiz:
1. Self-published books are vanity publications.
FALSE. Many self-published authors are professionals with other projects published by mainstream media. Many authors, especially those with large followings, choose the self-published route because of the artistic freedom, fast turnaround and increased share of the profits.
2. Self-publishing is easy!
FALSE. Self-publishing is neither easy nor necessarily inexpensive. Any project worth its cover price should have been professionally edited and formatted for e-book and print with an eye-catching cover. Unless you’re an expert in several fields, you’re going to need to pay someone to do some or all of those things. The costs quickly add up.
3. Self-publishing is lucrative.
MAYBE. Like any venture, you get out of it what you put into it. If you simply put a book up on Amazon and sit back to let the profits roll in, you’ll be sitting there for a while, broke. You still need to promote your work, build a fan base, outreach, and build relationships in the reading community. All those things that a publisher may do for you or in conjunction with you, you must do yourself.
4. Self-published authors can earn enough to make a living.
TRUE. Some self-published books go on to be bestsellers by mainstream media. Some self-published authors make enough profit from their books to quit their day job and isn’t that the dream of all artists?
Speaking of dreams, we can’t talk about rejection without also talking about expectations. When I started out, I had visions of fat gold stickers, movie deals, and the New York Times Bestsellers list. I still have those dreams, but in the meantime, I set goals that are within reach and under my control. If you’re consistently falling short of your goals as an artist, maybe it is time to adjust your expectations for yourself.
These are the questions I ask myself:
Is what I’m doing making me happy?
Is it important?
Is there anything I’d rather be doing?
When I ask myself these questions, everything else becomes somewhat irrelevant. I’m an artist. My medium is the written word. I write fiction, specifically in the YA genre because I identify with those readers more than any other. I will always write in some capacity because it’s good for my mental health. I’ve got many more years to produce great stories. I will endure many more rejections. One day, I’ll make it.
Or maybe, I already have.
Maybe you have too.
Laura Lascarso is the author of RACING HEARTS, an e-novella series, which tells the story of two star-crossed lovers set in the world of competitive car racing. Her debut YA novel COUNTING BACKWARDS, which deals with mental illness, won the Florida Book Award gold medal for YA literature in 2012. Laura lives in North Florida with her two children, darling husband and a menagerie of animals. Follow her on Twitter @lauralascarso
I used to take it personal.
I say that like my Vulcan heart is now calloused and impervious to rejection, but that is simply not true. Rejection hurts, in whatever form, whomever it comes from, and with whatever it entails. Unfortunately, part of being human is caring what other people think of you and our creative work is largely an extension of ourselves.
When I get a rejection, usually in the form of an email, I get bummed for a few hours, distract myself with some activity where success is assured (cleaning the bathroom), then work on an entirely unrelated project. But to give the range of experience I put out an APB on Twitter and received some reactions from my writer peeps.
When asked how they cope with rejection, none of these writers said “Rejection? I’ve never been rejected.” Nor did they say they give up. Nor did any of them act as if rejection was an uncommon phenomenon.
Now here’s the truth about publishing. It’s a business. The publisher’s job is to take your creative work and package it into a product they can sell. And like all businesses, publishers exist to turn a profit. In every major publishing house and in the small ones too, there are folks in the back room crunching numbers, conducting cost-benefit analysis, and doing number things that are generally foreign to us creatives who believe literature is a sacred art and the only thing a book needs, is to be well written and compelling in order to thrive. Agents, by extension, need to sell your story in order to make a living wage.
What this means is that if an editor doesn’t think that your book has either bestselling or award-winning potential, even if they loved it, they may not sign you. Or, if the publisher has titles that are similar by authors who’ve been with them longer, they may not sign you. Or, if they think your work is too controversial, cutting edge or nuanced, they may not sign you.
The point I’m trying to make, is that when rejection happens, it may be for reasons that are entirely out of your control and quite frankly, have little to do with your actual story.
Rejection might also mean that your story’s not ready for publication. If an editor gives you real feedback that you can incorporate into a revision, thank them genuinely. Some editors and/or agents will offer to do another read after you’ve revised. Save those contacts and revisit them later. Clearly, they saw something promising in your work and are interested in continuing the conversation.
Rejection generally falls into one of these categories:
Vague and somewhat disinterested: This rejection offers no real feedback or promise of future dealings. This rejection is the easiest to discount because the rejection is so nebulous that you can’t even be certain that the editor/agent read your project.
Pointed, detailed and constructive: Gold! This is free advice from a professional and can be used for future revisions. These rejections are especially useful if they include an invitation to resubmit later.
Mean-spirited and/or snarky: Save these for future laughs when you’re sitting on a pile of money and accolades. These folks are either burned out by the biz and in need a vacation or they’re frustrated creatives who receive pleasure by tearing others down. Don’t bother querying them again and warn your friends.
Crickets: Silence is a rejection of sorts, but the truth is that editors and agents receive exponentially more queries than they can accept and sometimes even respond to. Therefore, make sure you do your homework and take the time to really hone your pitch and query to specs so that yours is not easily dismissed.
Now that we’ve explored some methods for dealing with rejection, stay tuned for the last installment, The Truth About Rejection: Part 3 (Now What?)
Laura Lascarso is the author of RACING HEARTS, an e-novella series, which tells the story of two star-crossed lovers set in the world of competitive car racing. Her debut YA novel COUNTING BACKWARDS, which deals with mental illness, won the Florida Book Award gold medal for YA literature in 2012. Laura lives in North Florida with her two children, darling husband and a menagerie of animals. Follow her on Twitter @lauralascarso