In Which I’m Perpetually 12 Going on 13

I get excited when writers I know decide to try their hand at writing middle-grade fiction. I know a few who are just beginning their first middle-grade novels (tween? the label escapes me, so I tend to use it interchangeably depending on my mood), and I’m thrilled to have more writer friends to talk to about writing for this age group. For a while there it seemed like everyone was writing only YA. I’m glad that’s changing.

So, here I am deep into revising my own YA novel—Imaginary Girls will likely be for ages 14+, even if I decide to cut certain words, there is some serious content and darker themes in it. But that in no way means I’m done writing for tweens. I’d like to do both if the universe will let me.

Dani Noir was my first real attempt, but I feel like it’s just a taste of the stories I’d like to explore. It was only me dipping my toe in. I want to write so much more. Why do I keep coming back to that age? When I was 16 and 17, those were life-changing years, yes, but the hardest year for me, the year where I really began to turn into the girl and woman I am today, was the year I was 12 and then turned 13, the year I was in the seventh grade. That was a very painful time for me personally, family-wise, socially, and more. But it’s so vivid—and I keep wanting to write it.

The year I was 12 and would later turn 13, we’d moved from New Jersey to a house in what I was convinced was the absolute middle of nowhere in the Catskills. I lost a best friend, which felt devastating. We moved in the summer into a rented house that was owned by two former members of the Weathermen—which ignited my imagination and shaped my forming view of politics, once I discovered the archives in the basement and the radical literature left behind on the bookshelves. I didn’t understand who they were, or how that house was involved in what’s now in history books, until much later. And while all this was churning around in my mind, I was also reaching that awkward time as a girl when you’re growing up and everyone around you is there witnessing it happen.

That year, I was the new girl at school and ate lunch in the bathroom stall until I made friends, three of whom were named Heather, coincidentally, like the movie, and my sense of fashion included attaching safety pins in long rows up and down the legs of my clothes. I slept in a room off the kitchen that I was convinced was haunted, and I made friends for a brief time with a bad girl, smoked my first cigarette, which became my last cigarette after I confessed what I did to my mom, and cried over it out of terrible guilt. I had horrifying taste in music. I joined the pep squad and quit after our first practice in horror at having to “cheer” at teams involved with throwing balls. I wrote my first poems. I was painfully shy and unable to speak in class. I fought horribly with my stepfather and then made up with him happily and it was very confusing. I got a Ouija board. My mom got me Our Bodies, Ourselves. I studied ballet and wished to go on pointe. I made a friend, Erin, who was also a writer and who is still my friend today. I hated my name and longed to have a name like Jen. I babysat my little sister and pretended she was mine. I had a crushing crush on a skater boy whose name started with E. I was so angry about things going on in my life but was unable to articulate them. I thought I’d never grow up. I thought I’d never get away. So I wished to be a writer. I decided that’s what I’d become, one day. I’d write books and I’d live in the city and I’d have a cute boyfriend who actually liked me back and I wouldn’t do dishes for the rest of my life.

Not all of these things came true—I did dishes last night. But I am mostly who I wanted to be, aren’t I?

I’ve already started a new middle-grade/tween book, but I just this weekend got an idea for a whole other one. I guess I’ll be perpetually 12 going on 13 for a while still… but today, while I revise, I’m back to 16. Is there an age in the past that feels especially alive to you, or are you all grown up and like to stay that way?

If you’re interested in writing middle-grade fiction, do check out the new middle-grade blog From the Mixed-Up Files… of Middle-Grade Authors. Are you perpetually 12 going on 13, too?

Revision Gratitude

Revision is not easy. No one ever said it was. I’m revising a novel right now, and I have high hopes. My edit letter has brought out a fire in me. Ideas are swirling. I see so much possibility for the book… But it’s hard work.

I have such high hopes and such enormous intentions that I’m thinking of holing up for the entire month of July. I may see only my husband, my barista, and the security guard downstairs as I sign in and out of my writing space.

I just really want this to be the best thing I’ve ever done so far in my life, you know? And that’s pressure.

But no matter how hard this may be—and no matter the worries and stress I put on myself when the doubts come—I’ve been realizing lately just how lucky I am. How lucky it is to have this opportunity to work so hard. To have an editor. (A phenomenal editor. Her edit letter might be better crafted than my novel itself.) An editor who loves my book enough to buy it and spend all this time on it to make it better. Do you know how badly I wanted this in the years before when I was working on an ill-fated novel that ate up years of my life? How hungry I was to have someone give me a shot? How I would have worked, worked like mad, done anything really, if only I’d had this one person who could help me find a way to write that book better?

I may look like a working writer revising for her editor, but in reality I’m the same person I was at my lowest point around five years ago when no one would give me a chance. I’ll never stop being that person—rejection really does shape who you are and, more, who you want to be. It makes you work harder. It makes you want it more. It made me who I am today.

I hate thinking back to those years because they were really painful and embarrassing. But I can’t help remembering now.

Years ago, I would have killed to be in this moment. I feel so grateful.

Back to work.

Trying to Stay Off Twitter and Facebook Is a Losing Battle

I wanted to spend the summer off Facebook and Twitter entirely. I made a vow to myself, I made it public, I wished it true, but alas, I keep logging in and aaaargh!

Why it’s difficult:

  1. Some people communicate solely through Facebook messages, status comments, and Twitter DMs!
  2. Some people do not email you when they need to reach you… even if it says on your profile you’re not logging in! (Why I’d assume anyone would pay attention to that is beyond me.)
  3. My mom is on Facebook now and I miss my mom!
  4. I’m worried about my baby sister and this way I can obsessively check on her without her knowing!
  5. Some close family members only announce important news like new girlfriends on Facebook and if you don’t see it there you won’t ever know!
  6. There are book-related things I want to be able to share by clicking this little button called “Share” on external websites… and then suddenly I’m logged in and I’m sharing and I can’t help it!
  7. If you add me as a friend and I don’t add you back for three months then you might be offended!
  8. Nobody cares when you’re not there—it’s a surefire way to find out how many friends you (don’t) have!
  9. Not to mention all the surely fascinating and amazing news I’m missing about books and publishing especially from Twitter, and since I no longer work in publishing either it’s like I’m living on this little island with one tree and no one visits ever, which is fine, sure, fine, but… I’m curious! Like who’s read MATCHED by Ally Condie? I want to read it! Like who’s read LUCINELLA by Lore Segal? I just started it. What books are coming out that I should know about? What is happening? What is going on? Not to mention the lack of advice on my little one-tree island. Like what’s a good book on how to make a fast-moving plot? I went to the bookstore and can’t find one. Like who’s been a mentor at Girls Write Now? I’d love to know details. Like what are you having for dinner? There are some days I’d like to know.
  10. I just miss it—and some of you—that’s all.

Sigh. I’m still trying to keep myself away until I can make it through the next couple of months, as I have a lot of work that needs done and I am too easily distracted to add one more thing to the mix right now. But, who knows, I may crash and burn and start tweeting about the mosquito in my apartment that I can’t seem to catch (it’s bitten me 5+ times; it thinks I’m delicious).

This has quickly become a far more depressing undertaking than I expected. Is this a normal stage of social networking withdrawal, or am I just facing up to the reality of living in 2010?

Unruly Novels and Bad Tattoos

My novel and I had a very nice weekend, mostly. We worked through some plot changes together, I told her she was pretty, she revealed she still has feelings for me, and then just when I thought we were rolling she slipped out of my hands and ran off screaming and hollering through the room and I had to jump on her to calm her down. This is because she has a difficult spot around her middle and I’m trying to fix her up, if only she’d just sit still. Sometimes I want to put a leash on her so she can’t roam too far.

Then I think of the horrifying sight I saw at the bodega this weekend, while on a much-needed trip to stock up on revision ice cream. (What, you don’t need ice cream to complete a revision? Are you a superhero or a macrobiotic or something?) A short tough teenage guy came in and went to the counter to get a phone card and I was accosted with the enormous tattoo covering the whole of his left arm as he stood just beside me.

The tattoo was a menacing bulldog with red eyes. In the bulldog’s mouth was a leash. The leash was attached to the neck of a completely naked woman. Because the dog controlled the woman. Because women are lower than dogs.

I wanted to punch the guy in his smug face, but I am nonviolent (and do not want to get jumped in a bodega, and do not know how to throw a punch besides), so I held my ice cream to my chest and just glared.

I hope he never gets a girlfriend.

I hope a dog chews off his arm.

Is that mean?

So I take back what I said about the leash. My novel is free to run wild and I’ll never tie her down. I just hope she calms down enough so we can make deadline.

Speaking of tattoos, I sort of wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate every novel I publish, but I still haven’t come up with a good one for Dani Noir. I can never decide on tattoos, not that I’m against them, I think they’re gorgeous when they don’t involve naked women leashed to dogs, but I just change my mind too frequently and I can’t settle on an image I’d want on my skin for the rest of my life. It’s so annoying. This is also a problem when it comes to revision. Finishing a manuscript is like getting a tattoo. It’s forever. And when I’m revising it’s not forever yet. That’s why I love revision so much.

I still want to punch that guy in the bodega. Or at least glare at him some more.

Arrogance vs. Insecurity vs. How About a Smidge of Confidence?

I once wrote here about how I could use a confidence hat to put on while writing, and I’m afraid to find myself longing for such an easy fix again.

The thing is, humility is good. Arrogant writers are not people I enjoy; I never want to be one, no matter how sure of myself I might become. But the other thing is, there’s a way to be confident in your abilities and know you can do something and yet not think you’re the be-all end-all. Being confident doesn’t have to mean sitting around expecting everyone to tell you how awesome you are.

There is also a point where insecurity becomes not just annoying to the people who know you, it can turn into a real hindrance. It does not help you write your novel!

Therefore, I would like to not be insecure for the next six weeks.

A funny thing happened: I was at my laptop, working on a scene, and I had this little mallet of doubt knocking me on the skull every few seconds or so. I worried that I couldn’t do it, and I worried that this would go wrong and that would go wrong and all of it would fall apart, and make it stop, and yet the mallet kept clonking me on the skull and then…

A very important someone sent me an email at just the right moment, saying just the right thing, and—ta-da!—the mallet was gone and I felt loads better.

That was all it took.

I can’t be reliant on incoming emails for my self-worth though. (And I need to stop annoying my other half.) So no more insecure thoughts till August, okay?

Where do you find your confidence? It’s not from a hat, is it? Do tell.