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?

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