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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14 responses to “In Which I’m Perpetually 12 Going on 13”

  1. I am definitely stuck in my tween/teen years! I write for that age group, read their books, and laugh at their jokes. Even though two of my children now fall into that category, I’ll never fully grow up! Congrats on your book, and good luck in the future~


    • I’ll never fully grow up either… at least I sure hope I don’t!

      Thanks for commenting, and best of luck with your writing! I’m glad to connect with another MG writer. 🙂


  2. I am stuck at 17. Seriously, I’m sure that’s my default age! 🙂

    Every character I write wants to be 17, and it’s a struggle to change that sometimes…

    I have thought about writing younger ages, but the right idea would have to hit me. I have ONE idea, but I’m not sure if it’s tween or MG. I get confused with that, too. If this one ever gets written, there would be three girls who are all 14. Does that make it tween? It seems too young to be YA…

    Great post, by the way! 🙂



    • Kaz, 17 is one of those *significant* years where everything started for me, really started… In fact, the narrator in my next YA—the one I hope will be after IG—is 17.

      The tween vs. MG label is very, very confusing to me. I thought DANI NOIR was tween because that’s what the publisher called it, but it’s also considered MG. Some editorial friends have said that “tween” and “middle-grade” are interchangeable and that “tween” is just a relatively new marketing term. Maybe someone wise and in publishing could speak up as to the difference here, because it is beyond me. Like I said, I sometimes call DANI NOIR a tween novel and sometimes an MG novel, and it’s the same novel, so who knows!

      I think the subject matter of your story would determine if it’s YA, even if the characters are 14. YA in the US is tagged as either 12 and up or 14 and up… so… ?????

      Have fun being 17! I’ll catch up to you soon enough, when I return to that other novel…


  3. I’m putting the finishing touches on my first middle-grade novel after three YAs. It was quite an interesting experience and it has gotten me to want to write MORE!

    Why can’t I find a niche and stay there? Hurm…


    • Eric, maybe this is a subject for a whole other blog post, but I’ve recently discovered that going back and forth between YA and MG really works for me… it’s palette cleansing almost. It makes the stories feel fresh somehow, and helps me get a handle on a new voice. It’s something I just realized about myself.

      I’m glad to hear you want more too… And as for a niche, do you think we can have two niches? I’d love to do both and find a way to balance the two audiences. I keep wondering about this.

      Thanks so much for commenting!


  4. I’m 16-17, somewhere in there. And I am rebelling! I didn’t do it when I was really that age, so after I turned 40, I decided to start rebelling in earnest.

    Being a writer, I can make a living at this. >:-}


    • I love what you said about rebelling! Glad you have a second chance to do so through the writing—how much fun is that!


  5. I think, maturity-wise, I’m probably a solid 12-13. Writing wise, 13-15 – but that’s, like, writing skill. As far as my age? Probably 17-18. I like MCs who are searching for something and, unfortunately (fortunately?), that never really stops.


  6. I can definitely say i’m stuck in my tween years and that’s why its so easy for me to write for that age. I’ve tried writing YA but it would always turn into MG. I think having specific moments in our life that allow us to remember those years are what keep us holding on too. When I was younger, that’s how I would escape–through writing.

    I’m a part of the Mixed-Up Files site–great, right? I love the people behind it too.

    Congrats on your future books, sounds like you’re right where you should be 🙂


  7. What a great post! I think I’m stuck in 6th-8th grades. Those were wonderful and awful years. My writing is usually stuck in the MG/tween time period (despite my attempts at picture books and the current chapter book graphic novel that I’m writing). I try to dig out from the painful parts with humor and supernatural creatures. I’d love to write YA, but I think tween is as old as it gets for me (unless I write an adult novel).

    My understanding of tween is that it’s the age between MG and YA, so some tween books are young YA and some are older MG. Most seem to fall into the MG category unless romance is the driving force for the book, and then it’s YA. Or at least that’s what it seems like in the bookstore.


    p.s. I fell off the wagon this week bc there was a message on Facebook that I had to answer … so I figured I’d visit all 3 sites I’m staying off of. Now I’m trying to go off of them again. It happens. Goals are made to be modified, right? Hope you’re feeling better about social networking, whether you’re back on it or not!


  8. […] YOU REACH ME as “an impossible mystery played out on the streets of my own childhood.”  In a recent blog post, Nova Ren Suma said seventh grade “…was a very painful time for me personally, family-wise, […]


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