Lately I’ve been feeling like everyone writes faster than I do. (By “everyone” I mean other authors with all their books coming out. Not that man on the couch in my café who sits for hours reading the newspaper. Or the other man who’s fast asleep on one of the best café tables in the place, the one near the outlets.)
It is my goal to quiet my mind and focus and write so much this year that I can look back and be really proud of my output. Note that it is already almost August.
In the meantime, here are some distractions I meant to tell you about before:
Distraction #1: I’m exposing myself in INTERN’s International Sh*tty First Draft Week.
I talked about writing the first draft of Imaginary Girls and shared a scene from the draft of the novel that existed before I cut 200 pages. (And I did this while I was supposed to be writing my new novel.) Other authors have shared too. Maybe they, too, should really be writing their new novels. I can’t speak for them.
Distraction #2: I’m recommending books on VLC Productions.
I recommended some books I’ve read recently and talked about what I love and look for in novels. I also revealed two books I wish I’d written (my desire to be a more commercial writer may slip out here). Oh and I did this while I was supposed to be writing my new novel. (Which is just as creepy and weird as my last novel, so you know.)
Distraction #3: I’m giving away books to YOU.
You may have noticed that I’m talking to other authors more and more, interviewing them about writing and other random epiphanies I may have while reading their books. Today is the last day to win a signed copy of a voicey Sylvia Plath–inspired, chicken-pox-infested (in a good way!) YA novel called And Then Things Fall Apart. Enter here. And next week I’m giving away an ARC of one of the books I recommended in Distraction #2. Yes, yes, yes, I’m doing all this while I’m supposed to be writing my new novel.
Distraction #4: I’m joining a new writing community. Figment this time.
Did I show you that Imaginary Girls was the recommended book of the week last week on Figment.com? Did I? It was! Well, soon after that they asked if I’d join as a Figment author and of course I said YES. So here I am, and say hi if you’re there. There’s something else I’m doing with Figment, so I’ll keep you posted, even though I should be writing my new novel.
Distraction #5: I’m getting to chat with teen book clubs!
(Full warning: This is an amazing distraction.) Yesterday—before heading out to a Books of Wonder event instead of writing my new novel—I got the chance to do a chat with a teen book club at a library, which was such a blast. We did the chat over Chatzy, and I loved the questions the teens asked me. And—here’s the amazing part—you will not believe what they did with balloons in honor of Imaginary Girls in their book club meeting. Check out this post—with photos!
Distraction #6: I’m going to SCBWI in Los Angeles and I don’t have pajamas yet.
I should be spending next week writing my new novel. What am I doing instead? I’m headed to the big international summer SCBWI conference in LA… even though I haven’t finished the novel yet. Yeah, smart move. BUT I think the conference will be inspiring, and I may be able to slip in some writing in the hotel room while away, who knows. The pajamas are needed for the gala party Saturday night, and I really have to get on that. So will I see you at the conference? I’ll be at the PAL authors book sale Friday evening with ten (10) copies of Imaginary Girls. Please come get them so I don’t have to cram them into my suitcase during the flight home.
Speaking of California…
While out there, I’m doing a Bridge to Books event with three other YA authors—Cindy Pon, Holly Goldberg Sloan, and Suzanne Young. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, come see us at Once Upon a Time Bookstore in Montrose, CA on Sunday, August 7at 1:30 pm! We’ll be reading and signing our books and here’s more info about the event.
This is my only appearance on the West Coast—and my first-ever appearance out of New York state!
I’m very excited about it even if I really should be writing my new novel!
And now, do you like audio books? I have news…
Here’s an exciting announcement about Imaginary Girls: There will be an audio book of Imaginary Girls out this January 2012 with Recorded Books! Last night I listened to an audio sample for a possible Chloe—can you imagine how weird that is???
On that exciting note, I’ll end this distracting post, seeing as I just wrote this instead of writing my new novel. Next I’ll eat a banana instead of writing my new novel, maybe tweet about the audio book news instead of writing my new novel, and then, THEN…
Then I’ll turn off the internet for a bit and write my new novel. (Trying to finish it ASAP.)
What’s today? A random Tuesday. But wait! It’s a wonderful Tuesday because this is the day Arlaina Tibensky’s debut novel comes out. And Then Things Fall Apart is a book some of you may remember if you were there in the audience, as I was, at the NYC Teen Author Festival this spring when Arlaina read a hilarious, angst-ridden taste of it. If you were there, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And if you weren’t? I’m sharing an interview with the author today—and giving away a signed copy of her book—so you can get a taste, too.
First, here’s a little bit about And Then Things Fall Apart:
Keek’s life was totally perfect.
Keek and her boyfriend just had their Worst Fight Ever, her best friend heinously betrayed her, her parents are divorcing, and her mom’s across the country caring for her newborn cousin, who may or may not make it home from the hospital. To top it all off, Keek’s got the plague. (Well, the chicken pox.) Now she’s holed up at her grandmother’s technologically-barren house until further notice. Not quite the summer vacation Keek had in mind.
With only an old typewriter and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar for solace and guidance, Keek’s alone with her swirling thoughts. But one thing’s clear through her feverish haze—she’s got to figure out why things went wrong so she can put them right.
First the interview! Then—if you want to win this book—check the bottom of this post for a chance to win a signed copy.
I’ll start off by telling my blog readers that the first time I encountered you and your book was at the NYC Teen Author Festival this past spring, when you were up on stage during the debut authors reading. You read an excerpt from And Then Things Fall Apart (Simon Pulse, 7/26/11) that was biting, hysterical, filled with angst, and that absolutely charmed the whole auditorium. After hearing you read, I stalked you online, discovered we went to the same MFA program (Columbia University, in fiction, though we just missed each other), and then I went ballistic all over Twitter saying how much I adored your writing and was very, very excited to get to meet you. That’s what happens when I fall in deep and lasting love with someone’s voice. (I hope no one reading this is scared of me now.) So, where did the voice for your narrator, Keek, come from? Was she a little like you as a teenager? Do you have any tips or secrets for building a strong and memorable first-person voice for a character, one that jumps off the page like Keek’s does?
Thanks so much for being so enthusiastic about And Then Things Fall Apart! I’m so glad we connected because I’m a huge fan of Imaginary Girls and here we are now gabbing away like old pals! What was the question? Right. Voice. Keek’s voice is totally me and totally NOT me at all. At the exact same time. Before I sat down to write this book I made an elaborate playlist—not just of songs that I was obsessed with in high school, but songs that made me feel like my best, strongest, up-yours self. I mean, not just the Cure and Adam Ant but also songs from the musical Cabaret, Beethoven, and Peggy Lee, etc. I wanted her to sound like me as a teenager but also a better, stronger, more-synapses-popping version of myself as a teenager. I was also really into listening to this guided meditation before I sat down to write. It was all about opening up the creative part of your brain, and opening to receive, and clearing your mind to let creative thoughts take over. I think what that really did was give myself permission to really listen to the story I wanted to tell. And once that happened… Keek was free and clear to enter my brain and take over. (I hope no one reading this is scared of ME now!) So is that advice? I dunno. Getting your own brain out of the way is a great way to let other voices in.
Your novel is about the summer everything goes utterly wrong for Keek, not to mention that she’s quarantined away from the world with the chicken pox, and for solace she immerses herself in a book I remember loving myself when I was young: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (though, when I was a teenager, my poet of choice was Anne Sexton). What about Sylvia Plath inspired this story? Do you remember the first time you read The Bell Jar?
I don’t remember the first time I read The Bell Jar, but I do remember the first time I read The Catcher in the Rye and then Plath’s poems in Ariel. They happened within weeks of each other. I read The Catcher in the Rye in one day. The momentum and strength of the voice just smeared me on toast and I had never felt so connected to a fictional character before. The poems in Ariel are brutal, cruel and beautiful. Together, those books had a huge personal and artistic impact on me. The Bell Jar was also a favorite and as a device for And Then Things Fall Apart, there was much more to work with than the poems because Esther and Keek are both teenagers and the situations were very grounded in a more precise time of life. I also knew the kind of reader I wanted to attract to my book… and I wanted the cool, artsy, badass girls who love Sylvia Plath to be friends with Keek.
I seem to recall you saying that the first draft of And Then Things Fall Apart (which originally had a different title) was far shorter than the final book turned out to be and that much of the work of expanding the story happened after the book sold to Simon Pulse, in revision. Can you talk a bit about the writing process, and what was there from the start and what grew from the story as you were writing? Did anything surprising come out along the way?
Wow! What a process! When my editor explained to me that I needed to DOUBLE my page count, I freaked out. She had suggestions on places that needed more and aspects of Keek’s journey where I could really add tons more. My editor was fantastic and really gave me free rein to explore. In the first draft, I was afraid of talking about sex too much. In the second draft—you couldn’t shut Keek up about tarantulas and penises and bras flung on the floor. The grandma emerged as a real force in the book on revision, which was a fun surprise. As I wrote more, everything that was already on the page seemed to feed effortlessly into the next theme and idea. It was all there already, it just needed to be written and my editor knew that WAY before I did!
We’ve talked about this before, privately, since we both started off writing literary fiction for adults and found ourselves—maybe not exactly planning it—but writing and loving writing YA. What drew you to writing a young adult novel and writing from a teenage perspective? Do you hope to keep on writing YA and do you ever think you’ll return to writing for adults?
First of all, I think there is this misconception that anyone who knows how to type and spell can write YA. That it is an easier and dumber version of real literature. But I assure you, not everyone can do it. I feel, at least for me, that it is a kind of gift. All the stories I had ever written that were any good were about teenagers. I feel very connected to that time in my life and feel that those teenaged years forged who I am as a person and writer. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t choose to write YA, YA chose me. I’m a writer who is writing YA right now. I’m sure I’ll write for “adults” one day… but I think when push comes to shove, I’m a writer. And this is what I’m into right now. And loving it!
About that MFA we both ended up getting… I won’t go into a whole thing about my own conflicted feelings about the MFA (ahem, student loans, ahem) and ask you to delve into yours, but is there anything you took away from your time in the Writing Division of Columbia University that found its way into the writing of this book? If you could go back to those early days when you were first deciding to do an MFA, would you do anything differently? I guess this is a question I ask myself often, but would you start off writing YA from the get-go?
I was young when I embarked on an MFA. I went into it with the simple idea of becoming a better writer. I didn’t know what I really wanted from the experience and underestimated the financial burden of those effing loans! If I could do it all over again I would have had a novel in mind before starting and I would have tried to find a school that would help fund the whole enterprise. When I was in school YA wasn’t the amazing genre it is today or I would have gone that route much, much (MUCH!) earlier. But I must say, I don’t regret the MFA. If anything, it kept me working and writing and ensured that I didn’t give up—I had too much riding on publishing emotionally and financially…
Rejection is hard to talk about, and it’s not always fun to sit and reminisce about the times we heard the word no. But I think it’s important for aspiring authors to see that sometimes many attempts go into publishing your first book, even if it looks floaty and sparkly and easy from the outside. Stories of perseverance always make me, personally, end up rooting even more for the author and much more excited to go out and buy her book. So, do you have a story of perseverance before And Then Things Fall Apart came to be that you’d want to share here?
The MS for And Then Things Fall Apart (all 125 pages of it) was basically pulled out of a slush pile because I kept poking the agent (the last one on the list of agents before I took a break and tried ANOTHER batch of 10) with a stick. I got very close with a handful of high-powered, established, and famous agents but no dice. And Then Things Started to Happen. But! One agent (who happens to be married to a YA hero of mine) rejected it because he didn’t “get” the voice. His wife (said YA hero) fell in love with Keek at the Teen Author Festival and kept going on and on about it over dinner! So what am I saying? It’s kind of a crap shoot all the way around but I do believe (and maybe this is a vestige of MFA-ness) good fiction finds a way out into the world. So. Write with passion and a critical eye and keep going until the universe gives you a sign… And don’t give up. I think most of publishing is an endurance test. The last one standing gets a book deal.
Here’s a short and simple question, since the previous six were so long: What kind of reader do you hope will find this book?
I think all writers are secretly writing for all the people out in the world who are, in all the important ways, JUST LIKE THEM. I want to reach the kind of readers who get my jokes, who understand where I’m coming from, because they are coming from there too. I just hope that a LOT of people pick it up (it makes a GREAT gift) and that the majority of them enjoy the book and one day, will be in line at the Whole Foods checkout reading the ingredients on the back of their organic cereal and think of Keek begrudgingly making cannibal cups in her grandma’s kitchen.
The internet is a minefield. I’m censoring what I want to say about that.
You know what else is a minefield? My first draft. Every time I make progress I see another UTTERLY IMPORTANT plot piece I need to go back and change! I get new ideas and I want them in! My muse—yes, I have a muse; it’s a boy and he lives with me—says something brilliant about the story or the characters, I get a new idea, and start itching to make the fix. This story is many-layered, with multiple threads and people involved. Tug or shift one and the whole thing caves in.
I know I’ll be happy I did this later, but some days I can’t see the progress. My word count keeps contracting and expanding and then contracting again as I cut words, spew out new ones, and forge ahead.
What happened? you may ask. I thought you were writing a first draft! You’re not supposed to go back to the beginning.
Oh well. I do a lot of things I’m not supposed to do.
I am writing a “first” draft. But I’m a revise-as-I-go writer, and I absolutely could not bear to have the wrong plot elements in place behind me as I wrote ahead to end. (Also I find that confusing.) I had to go back, people. I had to go back to page 1, even though I know I’ll still need to revise more later.
Going back to the beginning—yet again—was a few weeks ago by now, I guess, so I am no longer on page 1, thank you very much, but I’m still not done.
This novel is… nothing like I’ve ever written before. And yet also at the same time this novel is very, very me.
Hey—changing subject to divert you from the fact that my novel is not done yet—want to read a really amazing book… one I didn’t write?
You’re in luck. Check out my interview with author Amy Reed about her stunning new novel CLEAN. If you comment on the post, you’re entered to win a signed copy! Thank you so much to everyone who’s shared comments so far… the stories are so touching. You have till Monday to leave a comment and I hope you will!
There is a novel that has long been on my “Books I Love” list—a stunning debut novel by Amy Reed. I fell in love with Beautiful, it absolutely spoke to me, and when I heard that Amy had a new book coming out this summer I gathered up my courage and emailed her to ask for an interview. Not only did she say yes, she was able to get me an egalley of Clean to read beforehand, and I was blown away by this book. Now, to celebrate the launch of her new book I have a writer-to-writer interview with Amy Reed to share today—and we’re giving away a signed hardcover of Clean! At the end of the interview, I’ll tell you how you can enter this giveaway.
Clean is out in stores as of just yesterday, and believe me you will want to read this book. Some of you may need to read it.
Here’s more about Clean, from the book’s summary:
You’re probably wondering how I ended up here. I’m still wondering the same thing.
Olivia, Kelly, Christopher, Jason, and Eva have one thing in common: They’re addicts. Addicts who have hit rock bottom and been stuck together in rehab to face their problems, face sobriety, and face themselves. None of them wants to be there. None of them wants to confront the truths about their pasts. And they certainly don’t want to share their darkest secrets and most desperate fears with a room of strangers. But they’ll all have to deal with themselves and one another if they want to learn how to live. Because when you get that high, there’s nowhere to go but down, down, down.
And now here’s my interview with the immensely talented Amy Reed, where I ask her about her first book, her new book, and all writing things in between—and keep on reading for a chance to win a signed copy!
When I first read your debut novel BEAUTIFUL, I felt like I’d found the novel I should have read when I was a teenager. I wish that book had existed when I was fifteen* because goddamn I think my whole life would be different if I’d read it then. Where did this story come from? Do you think you, too, would have been changed if you’d had a book like BEAUTIFUL when you were fifteen? (*Fifteen was a turning-point year for me, full of regrets, but for someone else it could be another number.)
Amy: I think most of us have those turning point years, and most of the time they probably center around the loss of innocence. In many cultures, there are coming-of-age rituals to honor this transition; in ours, it seems, we’re often just thrown into a pool of sharks and told to sink or swim. My turning point year was thirteen, and BEAUTIFUL was partly based on events from that time in my life. I very much identify with Cassie—her loneliness, confusion, fear, her desperate and self-destructive need to fit in. One of the best things I hear YA authors say is that we aim to write the books we wish existed when we were teens. That is definitely the case with BEAUTIFUL and CLEAN. I always loved reading, but I remember not finding much I identified with at that age. I think Go Ask Alice, Girl, Interrupted, and the poetry of Anne Sexton got the closest. But none of those stories ended very well. Maybe if I had found more I could relate to, it would have given me a better perspective on the choices I was faced with. Sometimes it’s hard to see all sides of something when we’re stuck inside it. It often takes stepping back and seeing it from another angle. I hope my books can help readers do that.
I remember—somewhere I saw this—that BEAUTIFUL originally stemmed from a short story, and this intrigued and excited me because that’s how IMAGINARY GIRLS first surfaced for me. Mine was a short story that changed, very drastically, by the time it turned into the novel. So what was the spark from the short story that expanded itself into the novel for you? What about the story made you know there was more that needed to be told?
Under the Wall, the short story BEAUTIFUL was based on (which you can read here) is very different than the final novel. It is told in short non-linear chunks and is much more stylized and experimental. The narrator (who is twelve, not thirteen) is extremely cold and dissociated from her emotions. I did not have a teen audience in mind when I wrote it. I didn’t have a teen audience in mind when I started writing BEAUTIFUL either, but I was definitely thinking of a larger world than the small literary journal community I was writing short stories for. I think the story was always supposed to be a novel for me, but it made sense at the time to approach it as a short story first. I think trying to write a novel first would have overwhelmed me.
I’m writing these questions after just minutes ago finishing your new novel CLEAN, which captivated me, spoke to me, and made me cry on multiple occasions in public cafés even though I tried to hold myself together. It’s the story of a group of teens battling addiction in a rehab center. They’re each so distinct, and addicted to different things. I was so impressed by your use of voice in this book, how voices sometimes flashed from one to the next, paragraph after paragraph, and also how you focused, alternately, on two contrasting main characters, Kelly and Christopher. Why did you choose to tell this story in multiple voices? I imagine that was a daring and intimidating choice to face as a writer—and, wow, was it successful. Did one character come to you before the others did? Do you feel a deeper connection to any one voice?
The characters’ voices were really the most important thing to me. I knew from the beginning that the book would only work if the voices were absolutely distinct. I remember something a writing teacher told me about writing good dialogue—that the reader should always be able to tell who’s speaking without being told who it is. I approached the narration with that always in mind. After I wrote a draft, I went through each character’s narrations separately, often speaking them out loud to make sure their voices stayed consistent. I think writing in first person is very similar to method acting—the writer must BE the character to truly understand and communicate them.
I always knew I was going to tell this story in multiple voices. From the beginning, I really saw addiction as the main character in this book, and I wanted to explore all of its various incarnations. Each character has a distinct arc, but there is also a collective group arc. The nature of addiction is that it isolates people, while recovery requires community—my goal was to tell the story of the building of that community.
Originally, I planned on all five main characters—Olivia, Kelly, Christopher, Eva, and Jason—to be narrators, not just Kelly and Christopher. My agent (the lovely and brilliant Amy Tipton) convinced me to try focusing on two, so I picked Kelly and Christopher. I’m not exactly sure why I chose those two. I’d say it was a decision based on instinct rather than logic. But I think part of it was that they’re so different and represent a pretty wide range of people; they show that anyone’s capable of becoming an addict, not just the stereotypes we’re used to. In some ways, I think the three girls—Kelly, Olivia, and Eva—represent different parts of me at that age, different identities I tried on or were sometimes forced upon me. Christopher was kind of a mash-up of a few people from my past who I had loved very much. By far, the most difficult character for me to write was Jason, and I think he was also the most rewarding. I wanted to challenge myself to write the kind of boy I always blindly hated as a teenager, but I wanted to get beyond the stereotype to ultimately find compassion and love for him.
CLEAN feels so raw and honest. And also hopeful. I’ve seen it compared to GO ASK ALICE, which you should know was a favorite of mine when I was thirteen and fourteen and I probably read it dozens of times, but CLEAN is so much more than that to me. It shines a light on addiction and what comes after and could truly be the book a teen struggling with addition most needs to read. What made you want to tell this story?
I wanted to explore the complexities of addiction and shed light on a subject many people think they understand, but don’t. People often talk about addiction in terms of good and bad, as if it is only a moral issue—like the D.A.R.E. police officers I remember visiting my elementary school classrooms. I remember them saying “Just Say No,” but I don’t remember them ever really telling us why. Even at that young age, I remember not trusting a word they said. In CLEAN, I wanted to show what can really happen when alcohol and drug use get out of hand, how easy it is for kids to become addicts, how quickly lives can fall apart, but also how it’s never too early (or too late) to make the decision to change. I don’t ever want to tell anyone not to do something because it’s “bad.” Maybe that’s enough for some people, but it never worked for me. I want to tell the stories of what can happen, let my readers figure out the cause and effect, and then trust them to make the choices on their own.
When did you first decide you wanted to write YA novels? Have you ever considered writing for adults or did you before this? (I ask, personally curious, because I didn’t start off wanting to write YA; I’d intended to write literary fiction for adults, but reading YA novels changed all that.) So I wonder, what drew you to YA?
I definitely started out writing for an adult literary audience, first with short stories. I’ve said this in other interviews, but I didn’t even know the YA genre existed until after I wrote a pretty final draft of BEAUTIFUL and was actively looking for an agent. I always wanted to write about teens, but I never even considered that I could choose to write specifically for them as well. I was thinking about BEAUTIFUL as belonging in the world of my favorite novels about teens that were written for adults: The Lovely Bones, White Oleander, Push, Bastard Out of Carolina, etc. It wasn’t until an agent I queried actually told me my book was YA that I even knew about this world. Then it was like a lightbulb went on. I started obsessively researching the genre and reading all the best contemporary YA I could find. These were my people. This was my home. Ever since, the stories and voices that I’ve been most passionate about have all been YA. These are the stories that want me to tell them.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is one I’m sure you know, by Madeline L’Engle: “You have to write the book that want to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” I don’t remember the exact quote, but I remember reading an interview with Sherman Alexie a couple years ago where he said something like “Writing for teens is just like writing for adults, except without all the bullshit.” I feel like I get to be honest in writing for teens in a way I couldn’t be writing for adults. I know I will want to write adult fiction again someday, but I’m pretty damn happy with what I’m doing right now.
Your novels never stray from reality, and in the best way possible. This reality is a searing view into things I remember facing as a teenager and seeing my friends face. So many YA authors are slipping out of reality and writing paranormal, or dystopian, etc. (I know I’ve slipped myself.) What keeps you grounded in the real? What do you love most about writing contemporary realistic novels?
Quite simply, I guess it’s because this is the world I know, the world I live in; these are my stories and the stories of people I love. I don’t know that I picked contemporary YA as my genre; I think it picked me. I just don’t think in paranormal terms; that world doesn’t exist in my head. Realistic dystopian, however, I could see myself writing (and maybe I am already…) My favorite dystopian novels (The Road, The Parable of the Sower, The Hunger Games trilogy, anything by Margaret Atwood) still rely on character more than anything, and when they rely on plot, it is with concepts firmly rooted in a deep understanding of the human condition, not just gimmicks and lazy science.
Having read both CLEAN and BEAUTIFUL, I’m a gigantic fan of yours and hope to read many more Amy Reed novels to come. What can we expect from you in the future? Can you talk a bit about upcoming novels?
My third YA novel, CRAZY, is finished and scheduled to release next summer, and I’ve seen a draft of the cover already. I love this book so much, I can’t even tell you. It’s a love story (yes, I actually wrote a love story) between two teens, told in emails they write to each other over the course of a few months. One of the characters suffers from bi-polar disorder, and the story is about them trying to make sense of her increasingly erratic and self-destructive behavior, in addition to everything else going on in their lives. What I’m working on now is kind of a secret at the moment, but it may have something to do with your last question…
CLEAN was published by Simon Pulse just yesterday! Go to a store, go get it! For more about Amy and her book, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.
Thank you, Amy, for answering all my long and rambling questions—and for writing such beautiful, important books. As a fan of yours, it’s an honor to have you here on my blog.
And now for you… want to win a signed hardcover of Amy Reed’s new novel CLEAN? To enter, just leave a comment on this post answering this question:
What is an obstacle that you’re proud to have overcome?
Leave your answer to this question below, and you’re entered to win! (US only, sorry.)
(I’m closing this giveaway on Monday, July 25 at 9:00 p.m. EST and I’ll reveal the winner soon after!)
I’ve been called “weird” a lot lately. Not always unkindly. I’ve just noticed that word thrown around a lot on my Twitter feed and in reviews.
Weird. Strange. Creepy even.
Oh I know, no one’s saying I’m weird (or creepy, for that matter). They’re talking about my book.
But I wrote that book. That book came from me. I’m on every single page.
I guess I don’t get how authors can remove themselves from the books they write once they’re out in the world, though this is what you must do for your own sanity. Professionals tell you this—for when your book goes out on submission, to when it’s read and reviewed and once it (hopefully) makes it onto library shelves and into stores. Isn’t that the advice you hear? You are not your book. Don’t take it so personally.
Here I am to admit to you that I’ve never been so good with that concept. Especially with Imaginary Girls. I really actually am this book. Maybe only people I know can see that—my little sister, my other half, and oh especially my mom sees it—so maybe you don’t realize.
Besides, I don’t want to separate myself from my book. I want my emotions all tied up in it even if that’s dangerous. I don’t want to numb myself to this book because I’ve done that before. Quite a few times.
You see, I actually have written fiction that is entirely separate from me. So separate I wrote it under a different name. So separate that I wrote it “on assignment” with someone else telling me what to write. I was informed what the characters wanted and looked like and were named and/or what movie script plot to follow, beat by beat, with images of famous actors for reference. When you write on assignment like this, you have to remove your emotions entirely from the process. You have to basically be willing—and eager, because your paycheck is riding on it—to do whatever someone else wants and not be upset when they want something you don’t. Or hate what you wrote. Or you hate what they’re telling you to write.
One time I wrote a licensed book on assignment, a book that was supposed to be funny. The editor said she liked what I was doing and thought it was great. But then the manuscript got sent to the licensor for approval and feedback—that’s the Big Famous Studio that owned the characters and story I was writing about. Well… they hated it. They hated it so much, they didn’t want the book published at all. Not just not by me… by anyone. The whole project got canceled, though I got a kill fee. I remember overhearing the editor telling someone why the book got canceled: “They said it wasn’t funny. They thought their writers could do better.” (Their writers could have.) But I remember overhearing that and thinking: She’s talking about me. She’s telling everyone I got rejected so badly by this Big Famous Studio and I suck and I should never write anything again.
I was upset for one hour. They don’t think I’m funny! I thought. (In actuality, really I’m not so funny.) They want to write it themselves! Then I realized: This book had nothing to do with me. It was absolutely separate from who I am as a writer, who I really am and what my real writing is like. I numbed myself, divorced all emotion from the work I’d produced, and then went to the bank and cashed my kill fee. Maybe I bought a pair of new shoes with part of it, who knows. All I know is that was that.
That’s what writing a book that’s not you feels like.
I’ve also written books that made studios and editors and licensors happy—that was the only time I failed so embarrassingly—but I learned from that experience and kept my feelings in check at all times ever since. Meaning I wrote with only the emotion needed to get the assignment done. No more. I did not let those books get inside me. They did not carry my name, and they weren’t me, and I didn’t really care when they were published because I’d already been paid and I’d already bought my new shoes (or sent in my student loan payment or the rent check or whatever).
Then I chose to stop. I quit writing work-for-hire. I chose to write the books I wanted, the books that were mine and mine alone. Even if I never got paid a cent again.
Something happens when you write fiction from your heart. You expose yourself on a platter, handing yourself over to strangers with all your grotesque bits sticking out and you can’t expect everyone to think you’re pretty.
That book Imaginary Girls? That’s me.
And that book I wrote before it, Dani Noir? Some of me found its way into that, too.
And the book I’m writing now, the one I’ve been working on all these months? Me.
I’ll tell you this: Every book I write from now until infinity is going to be me. (A side of me at least, because I’m not just one thing.) And it may not all be pretty. And you may not all like my book me. And you may think I’m creepy or weird. But you know what? I’m not going to waste my time writing something fake. I quit doing that years ago. So I may take reactions personally and measure my worth up against my book’s… but it feels so much better than being numb to it.
Here’s where I admit that I’ve put my whole self into Imaginary Girls… It’s a risk, but after what I’ve written before, I wouldn’t have it any other way.