This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? I’m honored and excited to host their stories. Read on as Eric Luper reveals how he stopped chasing trends and decided to write what he most wanted to write…
When I attended my very first children’s writing conference back in 2001, I heard an editor say something that, in my mind, should have been introduced by the blowing of long trumpets. She said, “We are looking for humorous chapter book mysteries for boys.”
I wanted to jump up and yell, “I can do that!”
Now, I already had a completed contemporary fantasy manuscript in hand and was waiting for someone to recognize it was the perfect successor to Harry Potter, but this was in the era when I would have given my left leg to have a book published (after all, I’d still need my arms to type). So, I did what I thought any aspiring children’s writer should do: I raced home and began writing a humorous chapter book mystery for boys. Actually, I did more than that. I read loads of chapter book mysteries for boys to learn how they were constructed. I spoke to writers of chapter book mysteries for boys. Then, I began writing mine.
Somewhere through the course of writing that book, I read an interview with a different editor at a different house. He said, “We’re looking for quirky picture books and edgy young adult fiction.” I raced home to get started on those. That entailed reading loads of quirky picture books and edgy young adult fiction, speaking to writers of… well, you get the point.
For three or more years, I chased trends. I wrote with the belief that I had the inside track, that I knew something most aspiring writers did not. I wrote expecting that my manuscripts would conveniently fill the void I learned about at one writing conference or another, in one article or another.
And I racked up rejection after rejection.
Scores of them.
One flaw in chasing trends is that you are nipping at the tails of loads of other writers who happen to have gotten the same information as you. By the time I was able to produce something publishable, the industry had moved on to the next thing. And the other major flaw? I was never particularly passionate about my subject matter. For a writer, this amounts to several nails in the proverbial coffin.
That is not to say the gap between 2001 and 2004 was wasted time. I was learning a lot in that period. I was learning my craft, learning about the publishing industry, and making valuable contacts. I was reading tons of books. I was developing my voice and honing my skills. In essence, I was priming the pump.
And early in 2004 it hit me… I was struck with an interesting premise for a book (a teen who plays Texas Hold’em in an illegal poker room in his hometown and loses gobs of money from his family’s small business) and I made the conscious decision to write the book that I would have wanted in my hands when I was a teen. Editors’ wish lists be damned!
In less than four months, out came the first draft of Big Slick.
It seems like a short time for a full-length novel, but a lot was happening. Every time I sat at my laptop, I made that same conscious decision. I ignored all the talk about trends and vowed to write that one book I would have cleaved to as a kid. My hope was that there were other kids out there much like me who would cleave to the same sort of book. Once I freed myself from those editors’ pesky voices, my only trouble was my poor typing skills keeping up with the thoughts racing through my mind.
Big Slick was accepted within the first few submissions and needed very little tweaking from its original version.
Since then, I’ve learned to ignore all the chatter going on around me—I ignore talk about vampires and werewolves and zombies, I ignore talk about dystopian survival stories and talk about giant squids and evil umpires from Venus. Instead, I listen to the voice within me. Nowadays, it’s the only voice I listen to when it comes to my writing.
I’d still give my left leg to have my next novel published (although I’m not sure who would want my left leg or what he or she would do with it) but I’ve learned that writing what speaks to me is far more essential than writing what someone else tells me I should be writing.
Eric Luper has been writing for teens since 1999 when he decided to stop fighting the youthful voice that was trying to make its way into his “grown up” books. Since then, he has written a bunch of books for young adults, some of which have actually been published, including Big Slick, Bug Boy, and Seth Baumgartner’s Love Manifesto. Of Eric’s fourth novel (his first for middle-grade readers), Jeremy Bender vs. the Cupcake Cadets, Gordon Gorman says, “Hats (and tams) off to Jeremy Bender for a belly laugh not even the densest cupcakes could hold down!” He is working on a few new projects but, for now, they are all super-ultra-top secret!
Eric lives in Albany, NY, but spends as many weekends as possible in nearby Lake George doing mountainey and lakey things.
Watch the book trailer for Jeremy Bender vs. the Cupcake Cadets:
Visit Eric at ericluper.com.
Follow @ericluper on Twitter.
EDITED FEB. 2: TWO WINNERS OF A PLAYAWAY PRE-LOADED WITH THE AUDIO EDITION OF SETH BAUMGARTNER’S LOVE MANIFESTO ANNOUNCED!
Commenters on this post were entered to win an audio edition of Seth Baumgartner’s Love Manifesto… and the two winners are: Lillian and Janice. Congrats! I will email for your mailing addresses shortly. And thank you so much to Eric and Playaway, for donating this awesome device and audio edition for the giveaway!
Want more in this blog series?
The Turning Points series will continue with new guest posts three times a week. Subscribe to distraction no. 99 to keep up with the series, or read all the posts with this tag.
Here are the posts in the series so far:
- Intro to the Turning Points blog series
- On overcoming bitterness by Gayle Forman
- On the Writer who never arrives by Sean Ferrell
- On the “nasty” book and the teacher’s advice that led Eileen Cook to become a writer
- On how writing short stories changed Christopher Barzak‘s vision for writing a novel (includes giveaway open through January 26!)
- On deciding to quit and walk away by Saundra Mitchell (includes giveaway open through January 27!)
You can keep up with all the open giveaways on the giveaways page!
Series images by Robert Roxby.