distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

Turning Points: Guest Post by Brandy Colbert (+Giveaway)

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 Brandy Colbert tells us about the YA novel that changed her writing and her life…

I was scared when I began writing young adult fiction. Of everything.

Scared to show my characters’ flaws, to take the story as far as it could go. Basically, I was scared to be an honest writer. I held back because when I first started reading YA I wasn’t exposed to books that challenged me. I firmly believe that everything I read is a learning experience; whether I love it or hate it, each book I read changes me as a writer. But some just stick with you—for weeks after reading, or even years. They force you to become better, to dig down and find that story you didn’t think you were capable of telling. For me, that book is Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers.

Cracked Up to Be

The premise was simple enough: a popular girl’s fall from grace and the slow reveal of the events leading up to it. But from the first paragraph I knew I wasn’t dealing with a simple story at all because these characters. They threw out expletives when it felt right, not just in tense or dramatic situations that warranted such language from suburban, well-educated teenagers. They talked openly and frequently about sex. They were horrible to each other for no reason, they partied a lot, and they didn’t apologize for any of it. These characters weren’t cutesy or clichéd—they resonated so deeply with me because they were the people I went to high school with.

I am still in touch with many of my close friends from high school. I see some fairly often, talk to some even more. They are hardworking and smart, supportive and kind. They have remarkable careers and many are wonderful parents and spouses. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that we were ever teenagers, that we spent the mid- to late ’90s making loads of mistakes, creating cringe-worthy memories. High school was always intense and at times, terrible, and most of the time so much fun, and I’d never seen all of that so accurately depicted in a YA novel until I discovered Cracked Up to Be.

Upon finishing, I felt like taking a victory lap around my apartment for a novel I didn’t even write. It was there on the page, proof that I could create the types of characters and situations I truly wanted and someone might still publish my books. There is not one false note in Cracked Up to Be and the gritty observations within showed me how important it is to stay true to yourself as a writer. That doing so is what cultivates your voice, the intangible quality agents and editors preach about that is so frustrating until you finally get it and then wonder why it took so long when it was right there, living in you this whole time.

For me, becoming an honest writer boiled down to recognizing the quirks that make me the person I am and—somehow—incorporating that into my prose. They say write what you know, and what I know is growing up as a black kid in a Midwestern town that was more than 90% white. But I didn’t know anyone who grew up like me besides the handful of other black students in my class (literally, there were five of us in my graduating class of almost 300), so would anyone relate to my main characters? Especially if the main character’s race wasn’t the point of the novel at all?

I decided it didn’t matter. I was writing for myself, the type of novel I would have loved as a teen. Actually, the type I still love today. And you know what? As soon as I wrote like there were no rules to follow, like no one would ever question the validity of my characters and the trouble they created, I knew I’d hit on something. My writing had reached a new level. I wasn’t just pleased with it, I was proud. I saw the change. My critique partners saw it. And eventually, an agent and an editor saw it too.

It took me years to figure out that my truth is just that—mine. Cracked Up to Be isn’t a mirror image of my high school years, but its raw account of troubled suburban teenagers helped me tap into the version I wanted to explore. And while I sincerely hope readers relate to my truth, one of the most terrifying aspects of being a writer, of putting your work out there, is that this thing, this relatabilty, is ultimately out of your hands. But readers do recognize honesty, and to me, that is possibly the single greatest strength I could ever possess as a writer.

—Brandy Colbert

(Guess what? Entirely coincidentally, if you read Monday’s Turning Point blog by Daisy Whitney, you’ll see that Brandy isn’t the only author influenced by Cracked Up to Be! How amazing is that? So I’m excited to tell you that we have Cracked Up to Be‘s author here on Friday revealing her own turning point. That’s right! Stay tuned for later this week when Courtney Summers tells us what led to her publishing her incredible, beloved debut.)

Brandy Colbert was born and raised in the Ozarks, where she tap-danced for many years and never grew tired of defending Missouri’s status as a Midwestern state. She graduated with a journalism degree and has since worked as an editor at several national magazines and a business writer at an investment banking firm. Brandy lives in Los Angeles where she revels in the abundance of sunshine and palm trees, never goes to the beach, and eats too much cheese. Her debut novel, A Point So Delicate, will be released by Putnam/Penguin in fall 2013.

Visit Brandy at brandycolbert.wordpress.com.

Follow on @brandycolbert on Twitter.


Cracked Up to Be

Thank you to everyone who commented to enter the giveaway—and thank you so much to Brandy for donating a copy of Cracked Up to Be to one lucky reader! I’m happy to announce the winner:

Heather Perkinson won a copy of Courtney Summers’s debut novel Cracked Up to Be, generously donated by Brandy Colbert! Congrats! I’ll email the winner for her mailing addresses. Thanks again, everyone!

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:

You can keep up with all the open giveaways on the giveaways page!

Series images by Robert Roxby.

62 responses to “Turning Points: Guest Post by Brandy Colbert (+Giveaway)”

    • And I need to read THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH! It’s been on my TBR list for literally years now. Thanks for commenting, Juliana!

  1. I am sufficiently intrigued and will be reading Cracked Up to Be ASAP. No need to enter me in the contest, Nova. I am happy to buy a copy. Great posts!

  2. This post is another great addition to the Turning Points series. I believe that being truthful/honest/frank in the work that you’re writing is imperative for your writing to be effective. Writing’s always been a tool I use for coping, for figuring things out, for expressing myself and I’d like to write as authentically as possible, which basically means realizing there are no rules or limits. Thanks for sharing Brandy!

    • And thank you for the comment, Alexa! I absolutely agree that writing can be useful in so many different ways – that’s probably why most of us find we can’t stop writing, even when it drives us crazy. 🙂

  3. Every time I read another Turning Point series blog post I think oh she couldn’t possibly have found any more authors to write anything as good as what we’ve read so far. And every few days there is another one. Loved this! Looking forward to more.

  4. You are awesome, Brandy. THAT IS ALL. Also: tears forever! This really means a lot to me.
    Thank you.
    Also I am so excited for your book. So so excited! Can’t wait til I’m putting a copy on my shelf. 🙂

  5. I’ve been meaning to read Cracked Up To Be and never got around to it. Now I’ll have to make it a priority. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  6. Thank you for sharing your turning point, Brandy! I love when I read novels that are just honest, real. I look forward to reading your work. Thanks for the giveaway 🙂

  7. I’m loving your turning point series, Nova, and Brandy’s post just makes it better. I totally understand her love for Courtney Summers, she has a magnificent writing style. If Brandy’s book is anything similar to it, I’m going to love reading it too! It’s definitely going on my TBR list!

  8. Just wanted to pop by to say how thrilled I am to see Courtney’s name keep coming up! Cracked Up to Be is one of my favorite books ever, too. I can’t wait for the post Friday!

  9. I loved this post. What Brandy said about her high school experience really resonated with me because I also was the only black girl in mostly white classes. I’ve never read Cracked Up To Be but clearly I need to! I’m also really excited to read Brandy’s book. 🙂

  10. I need to check this book out if multiple people swear by it – including one of my beloved Lucky 13s! For me, the YA that kicked my teeth in – and there have since been a good handful – is Laurie Halse Anderson’s WINTERGIRLS. *GUH*.

    • Oh, Jessica, I have SO much love for WINTERGIRLS. Seconding that whole “kicked my teeth in” thing. Just wonderful. And yes, read CUTB immediately! No excuses. 🙂

  11. Wow this definitely sounds like a real and honest book. I definitely need to read this one. I am very curious as to what happened and how it is linked to Parker. I’m sure it must be nice for her to be popular but that has to be a lot of pressure to be perfect. I so need to read this book soon I know I will love it.

  12. Amazing post.
    I just hopped out to Brandy’s blog to check out A Point So Delicate and gah…it sounds so, so good! Can’t wait to check it out 🙂

  13. This book, this book! I love Cracked up to be! It opened my eyes too. Its rawness and complexity make me, as a reader, move on to something deeper too.

    I can’t wait to check out your book in 2013, Brandy. Your post got my interest 🙂

  14. I loved hearing how Brandy related this to her own work and her own experience. I found it so relatable. I also tweeted a link here, so give me my +1! 🙂

  15. Thanks you for such a great post – and for showing how one book can really change someone’s life!

    ccfioriole at gmail dot com

  16. I love the premise of this — I can’t wait to hear what novels have inspired my own students’ Turning Points (as writers or for any other transformation in their lives)! I’ll post this on my library’s Tumblr and its Facebook page.

  17. “Upon finishing, I felt like taking a victory lap around my apartment for a novel I didn’t even write.” <–this was the moment where I decided I needed to write down the name of Brandy Colbert's debut novel so I could keep an eye out for it. Based on this blog post, it seems like it'll be my kind of writing 🙂
    This blog series has introduced me to even more great authors and books I need to check out, including CRACKED UP TO BE! I love reading about authors being inspired by other authors!

  18. This giveaway is now closed and the winner will be announced soon. Thank you to everyone who entered—and to Brandy for giving away a copy of CRACKED UP TO BE!

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