YA by Any Other Name…

I just finished Shirley Jackson’s novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I won’t do a proper book review here since you can read my thoughts on Goodreads (sidebar). I will say, however, that it’s striking to me that she’s writing for adults but using a teenager as her main character (and in first person, no less).

Today, publishers would put Castle in the YA category. But it isn’t.

Bear with me as I nerd out for a moment. Jackson wrote in the forties and fifties when there was no special reading category for teenagers. In her day, there were children’s books and books for adults. The age of the main character in a novel did not put the book in a special lane for “young adults”. This meant that any non-kid lit could, and often did, deal with serious themes, regardless of whether its protagonist was 12 or 35.

[Nowadays, publishers would call The Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, and other classics with young protagonists YA fiction. They aren’t. These novels incorporate adult themes, some of which are easier to absorb because the characters living them out are young. In the end, though, they’re heavy books meant for grownups.]

Photo by Nikita Khandelwal on Pexels.com

Why does it matter?

Okay, it doesn’t unless you’re a novelist like me who’s going the traditional publishing route. In my last novel, my main characters open the story as adult women, but at some point they go back in time. They sound like teenagers and process information like teenagers, but the novel itself is for adults. This can be a bit of a sticky wicket because of the YA category.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle reminded me that today’s publishing categories didn’t always exist. And, in many ways, they don’t matter unless a book is being marketed to the wrong group.

In that case, it matters a lot.

Still, I have to believe the best writing advice is to write what you love regardless of the name the industry gives it. Then, hopefully, the right readers will find it.

On Getting Unstuck

I usually write from home. I don’t have an office with a beautiful cherry desk with a globe on it. I have my bed. That’s where I’ve penned at least part of three previous novels (plus the one I’m working on now).

At some point in every project, though, I start to feel claustrophobic. I dread the idea of sitting on the same bedspread, looking at the same closet. I find I can’t concentrate–even in complete silence. So I go to the library.

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

The library is a surprisingly noisy place these days. I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the line, people stopped whispering there. They started answering their phones, coughing loudly, and watching YouTubes until, now, it’s almost as “atmospheric” as a coffee shop.

As an HSP, I find it’s not the sanctuary I might have hoped for.

Still, it has what my bedroom does not–thousands and thousands of other people’s books, which represent millions of hours of concentration, determination, and pure grit. And seeing those stacks filled with ideas-come-to-life helps me to get out of the creative doldrums and back to work.

Every time.

Next time you’re in a rut, think about how you might put yourself in a different setting for an hour or two–somewhere that might inspire you to remember why your work is important. It could just be the thing you need to get unstuck.

When It Comes to Nothing

Worry is a soul-killer and brain-washer. It makes us feel we’re doing something as it saps our strength and renders us lifeless.

Jesus said, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

We know this is true, but we still borrow sorrow from tomorrow, as my mother likes to say.

Even now, I find myself sliding into an anxious place–not because of some big thing, or even a thousand small things, but because I’m letting my mind drift.

(I don’t mean I’m letting myself daydream. I mean I’m inching into the land of the Mean What-If’s. It’s good for novel writing, but not good for real life.)

A friend posted this poem by Mary Oliver, and it came at just the right time (as good poetry so often does). Maybe it will speak to you, too.

As Ordinary as Fiction

I don’t normally write about my kids. I used to, but they’re teenagers now, and I’m trying to respect their privacy. Even so, my writing habits are punctuated by mothering episodes, and it’s hard to think about my creative life without also thinking about my parenting life.

My sisters read my novel recently. They said, “It feels like YA in some parts because of the teenage voices.” I thought that was funny. I didn’t set out to write about teenagers. It just happened because that’s my world right now.

So often, our creative lives are our ordinary lives and vice versa. We conceive ideas from of the soil of our liturgies. Novels are birthed after a million laundry-folding moments.

This is as it should be–life informing art, art taking its place among myriad other realities. I hope I always have people or things to take care of, duties that demand I escape the world of fiction and join the one in front of me.

It can only make my life and art better.

Tunneling Through

I wish I had this lil’ gadget on my forehead. It would be so helpful as I continue to press forward on draft 1 of my next novel.

And I have bangs, so I could hide it, sometimes.

Instead, I’ve been giving my loved ones vacant smiles. To be fair, I may have been doing that all along. In any case, I’m using the vast majority of my creative strength on a new project, and what’s left of me isn’t worth much.

On a happy note, my debut novel advanced to the finals of the ACFW Genesis contest in the contemporary fiction category. I’ll head to San Antonio in late September to attend the awards ceremony and, obviously, to see who wins.

It’s such a shot in the arm to get outside validation on one’s work, though we shouldn’t really need it. (That’s what we tell ourselves and each other, anyway. We’re human, though, and this kind of work often leaves us wondering if we’re living in outer space). To have made it to the finals gives me courage for my current project.

Anyway, I’ve promised myself I’m not going to fall off the face of the earth just because I’m in creation mode. It’s summer, after all, and I need to feel like I went outside some. Also, I don’t want to lose momentum in the blog world.

So here I am, popping my head above ground and saying hello.

Keeping On

Still over here hacking away at a new novel. I’m officially around 20% of the way finished. This one’s easier to write than the one before it. Still, I find I have to negotiate with my brain every, single day in order to make my word count.

This is with the wind at my back, friends.

I don’t know why I find it so hard to beat back Resistance, even when I’m in a predictable writing habit. I wish it weren’t so.

All work, even creative work, requires grit and determination, though. (And writing feels like work, sometimes, let me tell you).

So, here’s to keeping on keeping on. Whatever you have going in your life right now, may you find the wherewithal to continue with it until it’s time to move to the next thing.

On Staying in the Purple

I’ve started writing a new novel. I’m 11,000 words in to what I expect will be an 80,000-ish word project. Since I’m pumping out the chapters, I find myself with depleted verbal reserves (most often of which I access to lecture my teenagers). So I though I’d just share this today. Seems about right.

Staying in the purple ain’t easy, folks. But the alternative is moving to crazy town.

In the End

On Saturday night, I got a voicemail from a writing contest coordinator. I’d entered a big thing and, it turns out, my novel made it to the semi-finals.

I cried.

The writing life is one in which a person can go a long time without any kind of outside validation. It’s hard to tell whether your writing is “good enough,” hard to find an agent, hard to break into traditional publishing.

Hard to keep going, sometimes.

So the news about the contest came at a good time. It made me feel I’m on to something, that my story resonates and is well-written. Four days later, however, I got my first ‘no’ from a major publisher. They asked if I had any other novels to show them (which, I guess, is a kind of compliment since it means they liked my writing). Still, a rejection.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

It made me feel like I might have been kidding myself, that my story is confusing or weird, that it’s poorly written.

I didn’t cry, but I felt like someone had punched me in the gut.

But then two creatives whose careers I’ve followed died this week. They were young. One was a multi-published author with a big following. I felt sick and unsettled.

In my grief and shock, I decided, once again, that I’m not going to allow my life to be consumed with things that don’t matter in the end. I’m not going to be ruled by the ups and downs of the writing/publishing life.

I refuse. (Of course, I’ve refused before, so I’ll need to be reminded when the next big thing happens).

I’m here to say: I have an agent who’s great, a novel that is winning awards and is on submission to big houses, and I have a growing platform. These are the things I would have salivated over last year. Now that they’re my reality, though, I’m no happier than I was. I still worry about the next thing. What if a publisher doesn’t understand what I’m trying to do? What if I get published and no one buys my book? What if they buy my book and hate it? Or worse, don’t care at all?

My life could be over tomorrow. Or today. I refuse to spend it hand wringing about things I cannot control.

In the end, there are more important things than whether I’m published or not. And being published will not end up making me happy.

Bringing Sexy Back (or Possibly Something Much Better)

Our semester is dying. We are not finished with the teacher/student things of this world, but we can feel our minds letting go, anyway.

In times like these, I find myself 1). staring out the window at the ivy we planted to cover our chainlink fence, and 2). looking for shows on Netflix. I’m okay with staring at the ivy. I’m not proud of the Netflix shopping. I realize I may be the last person in the U.S. to feel shame of any kind–especially shame over Netflix, but here we are.

Anyway, I found an Australian show awkwardly titled Bringing Sexy Back. It’s like Biggest Loser only with one or two contestants whose main goal it is to become “healthier” (which everyone knows really means to get thin and look hot). I have binge watched this show for the last two nights, and I hate myself for it.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

It’s supposed to be heartwarming and fun, but it’s actually profoundly depressing. To begin with, the hosts make people who hate their bodies stand in spandex on a stage before a live audience. The contestants are forced to see how fat they are in numbers and percentages, and most of them cry. Then, to address the problem, a trainer makes them work out so hard broken capillaries crop up under their eyes. Since no one can sustain that level of exercise for the rest of her life, this seems like a cruel and non-permanent solution to being fat. Plus, it’s humiliating.

The rest of the show is pretty predictable. When they’ve lost enough weight to be considered okay, the thinner-than-before contestants get their hair and makeup done and wear fashionable clothes (that, honestly, still look ill-fitting half the time). Their loved ones watch them process down a catwalk, and it’s their turn to sob. They gasp and praise, and it feels like our contestants have finally won the right to be accepted.

In the end, though, even after chair squats and chicken cutlets, the contestants stand on the stage, uneven, wobbly human beings with wrinkles and the occasional jacked-up tooth. The “shocking” transformations they’ve undergone are–am I allowed to say it?–sort-of meh. So many burpees for meh.

It makes me sad. Because, also? After the show, these people are going to battle loose skin, swallow endless, well-chewed bites of salad, work out until their knees are shot, and, eventually, get old and die. That’s their future–and mine. And while I’m not saying people shouldn’t care about their health and take charge of it, I am saying our bodies don’t stay the way we want them to.

They get old and fat or too thin or wracked with cancer. We can’t put our hope there.

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels.com

Give me conversion stories or aha moments or just about anything that deals with the inner person, the soul that endures. Turns out, I’d take those over watching someone hate-lose 50 lbs and wear bronzer on TV.

This is my life at 41. Even when I’m bored, I want to think about things that will last.

To South Africa with Love

Friends who live in South Africa stayed in our home recently. The last one left last night, and they will head back across the ocean in a short while. It was a sweet, if crowded, time of relearning about the world and discovering, once again, how similar people are no matter where they live. We were reminded that true friends are like canned goods. They keep.

Having others in my home is stretching, though. Even if they don’t mean to, our guests (and we’ve had many) hold a mirror in front of me. They cause me to notice my routines, my “must-haves” and quirks, in new ways. The fact that we have to have music playing during every meal? That’s not normal, turns out. Our multiple-pots-of-coffee mornings where even the teenagers imbibe like addicts? Different. The way I fold underwear. The fact that I fold underwear.

It can be a little uncomfortable to see myself and my habits through someone else’s eyes. This is not necessarily because I’m doing things wrong, but because I thought I knew myself well. Turns out, I’m often on autopilot. I fail to notice things. I can be a little (lot?) blind, sometimes…

Like a good spring cleaning, letting others into my personal space can bring on a life audit. It’s easier to discern which things I want to keep and which I could possibly let go when I’ve lived up close with someone who does things differently. It produces growth, which, yes, can be painful. But the alternative is stagnation and status quo. I’m not interested in those.

So I’m thankful for the last ten days for several reasons, among them the chance to see myself and my loved-ones more clearly.

Thanks, South Africa. Until next time.