Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On Leaping Into New Things

A number of years ago, I wrote a play called LEAP, and the photo above is from the Seattle production at Live Girls Theater. The characters are Virginia Woolf, William Shakespeare, and Samuel Clemens as children, preparing to take a giant creative leap into something terrifying and thrilling and necessary. I think my choice of those three writers in particular was fairly subconscious, but in retrospect, I love that I selected a writer of humorous fiction, a writer of subversive feminism, and a writer of plays, pulling the strands of the writer I hoped to be into one moment in time. 

I spent many more years as a playwright than I've spent writing fiction. Aside from a few stories when I was in elementary school, fiction was never my thing. Oh, I loved reading it. But as a writer? I was a playwright, through and through. I created characters and wrote dialogue. I loved the collaboration with actors and directors and designers. I would never write fiction.

Except I did. I sort of fell into it, through a ghostwriting job I was really unqualified for but found I enjoyed, and then I got hired again, and again, and I realized I wasn’t actually awful at the fiction thing. It was a different process from playwriting, for sure. And some of my playwriting habits bled through – I do very little in the way of visual description of people or places, for example. But I found my way and have been writing middle grade fiction for four years.

But I would only write middle grade fiction. As much as I love reading YA, I would never write YA. (Not least because I seriously do not want to relive my teenage years.)

Except – and don’t tell my fellow Mayhemites, lest they disown me – I’ve written a YA novel. Some of my middle grade habits may have bled through – despite the darkly subversive feminism in it, there’s a healthy bit of hope too, which I think will always be important in my writing, no matter what genres or forms or age levels I write.

As I get older – and being a parent plays a huge role in this – I become much less rigid in my thinking. I used to say never a lot. I’ll never write fiction. I’ll never homeschool. I’ll never write YA. I’ll never be one of those parents who [WHATEVER I JUDGED BEFORE I HAD KIDS]. Things happen. People change. Writers evolve.

So if I were a less evolved person, these are the things I’d be tempted to say I will never write: poetry, sci-fi, adult literary, memoir. So around 2025, you can probably keep your eyes open for my literary memoir-in-verse, TO THE MOON AND BACK.

What are the things you think you’ll never write? What have you surprised yourself by writing? Is there something you've been holding back from writing because you think, for some reason, that you can't? What would happen if you took the leap?


  1. Thanks

    Like you, I was more rigid in my thinking, and I've changed my mind a lot, too, and that's only made me a better writer and overall human being.

    That said, don't be too hard on yourself, sometimes we're resistant to moving into other areas of writing (or life) because we're PAINFULLY aware we're not yet good at certain things we admire in others.

    Also, at least in my case, it keeps us from stretching ourselves so thin we can't accomplish anything, and I've gone down that road enough times that it contributed to my being so locked in to what I'd do or not do.

    I always wrote middle grade, I first wrote my forthcoming debate GABRIEL when I was still a teenager, of course it took nearly a decade before I sold it, but you know what I mean, right?

    I didn't get into YA that much, outside HP (the post Year 3) and a few other things, that's because I rarely related to the male characters in it, and I was tired of seeing snarky jerks and psycho pervs, and I understand I'm exaggerating a little (but there's sadly truth to it), but that's often what I found when I was growing up, at least of the really popular stuff, and I often have to really hunt for books where

    That said, I often find , and I don't say that in a discriminatory way, but just like girls and women bond to Judy Blume's work and the Nancy Drew series, that same author-reader bonding matters to boys and men, too!

    For many boys and men that's John Green, Neil Gaiman, (though girls like his work, too, of course), Jeff Kinney's "Wimpy Kid" and the late Walter Dean Myers.

    The problem is for whatever reason it's HARD to get a forum of boys and men to get that going OUTSIDE of the sports area, at least that's been my experience growing up.

    That's what I hope to address in all my work as an author going forward.

    But at some point I'm probably going to venture into YA (I don't want to relive my teen years in detail either, Joy, never mind the fact it's not that long ago for me versus you at the time I write this...) in large part because of that need I have to diversify what boys and men can be and already are in the 21st Century, because while (culture issues in some parts of the world aside) we have more diverse female characters than male, and I'm seriously jonesing to broaden the spectrum!

    Gabriel has this quality, and I hope boys respond to it, though girls, you're welcome, too!

    On the other end of that spectrum, I didn't attempt picture books, as I didn't get read a lot of them when I was little, and I wasn't into books then-but that for personal rather than raw academic reasons.

    At one time, I always felt that because I'm not an also an illustrator, I wasn't as necessary because kids remember the pictures more readily than the words, per se. (Regarding books that are written and illustrated by one person, and the trend in recent years has been more accommodating to author-illustrators, and NOT just for the convenience of paying one person as some theorize via the traditional route...)

    Now of course I know many great books have a separate author and illustrator, but some of that is the jealous writer in me who wishes to be an author-illustrator, for personal and professional reasons, and I hope my fellow authors around here can understand that with the nuances involved.

    1. I definitely think it would be very cool to have the artistic skills of an author-illustrator! On the other hand, since I've had the experience as a playwright of seeing what designers bring visually to words I've created with words, I imagine there's a similar dynamic at play for authors when they get to see an illustrator's interpretation of their words. I'd love to attempt picture books some day!

  2. I was never going to live in a small Southern town. Or teach in a private school. Did it all at the same time and LOVED it!

    1. Ooh, be a classroom teacher. That's one I've said I'll never do. Now I'm a little scared... (Only because I know how massively difficult and all-consuming teaching is. I used to sub and I loved the contact with the kids w/o all the responsibility for their long-term learning.)

  3. It's so cool to do something we never thought we'd do! My debut YA is a bit of a departure from all the other things I've written (most my stuff is of the "quiet" and "literary" ilk... of course, the first thing I sell is my least-like-me more commercial contemporary ms that I didn't think was what I wanted to write!). Also, a couple years ago I probably wouldn't have expected I'd write a novel in verse, and yet... ;)

    It might seem I haven't really found my groove, or fallen into my niche, but truth is, grooves (niches, whatever) can be as wide as we want. I hope I'm always open to growing and trying new things in my writing!

    1. Ooh, I love that image that grooves can be as wide as we want. Indeed!

  4. Yeah the "I'll never's" come back to bite you - ha! It's interesting to think about how play-writing alters the way you approach novels - the show don't tell must be strong in you, I think. :)

    1. Ha, yes, I think it is (at least in certain ways). I was recently reading a discussion among fiction writers about the terribly difficult problem about how to introduce a character's appearance, especially in first person, w/o falling into the looking into the mirror trap. And I thought through my manuscripts and realized...I don't physically describe any of them. Unless there are important features for plot (Harry's scar, for example), I like leaving things to the reader to imagine.

    2. Me too! I like very little physical description of my characters. And it always takes me off guard when I'm reading and have a character all imagined in my head and the author inserts some other element of description that throws me.

  5. I've written a YA thriller~ since you know me, Joy, you know how unlikely that sounds :) I'm MG to the core, right? Right now, I feel like I'll never write anything adult or anything sci-fi, but you never know!

  6. I've surprised myself by writing fiction. As a school principal, I did lots of writing, but fiction was really frowned on. I was never allowed to tell kids that there really was never school on Fridays. Had to keep it honest and tell them we'd be there. I love writing fiction and that surprises me!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!