R.L. SAUNDERS

writer, listener

On unhelpful publishing advice (once more, with feeling!)

I’m not feeling mean-spirited. It’s just time for this again, even if it serves no real purpose outside a little positive self-talk.

Publishing advice from those who don’t seem remotely qualified to give it (people who neither write nor read much, for example) comes in waves. Maybe I need to start paying closer attention to what I’m doing when it happens, in case something about my approach is contributing. Serious questions: Does this happen to most writers? Does this happen as frequently to male writers? Does it happen because I disclose too much? Or because I seem especially helpless? Needy? Frustrated? Stupid? Does the fact that this is even on my mind make me seem ridiculous and neurotic, somehow? And why do I care?

I’m at work on my fourth manuscript. And while I share openly about having underestimated how difficult traditional publishing would be (and I thought it would be incredibly difficult) I’m no less determined. As a writer and reader, I appreciate the vetting process–however imperfect–of traditional publishing. I also like when authors are paid for the publication of their work instead of paying to have their work published. The idea that there’s big money in self-publishing because everybody else doesn’t get a cut is mostly a fantasy. The idea that there’s big money in publishing at all is mostly a fantasy. No writer I take seriously is doing it for the prospect of a big payoff.

My experience is not so different from authors you know and love, no matter how much it seems they just popped onto the scene one day with a great book on the shelves. Most traditionally published authors endure years–sometimes double-digits’ worth–of growth (so, rejection) before they hit the right editor at the right time. Either they have many manuscripts set aside or they’ve reworked the same one a hundred-thousand times.

A couple of my more recent rejections are along the lines of: “I love so much about this–especially the voice. But it’s too similar to something on our list.” Or more painfully: “She’s one to watch–please send me what’s next!” In other words, my time will come. I have to believe that.

My process has made me a little nuttier, but my writing is there, or at least better than ever. And my confidence is intact most days, which is in no small part because of my agent. She’s not in the habit of blowing smoke up asses, which makes her encouragement valuable and sincere.

Point is, giving me (and so many like me) advice about how to self-publish, especially when it’s clear you’re not aware there’s much of a difference, is unintentionally like going to the doctor and saying, “Look, I know you’ve been at this medical thing a while and that’s actually super adorable, but I Googled my symptoms last night and here’s what’s up. You’re welcome.”

So, thank you, but please trust that I’m pretty aware of my options. I know what I’m doing, however insane it seems when you know for sure that I could have my books available next week.

Call me stubborn. But also call me patient and hard-working, because I’m those things, too. There’s no other way to be in this business.

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What does an unschool day look like?

People new to the concept of unschooling often ask what an unschooled day looks like. It comes up all the time in various homeschooling and unschooling groups I’m part of. These parents are equal parts curious, hopeful, and terrified. It definitely seems it’s the parents, not the kids, who have the hardest time undoing the unnatural link between schoolishness and genuine learning. It was no different for our family.

But, of course, there’s no such thing as a typical unschooling day. It depends on each child, each family. It also completely depends on trust and an absence of coercion. That’s hard to think about, let alone implement, since most of us were brought up in a system built almost entirely on coercion. Most of us were taught to believe that children are always trying to get away with something–that they really don’t want to learn and aren’t learning all the time–unless we coerce them with grades and comparison, threat of punishment, arbitrary limits, ominous warnings about their horribly bleak future if they don’t have schoolish accomplishments or generally comply with what we tell them to do/think, and scary stories about various dangers if they spend too much time doing something they really like (right now, the popular cautionary tale is one of “technology addiction”).

So while every day looks a little different for us, and a lot different among unschooling families, here’s a glimpse of what our recent unschool days (or “days” as we call them) look like:

A few days ago, my seven-year-old unschooler watched a political candidate segment on the Today Show from bed, shared some hilarious political insights, then got up and wanted to know what time it was in Africa. I have no doubt that his question was related to what time of day people from different places might be up and playing online on a server.

This led, eventually, to going to the globe and tracing our fingers across the ocean to Africa, which led to a discussion about how humans were kidnapped in Africa and were forced to make the trip across the ocean in terrible conditions. If they lived, they were sold into slavery. He wasn’t interested in looking up specific routes, so we didn’t because that would’ve been a conversation killer right then. But history tells me we’ll circle back around to the topic in the future and he’ll be ready to build on what he already knows and thinks.

This led back to time, then to the concept of time travel. He was intensely interested in travelling back so he could drown the evil kidnappers in the ocean to save the Africans.

This led to a discussion about conflict over differing ideas about right and wrong. It’s interesting to think and talk about whether or not killing is ever justified, and if so, how so. All the while, he circled the living room. He’s not big on sit-down conversations, which was problematic for his kindergarten teacher. Here, it’s a non-issue because it doesn’t bother anybody.

This led to us recalling a documentary that was on recently about the Northern Ireland Conflict. I hadn’t realized he was paying any attention to it, but he said that more than 3,000 people died. I didn’t remember hearing that so I looked it up. He was right. He really hopes it stays pretty calm over there. Why? Because Jacksepticeye, one of his favorite potty-mouthed gamer/YouTubers, is Irish.

This led to him getting on his computer (what we call “heading to the office”) to see which of his friends were online and ready to collaborate on the suppression of a robot uprising. That could easily have led to a discussion about artificial intelligence, and some days it might, but that day it didn’t. That day, he just wanted to get on with the business of playing. And he can, because he’s taught me that it’s an important and valuable part of his development.

Around lunch time he told his friends he was getting bored. I know this because I sit right next to him at the office, which helps me cope with my stranger danger fears and helps me keep a handle on what he’s interested in. He doesn’t have to sneak around online because he’s not shamed about it. Not even about Jacksepticeye, of whom I’m personally not a fan. Like, at all.

Next, he asked me to help him bundle up so he could go outside. He made miniature snowpeople and whacked sticks against trees until he found one that was strong enough to bear his brute strength. That stick came inside with him to be added to his Special Collection of Sticks That Are Special. While taking his snow gear off, he complained about his gloves. “These pretty much suck because they’re too permeable,” he said. My mom was in my head asking me to remind him that lots of people don’t like to hear the word “sucks” but instead we talked about permeable and impermeable things.

I offered him a late lunch but he wasn’t hungry because he’d been kind of grazing all day. He’s getting pretty good at listening to his body that way since meal times aren’t scheduled into his day. When/if they need to be, he’ll figure out how to adjust. We don’t have a set family meal time. We see each other pretty often and aren’t compelled to schedule a time for meaningful interaction over a meal. This makes it a little weird for him at houses with mealtime rules for interaction (no gadgets at the table, for example), but that’s life. It’s good to learn about all the different ways families do their thing.

When I got tired, I told him I was hitting the hay. He came along, like he usually does. Lately, he likes us to read together from a very scary book. He loves being freaked out. I don’t, but I love him more than I don’t love being freaked out. Before this, he took a many-months hiatus from nighttime reading because he was more into nighttime television like Naked and Afraid or Alaskan Bush People.

The next day, we played with friends for about 7 hours at a bowling alley and arcade and then at home.

Earlier this week he spent all day outside at a nature school he loves. On nature school mornings, I say, “Are you going to nature school today? If so, you need to start getting ready now if you don’t want to get there late.” I can’t remember him ever choosing not to go, but if he does, that’s okay–whatever repercussions it causes are his to experience.

From my perspective, it’s more important that he feels in control of his life and responsible for his choices than to worry about how his choices will embarrass his parents. He’s figured out that he doesn’t like being late to nature school because he misses things that are important to him–like play time before nature school business begins.

Today he spent the day YouTubing, gaming, and trying to find some fun animation software.

He loves technology and nature and is not in an either-or environment set to shame him into or out of one or the other. This month he said he wants to become a professional prankster on YouTube. Last month he said he’s planning to spend half his time on the moon creating structures and half his time as a nurturist. I thought he meant nurturer so we talked about the difference. He did. He will be a very good nurturer. He already is, when he’s not scaring the hell out of people with pranks.

While we were deschooling–the period between leaving school and feeling genuinely confident in the decision to unschool–I’d break down all of his activities into specific subjects and skills. It was silly but necessary for me because it taught me to trust that he really is learning all the time.

I enjoy these organic, unrushed opportunities to meet him where he is and help make connections between what he likes and what he seems inclined to dig deeper into. It’s hard for me to think about the time I wasted believing real learning occurs any other way. I so wish I’d given my older kids similar opportunities a lot earlier, although they do seem a lot freer to pursue what feels right for them (including schooling and classes that they have decided have value for them, which is also unschooling). But I’m grateful for the new perspective and for the circumstances that push me to continually reevaluate and remain open to exploring what seems right for this child and for this family. *

Last week when we were at the community sailing center (in warm Key West, not still-frozen Interlochen), our unschooler struck up a conversation with about ten adults who were there after a race. “You KNOW that kid pays attention at school,” one of them said. We just smiled.

I’m aware of the constraints of parenting after divorce, single-parent families/caregivers, and families in which both parents work outside of home and can’t or don’t want to work different shifts (as some unschooling families do).  I also know that Sudbury-style democratic and free schools are out of reach financially and/or geographically for most of us. That’s why I’m also intensely interested in meaningful change in our public school system, which I’ve written about. 

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My eyes could be better, but my mom couldn’t

I first got glasses in fifth or sixth grade, but immediately stopped wearing them after somebody called me cyclops because they made my eyes appear to blend together. Fast forward several decades and my vision is extra crappy, with some newer weird and annoying issues that make seeing stuff difficult. Even with my glasses on, for example, I can only read paper-paged books for about 45 minutes, and only if I’m in bright, natural light. This makes me sad because reading paper-paged books makes me happy.

I’ve wanted eye surgery for a long time, but just found out I waited too long and now it’s too late. Now I’ll have to forget about that visually barrier-free cliff diving adventure in Greece. And base jumping off The Eiffel Tower is also now out of the realm of possibility because I just don’t trust those safe-for-base-jumping-while-visually-impaired goggle thingies. Really though, I’d have settled for reading a paper-paged book in bed by lamplight (I dreamed of that. Literally, I did.) Or maybe seeing what goes on during a shower.

The moral of the story is two-fold. First–and this is really important–you should feel very sorry for me, like I do. Second, don’t put off shit that’s important to you, even if it isn’t life-threatening. Parents who say they’ll pay better attention to themselves once the kids are older, I’m looking at you.

On the bright side, my mom just gave me the big corner bookcase from my childhood bedroom. It’s old and a little grody (aren’t we all?) and I love it a lot. I’m going to put it right next to a window and fill it up with paper-paged books, which I will continue to enjoy reading in 45-minute stints, sunlight permitting. And someday, some way, I’ll put my own books on it.

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My mom has impeccable timing, right? I think she did this on purpose. She’s one of those types.

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If we must outsource childhood, let’s do it better.

Homeschooling (under which unschooling falls) is a luxury. I used to talk a lot about the sacrifices we make to be able to homeschool. And while that’s true, the bottom line is that we’re privileged to be able to do this. I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know with perfect certainty that homeschooling is best. But at least I have the enormous luxury of choice, which is due in large part to factors that have nothing to do with anything I’m personally responsible for. Period.

Most kids go to school–even the ones whose parents would love to homeschool them. Got it. Really do.

Then why can’t we figure out how to give public school kids–all of them, in every neighborhood in the country–at least the same student-teacher ratios that exist in many expensive private schools? We’re always hearing how kids at expensive private schools do so well because of their excellent levels of parental involvement and yada, yada, barf. But, hi, they’re not with their parents for most of their waking hours. We sub out our kids’ days starting at age 4 or 5, or more realistically at age 6 weeks in the U.S. where not-as-well-resourced working parents are economically discouraged from spending a healthy amount of time with their infants. Your boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s private Caribbean island isn’t going to buy itself, people. I said get back to work and make his money. Then work some overtime and maybe get yourself a less painful breast pump and a car payment on a nice used Kia Sedona for safe, comfortable transportation to your infant’s fifty-hour weeks at daycare.

Sorry, god. I told myself I’d stay focused.

Anyway, what’s so crazy about believing no publicly funded daycare, preschool, kindergarten, first, or second grade teacher should have more than eight kids to get to know and love? Third grade on up? No more than ten. And I don’t mean add administrators and specialized support staff to deal with after-the-fact issues. In expensive private schools with healthy, intimate class sizes, kids don’t have to be singled out with a label before they receive the individual attention they deserve.

It’s not nuts. It’s doable. We can afford it if we put our money where it matters. Consider this: It varies by state, but in the U.S. we spend between three and four times as much per year to incarcerate an adult than we do to educate a child. The incarceration rate is up something like 250 percent from 1980. We lead the world, by a long shot, in incarceration for non-violent offenses.

K now take a stab at where the majority of the adults incarcerated in The Land of the Free were educated? Not in Mexico, Donald Trump. You dick.

God, sorry again.

And sure, we could say, “Well yeah, but lots of those gross criminal types were school dropouts, though.” To which we could respond to ourselves, “Why so many dropouts if the system is working well?”

So hey, educrats and other smarter-than-us politicians in charge of the future of the country and whatnot, help a simple lady understand why we can’t spend less money later and more money up front. Can we do that soonish? This is not a new concept and seems increasingly popular with folk of all stripes, at least theoretically. The problem is that, for those in charge, the system as it stands works in their kids’ favor. Their kids don’t have to compete with as many smart poor kids later in life.

And I don’t mean we should spend more money on getting kids into a broken school system faster—that’s an ill-conceived Band-Aid. All the emphasis on Head Start and getting kids academically rigorous training earlier and earlier is maddening to me, especially given what we know now about the importance of vast amounts of free play in the brain development of children. But I’m trying to stay focused here. Trying hard. Trying so hard.

A school administrator once told me that there’s just not much evidence that class size affects academic performance. In the same position, with the same dinky budget, I’d probably be inclined to convince myself that was true, too. But I’m not. So even if there’s some truth to what that administrator said, I believe we’re using the wrong measurement tools and measuring the wrong things.

We love measuring. So let’s measure something that ought to matter more. Like, I don’t know, measure how happy and loved and safe kids feel while they’re away from their families all day, every day, starting as infants in many cases. Measure how satisfied they feel, later in life, with U.S. public education. But don’t forget to ask the one in 31 Americans who are under U.S. corrections custody through parole, probation, or incarceration, because they matter. They matter now and they mattered when they were children being raised in a system that failed them too often.

If you’re not a teacher, do this: Imagine spending all day with 25 (or more) kids who are all completely different–different needs, personalities, learning styles. Forget their wants and preferences–there’s no time for that with 25 (or 20, or 10, let’s be real), so those expectations in children get killed early on. Now imagine all your bosses are promising the parents (and children, which is saddest but least spoken of) that you will gleefully, lovingly meet all those needs in plenty of time to get your own baby from daycare before Jimmy Fallon starts. In your spare time, you will meticulously record the evidence of each individual’s growth in individual files, to be accessed by many layers of administrators. And don’t forget to make the 25 individual plans for the next day. We’re not even going to talk about testing here because that, at least, is finally getting some attention. So even if you want desperately to know and love each of them the way Every Single Child deserves to be known and loved, you can’t. Does. Not. Happen.

Theoretically admitting that children are individuals that deserve to be treated as such is a big step in public education. But pretending that we can even remotely begin to accomplish that by simply shifting the burden to teachers without drastically decreasing the number of students in their classes is abusive to teachers and to the children they’re set up to fail.

We know love is the answer. Let’s set up every child in the country to learn that for real.

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Publishing is hard.

Could you use a little inspiration to keep at it today? Check out my guest post on the blog of Linda Epstein, literary agent to the stars and me: NORMAL THINGS THAT HAPPEN TO WRITERS

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33040: The Poem

My poem made the top 20 in the O, Miami WLRN-Miami Herald Ode to Your Zip Code Poetry Contest. I’m so excited–especially considering there were more than 3,500 entries! Holy shit.

The culminating event will be at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens next Wednesday. All twenty finalists–except me because I can’t go, but maybe I’ll send my husband–will read. There’ll be a lovely reception on the water and then five winners, selected by presidential inaugural poet Richard Blanco, will be announced.

I’m sad I can’t go and I hope a Florida Keys poem is among the winners, although I can’t imagine they’d include a non-attendee. But this whole thing has been fun. I already feel good about the experience. I already won. Which was the point, I think—to make regular people think and feel like poets this month.

Not only did I get to read my poem on WLRN, but it was also the lede in a Washington Post piece on the Miami Poetry Festival.

For the article, I was asked a bunch of questions about what’s behind my poem and what the appeal of the contest was, so I’ll share that here since, for some silly reason, the entire article was not all about me.

Key West, the poem

Owning little applies to everybody in Key West. From our minimalists and environmentalists to our loaded friends who spend millions on 600-square foot cigar cottages in Old Town, everybody lives little here. But more than that, it’s an attitude. You just don’t need lots of stuff to feel content in Key West. That’s simply the way it is.

Regretting less—that has to do with what my dad gave me. He was a Vietnam vet who brought demons home with him. When I was three, he ran away to Key West. And when I came to visit him over the years, he seemed unreasonably happy, especially considering he had no money and no plan. Ever. Then when I turned 30, I pulled my own version of the same thing, I guess. I spent a lot of time resenting him over the years, but now I’m grateful because, ultimately, he gave me Key West. I get it now. He’s dead but I wish I could tell him I get it now. I wish I could hug him and thank him–two things I never really did, at least not sincerely.

As for the appeal of the contest, I submitted something this year because last year I chickened out, then read a bunch of awesome stuff from seemingly regular people like me. I’m no poet–I write fiction, mostly. But this O, Miami thing kind of makes us all feel like we’re good enough. At least good enough to toy around and have a little fun with poetry during National Poetry Month. And like who hasn’t fancied herself a poet, however secretly? Plus I love WLRN and all the ways people like Nancy Klingener keep Key West–Real Key West–part of the South Florida conversation.

Before this, I hadn’t thought quite so specifically about my zip code, but I love the idea. I’ll never write my zip code again without getting the warm fuzzies about that time I entered a poetry contest, and also about my dad. How weird and lovely.

UPDATE: MY HUSBAND AND SOME FRIENDS WENT IN MY PLACE (TEAM KEY WEST, I CALLED THEM) AND MY POEM WON! WHEEE!

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Turning 40: Obligatory Heartening Internet Edition

Thirty was weird. Fine but weird. That was the year I quit my then-dream job, dropped out of my PhD program, sold my house, and moved to an island. But 40? Everybody seems to think 40 feels really, really good. And I’ll let you know tomorrow, but I’m confident I’ll concur.

I’m pretty sure I’ll tell you tomorrow that 40 is motherfucking wonderful, actually, because approaching 40 has been this fantastic process that leaves me feeling smarter and more confident in ways my 20-something self would say are completely baseless. Yeah, I’m definitely feeling all those unreasonably positive things I believed people were lying about feeling as they reached the point of halfwayish.

I bought bigger jeans on my approach to 40, which I do every decade or so. But for the first time, in the most genuinely honest and self-aware corner of my brain, I just don’t feel any kind of self-loathing whatsoever. I’m not compelled to rationalize moving up a size–not even to myself. After getting four decades under my belt–winning some, losing plenty, saying hello and good-bye to the most important people in my life–something like the size of my jeans feels so trivial that it’s fallen clear off the spectrum of things to give any shits at all about. Which sounds like a rationalization, I realize, because I’m so aware of myself now, see?

In addition to spending far less time trying to look maximally appealing to others, I spend less time silently and harshly judging people who spend lots of time and energy trying hard to look maximally appealing to others. I was her in my twenties. In my thirties, I transitioned away from her and felt anybody like her was sad and vain. But now, in general, I feel myself making fewer swift judgments, especially about people I don’t know.

I have fewer and better friends.

I say what I mean and I do it far less apologetically than ever.

I’m doing what I love with and for people I love.

The drive that moves me toward my professional goals is healthy, but I’ve done enough in my lifetime to leave me satisfied in that area. Anything else is gravy–gravy I’m hoping and planning to pour on thick, of course. What matters most to me, though, is seeing each of my kids find their way in this world. I’d give up everything for them, which I hope goes without saying.

This has probably read like a series of cliches about aging. But that’s another thing that’s happened–I realize and find comfort in the notion that, while I’m lucky to be around, I’m just not that special. We’re all so similar in what motivates us and matters to us–love, I guess, in various incarnations–than I ever cared to realize before. And it’s good. I’m good. Forty’s good.

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Game on

Moral panic. “That is, people who are the leaders of a society often blame things which they do not value for societal ills.”

I’m revisiting things like this: Your Moral Panic Is Not My Gamer’s Responsibility  because one of my sons is extra super interested in gaming at this point in his life. And if I’m being honest, I sometimes feel he (and we) are unfairly scrutinized based on the unfounded fears of others. While we’re not comfortable giving our six-year-old access to something like Grand Theft Auto, we are open to the conversation as he matures. It’s really hard not to let our own fears and biases (and fear of baseless judgement) equal evidence of harm.

I mean, I’m never going to play GTA, myself. It’s too gross for me. Too much gore–I wouldn’t enjoy it. I don’t like horror movies, either. And I also have zero interest in hunting. But where I’m from, it’s nothing short of a milestone worth grand commemoration and celebration when a child (the younger, the more impressive) goes into the woods with a parent, stalks and blows the brain or heart out of an actual, unsuspecting living creature with an actual deadly weapon, tears its guts out with a knife, posts and frames happy, bloody family pictures with the disemboweled carcass, then cuts its head off for display on a shiny plaque in the family room next to the baptism photos.

Hell, even peewee football involves far more real-world, very intentional violence than virtual gaming, now that I think about it. “Here, killer, let momma put a fresh pull-up on under your gear. Now get out there and grind ’em into the dirt, big boy.”

This isn’t to say I’m uniformly anti hunting or anti toddler tackle football (although I personally care for both less as I age). This is to say that I’m pro keeping perspective and pro not letting things I don’t personally value or understand turn into baseless fears that illogically dictate my parenting decisions and my judgement of other families and their kids’ fitness as playdate material.

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Dye shaming. Like slut shaming but warranted

I’ve got some silver growing out my scalp, concentrated in two areas. It’s just a little, but there’s no more mistaking it for the “white blond” that the remnants of my vanity tried convincing me it was. Because you know, suddenly at 39 I’m going white blond. No.

My mom has like two gray hairs and my dad died at age 57 with about three gray hairs. So it’s not something I’d previously put much thought into. Not because I’ve always been oh-so-enlightened and comfortable with going gray, but because I thought I had twenty more years before I’d be making decisions about it.

I think I’m going to keep it, though. It’s part fuck you to tired, pathetic women’s beauty norms. And the other part is simply that so many of the women working the silver and gray are the kinds of people I admire. I’m seeing more smart, beautiful women in their thirties and forties giving the finger to the Clairol box or the monthly appointments and biweekly root touch-ups, and I kind of love it. I want to have some small part in the evolution of how we define beauty. I want my daughter to see me making these kinds of choices.

Already, I’ve spent too much of my lifetime working hard at pretty. I did a good job of it, too, and was recognized for it by people to whom that’s really important. But I don’t know, I guess those just aren’t my people anymore. I see the struggle some women undertake (in ways our male counterparts generally don’t) and, to me, it increasingly seems like such a waste of energy, fighting nature instead of loving that we’ve been through some serious bullshit and we’re still here, only stronger and smarter and more confident. I feel like being beautiful. I feel like being healthier. But I don’t feel like I owe pretty to the world anymore.

I’m just not interested in defying my age, whatever that means. And do people really accomplish that anyway? If it didn’t sound so judgy, I’d say many end up looking ridiculous. You know who I’m talking about–those people who can’t think of a bigger thrill in life than being called a MILtF by their teenaged kids’ friends. (See what I did there? I said it anyway.)

So that’s that, then, at least for me. I’m getting myself back, not letting myself go. Look, I already won at pretty and I’m here to tell you that it didn’t take any special talent whatsoever. Just a special level of commitment to the superficial. Meh. Game over. Next.

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My Writing Process, the tour

Joe McGee, brilliant and hilarious author of Peanut Butter and Brains (Abrams Children’s, fall 2015), invited me to participate in this blog tour. I would’ve said no, except we became friends in monosodium glutamate rehab and I was afraid the rejection would push him off the wagon. Srsly though, I’m doing this despite feeling leery of seeming advice-y. I mean yeah, the ‘My” in “My Writing Process” should sufficiently qualify what we’re doing here. It’s just, I think writing is a very personal process. So thanks, Joe, for the opportunity to stretch myself, Doritos-free.

I want you to know that I read things like this with great voracity when I first began researching writing for publication. And I wasted a lot of time believing all writers with agents know what they’re talking about. We don’t. Except Joe. Joe knows. And Micheal G-G, who’s doing this next week. He knows, too. But otherwise, don’t waste too much time worrying about what works for other people. You’re not other people. You’re special. Your mother said you were special and you’re special. Read these things, but read them with a grain of salt. Maybe many grains, licked off your wrist right before a shot of tequila.

GOT IT, LADY. SHUT YOUR FACE AND START THE THING ALREADY.

K, here we go.

What are you working on?

Well, my agent is like this close to selling an upper middle grade manuscript of mine. Do you hear me, Universe? So I’m waiting to be able to work with the best editor in the world on that, which will be fun for all involved because I’M SO EASY TO WORK WITH OH MY GOD SHAPE ME MOLD ME PICK ME LOVE ME LET’S BE FABULOUS TOGETHER. Reveal yourself, best editor in the world. Together, we will win.

Until then, I’m writing (revising, actually) the next one–YA contemporary fiction. That works for me–writing while waiting. I’m not here to tell you what to do, but I’ve never heard any accomplished writer suggest not starting the next big thing until the first big thing sells. And for most writers, that’s just not possible anyway. We’re writers, not waiters. Well, not that kind.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

This is kind of hard for some writers (this one, for example) to answer because if we’ve been at it a while, we’ve learned to accept that we’re actually not all that special. I lied about that earlier. So did your mother. There are lots of talented people with the same goal, working just as hard. In case you haven’t noticed, everybody’s writing a fucking book. And some of them are really good.

Still, my confidence in my voice has grown significantly in the last few years. It’s a tricky endeavor, defining a writer’s voice (which is not the same thing as voices of characters within a writer’s work). It’s basically that thing about the writing that makes you want to read more by the same author. Of course, we’re all hoping we have a unique-enough voice.

Sometimes when we’re just starting out, we inadvertently mimic the voices of our favorite writers, which can read like bad fan fiction. Or even good fan fiction. Although mimicking voice alone isn’t really fan fiction, so this analogy is falling apart. But whatever. What I mean is, it’s not ours at first, sometimes. Not really.

So I think I’ve grown to a place where I’m owning my own voice, trusting that it works, and continuing to develop it. My voice helps define my work. That’s my story.

Why do you write what you do?

For me, too much dissection can ruin a thing and I don’t like forcing articulation of The Why (god that sounds pretentious). I’ll say, though, that middle grade and young adult fiction feels exactly right for me, right now. I haven’t been able to say that very often in my life. That’s reason enough, isn’t it?

That said, I always bear in mind something my friend Judy Blume told me (and reaffirmed for this post). She writes the story as it needs to be told and worries about all the rest–like where in the market it falls–later. She’s not a fan of categories. Remember, there was no such thing as MG or YA when she wrote some of the best MG and YA ever published. Nope. There were just good books that found the right audiences.

And yes, I know very well that things are so, so different now for lots of reasons, but I still like to keep story first, market second. It feels more like art that way. Because it is. I write because it’s my art. If writers lose sight of that, what’s the point? What’s left?

How does your writing process work?

Here’s a little confession: I don’t work on my current Big Thing on any kind of schedule, or even every single day. Quit gasping. It works fine for me.

I go in spurts. Frequent, productive spurts. That’s not to say I can’t work on deadline. I’ve done that plenty, too. It’s just that BIC (Butt In Chair) at all costs doesn’t work for me the way it seems to work so well for others. I do feel like I’m always working, though. I’m always watching, listening, remembering, experiencing life in ways that inform my writing.

I also read on days when I’m not working on the Big Thing. Reading inside and outside my genre and comfort zone is increasingly important to me. Like, right now I’m finishing The End of the Book by Porter Shreve. I’m in love with these characters and with this seamless transition between centuries. And I’m especially awed by the perfect pacing that challenges and defies my former almost-baseless perception of literary fiction. You could call me a reformed reverse literary snob and I wouldn’t take issue.

In short, the more widely I read, the smaller the world feels. In a good way. And the better my own writing gets. I hope.

So that’s how I do: I write when I need to and read when I need to.

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NEXT MONDAY, stoopid amazing middle grade writer, Michael Gettel-Gilmartin, will be joining the writing process tour. A writer for as long as he can remember, Michael has taken to blogging with a vengeance. Currently he is Don Vito’s right hand man (some might say ‘dogsbody’) at Middle Grade Mafioso, as well as the blog manager at Project Mayhem. Originally from England, Michael now lives with his wife and three sons in Portland. He’s represented by Stephen Fraser at The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. The Best Literary Agency, if I do say so, myself.

Take it away, Michael G-G!

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