Sunday, September 29, 2013

Telling the Untold Story

I just saw this Maya Angelou quote on Twitter: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

The concept of an untold story is nothing new to writers. It’s the germ not yet developed. It’s the illusive space before that moment of clarity when you finally say, “Yes, this is the story I need to tell.” I’ve known for a while it was time to start writing my next book. But no story gave me that “greater agony” to push me forward. I faced the same fear other writers have had before me: what if I don’t have another book in me?
Then something amazing happened. A dear friend from Mississippi visited and described a story idea she’d love to write one day. One morning a few weeks after our visit, when I was in a gigantic blue funk about my lack of motivation to write, I texted her:
“I need to steal your book idea. I don’t want to write anything else.”
That clarity came out of the blue. And it was so strong that it overrode any fear or guilt I might have about asking such a thing from her.
Because she loves me, she texted back immediately, “You may have it. You are much more likely to write it. I wouldn’t have told you if I didn’t think you could take it.”
Thanks to a generosity I can never repay, the voices in my head (the good kind) are real again. And once again, an untold story is ready to be told. (Katrina, I won't squander your gift.)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Embracing (Not Erasing) Regrets and Mistakes

As I mentioned in my last post, I enjoy reading young adult fiction. The storylines hold my interest and the characters are often dynamic, flawed and interesting. The books/series I’ve read have cross-over appeal, attracting readers in their 30s, 40s and beyond. (My book club read The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson; it was one of our favorite books that year.)
Here’s my admission: as an adult reader of young adult fiction, I sometimes judge the characters for their decisions and feelings. (And mind you, I don’t have children of my own so this isn’t a maternal thing.)
  • “What?! Can’t you see X loves you? Don’t go out with that other guy!”
  • “That’s dangerous! Why wouldn’t you tell X or Y so they could help?!”
Those protagonists are making decisions that a 14- to 18-year-old would make. They don’t have three decades of ‘learning’ from mistakes to inform those decisions.
As a writer of young adult fiction, I have to keep those protective (judgmental) feelings in check. Arlie, the protag in my YA suspense novel, makes missteps, puts herself in danger (more than once), doesn’t read the feelings of others’ accurately, feels she’s alone in the world. And that’s as it should be.
Here’s another admission: I wrote in journals faithfully from middle school into adulthood. I captured on paper some MAJOR errors in judgment. About 15 years ago, I went back and reread journals from my high school years. Adult Mandy was appalled at teen Mandy’s feelings for a guy who turned out to be a pretty BIG mistake. And adult Mandy destroyed two of those journals – as if she could erase feelings and actions that easily.
See? Adults make major mistakes, too. And I learned from that doozy. Those very real fears, regrets, hopes and dreams make me a better writer of YA fiction. They are to be embraced, not erased.