the ‘Good’ Nervousness

I’ve heard back from three out of four of my beta readers. I’ve made some suggested revisions. The last reader is my most formidable (plus she’s my mother). I am nervous. I am nervous because the YA I just completed is pretty depressing. Gritty. Realistic. A bunch of those other (stupid) adjectives that people use when talking about teenagers and unsettling subjects. I pulled from a lot of different places to write this book. Some memories, some experiences, mostly made-up stuff. Painful to write. Hard. It might make my mum sad. Actually I hope it does because it is a sad tale about two friends and what happens when it goes wrong. But I also want her to be left with some sense that the friendship was special and magical and important, and that there is hope at the end. I don’t know. When I think about the book, I feel sick. When I think about sending it to my agent at the end of the week, I feel sicker. I want him to love it, like he loved my last book. Because finding a publisher might be harder with this one. A teenage girl was one of my betas. She is almost 17. The characters are 17, almost 18. She was not shocked. She loved the two main girl characters. She accepted their world even though it is different from her own. My husband said “the teenage experience is pretty much the same for everyone, whether they’re a jock or a punk rocker.” I guess only the details change. There are edgy books out there. Great, great books which deal with subjects that adults find uncomfortable, that adults find the thought of their children reading uncomfortable. John Green’s books (Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns), Ellen Hopkins (Burned, Crank, Glass-basically everything she writes plus it’s verse!), Laurie Halse Andersen (WinterGirls, Chains, Speak), Cheryl Rainfield’s Scars. When I was 12, I read The Godfather, Henry Miller, and a lot of Pasolini because that’s what was on my father’s bookshelves. I read those books when I was ready to read them, when curiosity led me to open them up, and because YA as a genre didn’t exist then. I read at the level I was emotionally mature enough to handle. Some things I skipped over. Nothing gave me nightmares. I asked some questions. Anyway, I’m hoping that the queasy tummy I feel, is due to digging deep and outside my personal comfort level. And not because I wrote a bad book.

4 thoughts on “the ‘Good’ Nervousness

  1. "I read at the level I was emotionally mature enough to handle." I do agree. I remember when I was about 12, concealing from my mother that I was reading 'The Cruel Sea' which she considered unsuitable (bad language, hideous deaths of sailors in burning oil, girls in every port etc) but I enjoyed it and like you say, it didn't give me nightmares. And if I hadn't enjoyed it, I'd have put it down. And yet, a few years ago, I sort of sucked in a breath when my own daughter read 'Looking for Alaska'. Though I didn't say anything. And as it happened, she read it and wasn't particularly wowed. You cannot EVER predict a reader's response, not even a family member! I hope your mother loves and appreciates your book and the skill and passion you have put into it.

  2. Thanks Katherine. I am eternally grateful to my parents for having a completely open attitude to what I was 'allowed' to read. Any book in the house basically. Some things I'd pick up, read a few pages and then put down only to pick up in a couple of years and devour. I think that reading certain adult-themed books helped prepare me for life ahead and perhaps even saved me from making some naive mistakes in judgment.
    My mother (an Oxford Professor) read my coming of age, drug-teens -in-turmoil book in 2 days and thought it was brilliant. I never would have expected that response either.

  3. Jo–it sounds like you wrote a moving book! I think it's wonderful that you drew on emotion, personal experiences, as well as made up stuff. I think that that can help make the writing, the story, even more powerful.

    I also think that if we're being honest as we write about hard things, it does bring up all the emotions, and that can be hard–but it results in a better, more honest book. So–congratulations! I hope you get good feedback from all your beta readers.

    And Jo–thank you so much for putting me in such incredible company as Laurie Halse Anderson, Ellen Hopkins, and John Green. I am wowed! It made me feel so good to see.

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