Monday, January 21, 2008

Uncomfortable Places

Posted by Lisa MarnellThe writer in me is trapped between the ages of seven and seventeen. That time of my life represents such emotion, delight, frustration, discovery. It’s so real to me, I can’t help but love reading (and writing) YA and middle grade fiction.

Something bothers me, though. There’s a book I read when I was thirteen. Its topic was mental illness. I realize that now. At the time I just knew it frightened me. The writing and issues were powerful, too powerful for me at that particular time in my life. It affected me profoundly, but not in a good way. A friend recommended it. When I started it, I couldn’t put it down. Years beyond reading it, there were times when that book surfaced in my mind; it wasn't a help to me, ever. To this day, its title gives me chills.

As an adult, I’m particular about what books I read. Recently I read and loved Twilight by Stephenie Meyer and 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. On Lynne’s recommendation, I picked up Atonement by Ian McEwan. I want to write books of quality. Books I would love to read.

My work in progress has potential, but it has to address teen issues as well. The problem is that I make my characters' lives too cushy; I’m a wimp at heart. I keep extra blankets at the foot of my bed in case I get chilly at night. When I play ice hockey, I have a weakness: I back off when it comes to digging at the puck along the boards. I might get hurt, right?

The question I struggle with now is how do I balance timely teen issues without crossing the line where subject material is too inappropriate – gosh, can you tell I’m a mom? My writers group all had brilliant advice when we met over the weekend. I'm so grateful to them. They said, more or less: Give us more (than you do) and reel it in if it’s too much. Oh, how I need to toss that fishing line and see where it takes me. I’m in for the long haul: writing takes patience, and there’s no where I gotta be (no deadline).

Fiction has to be real, timely, exciting. But I have to love my product. It must be something I would want to read.

The bar stays high. Good thing I’m stubborn! If only I were more patient.


Lisa said...

I sure don't know anything about YA, but your post made me think of one of Kurt Vonnegut's pieces of advice. Something about, put your protagonist in a tree, throw rocks at her and then bring her back down. He further said something about writers not going far enough to torture their characters -- not literally of course, but the point being that placing them in terrible situations is the only way we can see what they're made of -- and therefore for them to emerge, changed. Sounds like you got good advice. Be ruthless and then reel it back in if it's too much.

Therese Fowler said...

Lisa, maybe you feel you need to be more patient, but it's obvious you're already wise: You've surrounded yourself with patience-bringers by being part of this group.

Lisa Marnell said...

Wow, thanks Lisa. I needed that throwing rocks in the tree image because I think I'm too nice to my main character; I adore her! But it's HER story. There are uncomfortable places she must go - I'll bring her back. Rose (my teen protagonist), I promise I will.

Therese, thank you. Amy, Hannah and Lynne ARE patience-bringers. Was it Lynne who said I must keep in mind I have no deadline. And, thank you, Amy, for suggesting I slow down.

In Septmeber, I planned to send this work of fiction to my agent by December, yes before Christmas. That's changed, obviously. To be frank, it's a relief. Late sping sounds good.

Anonymous said...

Lisa K, I love that quote, too! Thanks for sharing it with us.

Lisa M, this post is powerful. I will have to print it out.

Larramie said...

It sounds as though you must write far beyond your comfort zone, Lisa, but -- remember -- you don't have to live there forever!

Shauna Roberts said...

One of the great things about having a critique group is that you can try things out and go farther than you would dare on your own, because you have someone to tell you that you've gone too far. (Or in my case, that I haven't gone far enough and to push it even more.)

Lisa Marnell said...

Thanks, Amy!

Larramie - I take home your reminder that we don't have to live there forever. It makes difficulties for our characters more tolerable.

Hi Shauna - you and I sound similar; I need to push that envelope!