Everything Books
Writing and reading and books, books, books (and anything that might relate)

October 1, 2013

Brave new genre

RHmasthead 2On June 4, I wrote a post about the things I’ve been struggling with this year– eye problems, nightmare deadlines, and the death of my literary agent, to name a few.  That same June day, I began talking to new agents.  Days after that, I started writing my first YA book.  Although I’m a huge fan and reader of YA (almost always my go-to read-for-pleasure genre of choice), I’ve so far spent my literary life in nonfiction and adult historical fiction.  Everything I’ve written, even my high school memoir, is a period piece.  But I’ve had the itch for a long while to try my hand at YA.

Following my agent’s death, I sat down and thought good and hard about what I wanted to write next.  Not what I should write or what might make sense to write, but what I really, really wanted to write (which, for me, is always synonymous with what I really, really want to read).  For the past five years, I’ve been immersed in the voice of one character– Velva Jean Hart.  I’ve taken her from the Depression to World War II to the post-war period.  I recently finished writing the fourth Velva Jean adventure, American Blonde, which will be released July 29, 2014.  I love Velva Jean.  But creatively, I was ready for something different.

I wanted to write something edgy.

I wanted to write something contemporary.

I wanted to write something tough, hard, sad, but funny.

I wanted to write from a boy’s point of view.

There was an idea I’d been playing with for years, and at the end of May, I pulled it out.  It’s the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.

That week of June 4, I began writing.  And in some ways it was as if I’d never written before!  There’s a whole new level of responsibility that comes with writing YA, especially when you’re dealing with a hard and sensitive subject.  It was very important to me, even as I was still figuring out the story, to strike the right balance of serious and light, and to make a tough subject (in this case, suicide) palatable, relatable, and educational, without seeming as if I’m trying to be educational.  It was also very important to me to nail the YA voice so that it seems authentic and not false or forced in any way.  Each day, I sat down at the computer afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do justice to the story, the characters, and the subject matter.

But when I was able to silence the worries and just write, the story and characters–and their voices– came quickly and naturally, as if they had been there all along waiting for me.

In July, I finished writing You Make Me Lovely.  On July 18, I signed with my new (fabulous, amazing, brilliant) agent, Kerry Sparks.  A couple of weeks after that, once Kerry and I had edited the manuscript, she put it on the desks of publishers.  One week later, we sold it to Knopf/Random House in a two-book preempt.

Now I am implementing the edits of my wise and wonderful Knopf editor, Allison Wortche, as well as my own.  After I hand those in, I’ll begin working on the second YA.

I’m proud of all my books, but I may just be proudest of this one.  It will be out in early 2015, and I’ll be posting updates periodically.

(Next up:  Changing a book title you love.)

 

PW Bookshelf