Thursday, June 24, 2010

State of the Union

I just recently finished WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead.  I bought the book before it won the Newberry because everybody was talking about it.  My wife read it.  We loaned it to a few friends.  But something wasn't right about me reading it until just a few days ago.

A quick aside: yes, I've kinda given up on adult books for a little while.  I read a few Christopher Moore novels, a techno-thriller, and a funny superhero book - but ultimately I came back to kid lit.  Why?  Well, back to that in a minute...


Do you ever read a book and, when it's over, are unable to explain why it was so enjoyable?  WHEN YOU REACH ME is so well written, it has great characters, and there's this great supernatural twist woven into the plot that, unlike so many others, isn't heavy handed.  And she accomplished all of this in less than 200 pages.  Amazing.

So I'm reading it and simultaneously thinking:
"This is important.  You know, I should write something like this.  Yeah, right.  You CAN'T write something like this, dude.  See?  See that right there?  Exactly.  Just finish the book and stop dreaming..."

It is easily one of the best books I've ever read.  I enjoyed it that much.  Now, why I was reading it is a completely different story.  Let's start at the beginning.

1.) I write a book - yay.
2.) I revise the book - meh.
3.) I revise the book - hey, okay.
4.) I revise the book -    -_-
5.) I query agents - meh
6.) I sign with agent - yay
7.) I revise the book - again.
8.) One more time - okay, better now.
9.) We send the book out - yay
10.) I wait.
11.) I wait.
12.) I wait.
14.) Repeat 10-13.

I've purposefully not blogged, or even mentioined, my submission process.  One, because it's not something I want public.  Second, in a moment of frustration/rejection, maybe it's not best to share your *ahem* thoughts with the world?  Third, my agent told me not to. ;)

I admit: the rejection was hard.  Really hard.  Because I care about that book.  And I want it to be published more than I can probably convey on this blog.  But that doesn't mean the reasons it isn't being published right now aren't valid.  Of course, I won't get into specifics, because that goes back to not wanting everything about the process to be transparent (and, again, my agent probably wouldn't probably find it enlightening...)  I do, however, want to say one thing thing:  every person I've encountered in publishing is madly talented, intelligent, and they care about books. 

Seriously.  Some of the rejections I received were amazing in their detail.  It was obvious they connected with my writing, which is such a validating thing.  But it was also nice to have somebody who had nothing to gain from my writing say, "This part didn't work."

Can I just say how much I've really wanted an honest critique of my writing?  Half the time, I feel like a hack (a fact I've mentioned more than once on this blog, I'm sure.)  To even get a small crumb thrown my way, having somebody tell me my voice worked but the story needed to be bigger - that threw my eyes wide open.  It showed me some of the holes in my own writing.  It made me want to work harder, to get better, to write something memorable and, in a word, important.

And while I really think LEGENDARY DAYS has something to say, I also think there are better books inside me.

And that brings me back to WHEN YOU REACH ME.

I may or may not have decided to write a middle grade book.  For junior high readers.  Without some of my favorite words.

Like shit.  And ass.  And others.

I know.  It will be hard.  But maybe that's the beauty of it.  Maybe such a stretch, such a different direction is exactly what I need to do right now.

So I picked up a few MG novels.  DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA (great, btw), WHEN YOU REACH ME, and THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY.  Reading these books has been a treat - an almost magical escape from the staleness I was feeling in the recent YA books I read.

And so that's what I'm doing.  I'm starting to write a book that came to me on a very basic premise as I sat in the sun, watching my kids play in a sprinkler.  It, too, may never get published.  It may never even get on my agent's (or an editor's) desk.  But like rejection, sometimes it's fun to take a risk.  More than that, sometimes it's important and necessary.


  1. Bryan, I love middle grade. My strongest reading memories are of those middle grade years. I wrote 3 MG novels before I switched to YA, because they just weren't good enough, and YA was hot, I had a good YA idea, etc. etc.

    For me, it's not either or. I'm writing both. So, just FYI, it can be done. But in the meantime - YAY for middle grade!! WRITE ON!!!

    (My 12 YO reluctant reader loved SMEKDAY. Would love to see more books like that on the shelves)

  2. I think I could/will write both. At some point. I like being able to approach a character with a certain amount of innocence.

    And I, too, have vivid reading memories from that age. THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD being a big one.

    SMEKDAY has the word 'ass' in it. So there's hope. ;)

  3. Your line here about wanting so badly to have someone give you an honest critique really stands out to me. I'm a YA writer too - but still trying to get the agented stage - and somedays I think I'd sell my soul for someone to go through my manuscript page by page and tell me what's not working. Especially as I've lost count of the revisions I've done. I get close - some very nice rejection letters that tell me I have talent or a great concept - but no one who will pin down in detail what I need to do. All the fun and frustration of writing, I suppose.

    Good luck with your Middle Grade project. WHEN YOU REACH ME inspired me too - not enough to switch genres, but it is one of those books that I put down and went, "Damn, why couldn't I write that?"

  4. Bryan - thanks for sharing this with us. I'm a big believer in taking risks (well, unless they involve jumping out of airplanes). I even have a quote by Helen Keller taped to my writing board "Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing." Good luck w/ your risk-taking! :)

    Also, I've heard amazing things about When You Reach Me and it's on my ever-growing TBR pile.

  5. Homeboy, you've got such great taste in books. I know you have a book in you that will join those wonderful winners on the shelves.

  6. This is why so many writer gatherings involve bottles of wine. I'm in a similar situation, working on another project while my first hasn't sold yet. I hear that's quite common in this business.

    I'll have to check out When You Reach Me. Best of luck on the mg novel. :)

  7. You sir, have nailed the 'writing and submitting a book' process in your 14 steps. I felt it, yo.

  8. Some other incredible MG books for you to delve into:
    Any and ALL books by Jerry Spinelli
    The Invention of Hugo Cabret
    The Bridge to Terebithia
    Freak the Mighty
    The Giver

    I taught 6th grade Language Arts for ten years so I could keep going and going and going...