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Expectations: What I thought I should write

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For the past week or so, I've been thinking a lot about expectations--the ones I have for myself and my work. By nature, I'm what some call a type-A personality: I'm (relatively) organized, very driven, and--with the exception of my housekeeping--a perfectionist. I think this is why I love revising so much.

Last week, the American Library Association came out with their 2010 Popular Paperbacks list, and I found out (thanks to laurenbarnholdt ) that MODELS was nominated to the list in the "Bodies" category. Eeek!! This has blown me away. My little book about Celeste is up there with Meg Cabot, KL Going and Chris Crutcher's novels--writers who I admire and books that I love. Wow. WOW. WOW!

And so I came to thinking about expectations.

Even since I decided to pursue publication as an adult (I can't say "ever since I started writing," because that was decades ago!), I had a vision of the type of book I wanted to write. At first, in college, I thought I'd write dramatic, serious literature for adults--like the type of stuff I was reading at the time (Carver, Morrison, Naylor). I wrote short stories that were filled with the requisite angst and tackled issues that I had no experience with and didn't really understand. I wanted to win a Pushcart Prize, or a prestigious literary magazine award. I thought that that would make my work MATTER.

When I went to graduate school, I realized that my angsty stories were thin and didn't have enough truth to them. I also rekindled my love of children's books and knew that this was what I was supposed to be writing. I "got" the truth of being a kid. I knew those problems and issues, especially ones in middle school. 

And so I wrote a dark, dramatic novel for middle graders. I had the same vision--that this would win a prize, it would MATTER. Heavy themes, well-developed characters, dark plot points...this was what I should be writing, right? Like Robert Cormier. THIS was how you became a writer whose works MATTERED to readers. For nearly EIGHT YEARS I tinkered with that manuscript, off and on. I worked on short stories, I read great books, but I  always came back to my dark, sad middle grade. I still thought that in order to be A Writer, my work had to be Serious. And Sad. And Poignant.

But if you know me in real life, I'm not a Serious, Sad and Poignant person. Yes, I'm a little nutty type-A, but sad and dark? Not really. I was in marching band for eight years, for goodness sake! It's hard to be sad and poignant and dark when you have to traipse around a football field in a wool/polyester blend uniform wearing a chicken plume on a plastic hat. Serious and sad and poignant is not where I come from.

When I finally got the kick in the pants to turn a funny food-fight short story into a humorous contemporary middle grade novel, something clicked. I started thinking about my work differently. I remembered that it's readers that make books matter. And that my goal is to reach as many readers as possible. This understanding allows me to write the books that I need to write, not the ones I thought I should be writing.

This is not to say that dark or sad or serious or poignant novels aren't important--of course they are!! I just can't write them (at least, not yet. Not now). And, for me, setting out to write like that was forced and wrong and stilted. And it was when I let go of that expectation--that I had to write in a specific way to be taken seriously--that I found where I'm supposed to be.


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News

• MOXIE AND THE ART OF RULE BREAKING (Dial 2013) was highlighted in the Atlantic Wire's Summer Reading Roundup!

• TOTAL TRAGEDY was named to the master list of Massachusetts Children's Book Awards 2013-2014

• New book alert! MOXIE AND THE ART OF RULE BREAKING will be in stores July 11 2013

• NOTES FROM AN ACCIDENTAL BAND GEEK is out in paperback! And it's on the Texas Lone Star List!

• TOTAL TRAGEDY has been named to the Texas Lone Star list as well as Kansas' KNEA Reading Circle catalog (with a starred recommendation)

• TOTAL TRAGEDY is out in paperback! Ask for it at a bookstore near you.

• TOTAL TRAGEDY has gone into its third printing! Thanks to everyone who bought it!

• MODELS has gone into its fifth printing! Thank you!!

• Have you seen the TT trailer? Go here & check it out:
http://bit.ly/b5xeGw


• Disney's Family Fun Magazine and Girl's Life mag both loved TT! Check out the reviews in their February issues!

• I've signed stock recently at the following stores:
- Barnes & Noble, Framingham, MA

• Booklist says, "Some sisterly bonding, the sweet flutterings of a first romance, and a creatively contrived comeuppance for the mean girls make [TOTAL TRAGEDY] a cheerful read for younger middle-schoolers."