… Continued from An Open Can of White Paint.
As a writer, it’s a curious thing when you come to the realization that you don’t really know who you are. Actually, what’s worse is when you know who you are, but are afraid to let yourself acknowledge that person. When I realized that my completed manuscript, Rooftops and White Walls, was absolute garbage, I thought that I was a hack writer. What had I done, wasting an entire semester, a year, a Fiction Writing class that I’d never get back, on writing that God-awful sorry-excuse-for-a “book”?
So I saved it in a folder somewhere in the dark recesses of my computer, but the main character and his voice never left the forefront of my mind. He was with me wherever I went, walking alongside me, interacting with my friends, speaking for me when I couldn’t find the words; he wouldn’t leave me alone.
The more he emerged, the more afraid I became.
His voice wouldn’t die down, and it grew louder and louder in my head, echoing sentiments that I longed to feel and experience myself.
But I wasn’t ready.
* * *
During the Spring of my junior year at Ithaca College, I was able to register for the much-coveted Writing Children’s Literature course. It was a one-section course, only offered once a year, and I’d been dying to try my hand at writing YA. I realized after I had written Rooftops and White Walls that perhaps my concentration, which was nonfiction, was not really for me after all. I was tired of writing about myself. There were only so many times I could write about my parent’s divorce before it started to feel like a really bad primetime CW show.
As a writer, I felt empty.
There I was opened up to the world of picture books, middle grade fiction, and YA. Suddenly, everything clicked and made sense. This was what I was meant to write.
The professor, an eccentric older woman with a sweet smile, shoulder length, frizzy brown hair, and an affinity for flowy, colorful dresses adorned with costume jewelry, taught us about the difficult task of writing for children and teenagers through brilliant exercises — and the occasional belly dancing demonstration (something she often did when volunteering at the nearby nursing home). Writing for children is a delicate, labored process that requires the perfect voice, a balance of sophistication and simplicity, and a relatability to the reader; the ability to not only connect to a young reader, but to resonate.
It was more exciting than nonfiction. More intense. More creative. More.
During one particular class, the professor passed around a jar — or a hat; maybe it was a bag (my memory for specifics at this point is nonexistent) — filled with tiny words from newspaper/magazine clippings. With the start of every single class, we would do a 15 minute in-class writing exercise, each day something different. Today, we had to pick three of the minuscule pieces of paper and string them together to create a sentence or idea or concept or…whatever we wanted…and write.
Bad dream, Red, Convertible
From that, I wrote a short story about a young girl, based on my sister, who wakes up in the middle of the night screaming and crying because her intuition was telling her that something was wrong with her brother. At that exact moment, her brother was in a car accident, and died almost instantly.
It was impossibly flawed and terribly written, but it had heart.
Over the next year and a half I would work on developing the voice of the young girl, who I named Alex, and writing her story of how she copes with the death of the brother. Over time, it became stronger (I thought). I submitted it as my thesis during my senior year, and my advisor, along with my workshop group members, encouraged me and supported me and helped me make it considerably stronger.
After I graduated from IC, I worked on it for another six months until I felt it was ready for submission to lit agents. I called it Finding Georgantica, because it took place in the Adirondack’s on Lake George and Georgantica (awful name, I’m aware) was a Narnia for Alex, where she would go to escape reality and learn to deal with her brothers death. I wrote a great query letter that got a lot of hits, but ultimately no takers.
During that time, I kept a notebook/journal/whatever-you-wanna-call-it (I have about 20) on me at all times. The one voice that kept cropping up: the main character from Rooftops. He still wouldn’t leave me alone. In fact, he was stronger, more clear, and determined to be heard again.
I started at The New School in the fall of 2009, after taking a year off to write and work and travel the western half of the United States. During the first semester workshop, Georgantica was panned by both my professor and my classmates. They didn’t like the perspective, and the idea wasn’t properly developed. I tried to rework it through multiple in-class submissions, but every time the response the same.
So, it was back to the drawing board.
Only this time, I knew what I needed to do.
To Be Continued…