Nov 21, 2012
A year ago, in my post on “Giving Thanks,” I wrote, “I’m looking forward to having a less-busy 2012 (I hope).” Apparently the joke was on me! This last year has been one of my busiest ever, combining writing very fast with so much travel that I’m now feeling post-airport traumatic stress syndrome (PATSS). And yet, I’m kind of grateful for that PATSS, because I think it indicates I’ve come to a tipping point in my writing life.
Earlier this year I read a really interesting interview with Tegan and Sara on AfterEllen, in which the artists talked about making an effort to make more mainstream, more commercial music. Speaking about their upcoming new album, Tegan Quin said:
“I want to have more power. I want to have a bigger audience because I want to help more people and I want to make sure that anybody who wants to see Tegan and Sara can and I don’t want to limit ourselves. We picked a producer that had experience not only in the indie world but also in the mainstream world. He’s worked with the Shins and with Sia but he’s also worked with Kelly Clarkson and with Ke$ha and Foster the People. Our intention is to have a more commercial record. But I don’t think we compromised in terms of songwriting at all. I think this is the strongest and best record we’ve made and I think it will be the most accessible.”
I’ve never listened to much Tegan and Sara, although I know they have a very dedicated fan base. But I was really intrigued by what Tegan said about their efforts to balance their previous indie style with a desire for more commercial success.
In a way, I think that Adaptation is my attempt to do the same. I purposely chose to write a story that hit more mainstream buttons than Ash and Huntress, both in terms of writing style and in plot. But I also feel that Adaptation and its sequel are strong books. I’m in the midst of reviewing the copyedits on the sequel right now, and I don’t remember ever being so conscious of every detail before. I’ve been working very hard to make sure these two books hit every nail on the head as accurately as possible.
With Ash, my writing was much more instinctual. I hadn’t written a novel since I was a teenager, and lot of Ash, for me, was about finding my way back to storytelling. Huntress was more deliberate than Ash, but it was a very hard book for me to write because the story I wanted to tell was more ambitious than I initially realized. I often felt overwhelmed by Huntress, and sometimes I think that if I could do it over again, it would be a better (and longer) novel. But I did the best I could when I wrote it, and personally I believe it’s better than Ash. On a sentence level; when it comes to world building and character; in terms of plot — Huntress felt like a step up for me in every way.
And yet Huntress has so far had a smaller readership than Ash. Is “lesbian Cinderella” as a hook really that much more compelling than “high fantasy with a fated romance”? I don’t know. On a gut level, I think that Huntress is simply more specific in its appeal than Ash is.
Yesterday, I returned from the ALAN conference in Las Vegas thinking a lot about “appeal” and where my books fit into the YA spectrum. I had a wonderful time at the conference, thanks to the fabulous folks at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, who have always been so supportive of me and my books. I always feel energized and excited when I get to hang out with them.
But being part of the publishing industry, especially right in the midst of all sorts of technological change, can also be really stressful. Writers particularly have to deal with some crazy-making stuff. We’re constantly being compared to each other by reviewers, by folks in the business, by bloggers, by ourselves. As the year comes to a close, best-of lists are appearing, and while it can be great to be on a list, it’s also stress-inducing to not make it onto a list.
I try to keep things positive on my website, but at this time of year I have to admit I can feel more stressed out than usual. How will my most recent book compare to the thousands of others that were published this year? How will it do in comparison to what I’ve written in the past? I struggle with these fears just like every other writer, and I don’t know any writers who don’t deal with these kinds of anxieties.
And then there’s the commercial vs. literary trade-off. I want my books to be commercially successful, but I want them to have literary quality, too. And the terms “commercial” and “literary” always seem to be inversely related. I sometimes think that trying to hit both “commercial” and “literary” might just lead to a book falling in the crack between the two and being ignored.
But today, after coming back from my great experience at ALAN, I feel kind of grateful for all of these anxieties. Maybe it’s just that I’m grateful that I’m no longer stuck in the Las Vegas airport, but it’s probably also about coming to realize that these anxieties will always be with me. I’m grateful to have realized that. And actually, I’m grateful that I get to have these anxieties. I’ve dreamed of being a writer since I first learned how to write, and the fact that I’m considering where my books fall within the commercial-vs-literary spread and which direction I want to move in the future … well, that’s kind of extraordinary.
Even though I know I can’t control a thousand different things in this business, I’m starting to feel like I do have increasing amounts of control over what I create. I feel more and more conscious about the choices I make, word by word, story by story. And paradoxically, I think this sense of control comes from being more connected than ever before to my gut instincts. As I become more aware of what I feel, I become better able to control how I express it. That’s something I worked toward in therapy and in my spiritual practice for years, but it’s also key to my writing.
So, this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the anxieties that keep me connected to my gut. I’m grateful for the opportunities that are available to me — opportunities that I’ve worked hard to create, as well as those that have arisen through what feels like serendipity. I’m grateful for everyone in the publishing business who supports my books. I’m grateful for the readers who give my books their time and attention, and in a world where there are a million things competing for their attention, that can’t be overstated. Thank you, and I hope that everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving has a wonderful holiday.