Tuesday, April 29
Timely or Trendy? Better to Follow Your Heart
Please help me welcome YA author and editor Amanda Maciel, who's here today to share her experience with being trendy and timely, and why it's always a good idea to follow your heart when writing.
Amanda has worked in book publishing since graduating from Mount Holyoke College and is currently an executive editor of children’s books. She spends her free time writing, running, and helping raise her young son with her husband and their cat in Brooklyn, New York. TEASE is her first novel.
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Take it away Amanda...
My first novel is coming out, and it’s what we in the industry—I also work as a children’s book editor—call timely. I didn’t plan it that way, because I firmly believe something else we talk about a lot in children’s publishing—don’t chase trends. Of course, in book publishing, as with most commercial art, timing is everything. It’s just that you can’t plan it.
This frustrates writers, I know. It frustrates me, too, as a writer and as an editor—how are you supposed to know which topics are on the rise, and which have already, well, timed out? How do you feel confident enough in your story enough to spend a whole year (or more) on it?
I’ve gotten this question many times from writers over the years, and the only answer I’ve managed to come up with is: you can’t know. But you can write the best story you can, about something that interests you so much that you can’t stop thinking about it.
My novel is about bullying. It’s a topic that seems to be everywhere these days, at least if you’re at all plugged into media about kids, or teenagers, or social media, or politics. I was inspired to write Tease by a bullying story that made national headlines but also hit close to home. And when I sat down to write, I chose a narrator I thought hadn’t been heard from in other bullying stories—or, actually, in teen fiction in general—nearly enough: the (alleged) villain, the bully herself.
It turns out I was right, and that approach to an increasingly familiar story of teens being cruel to one another did set Tease apart, at least for the editors who wanted to work with me. I have a background in journalism, and I like to think that maybe my choice of protagonist was an old writing instinct from those days—find the person no one is talking to—but I think there was a deeper impulse than that. I’d managed to find a character I felt a huge well of sympathy for, one with whom no one else seemed to sympathize at all. I really, really wanted to give her a voice.
Before Tease I hadn’t tackled a narrative topic I felt so emotionally connected to, and I truly think that’s what made all the difference. As an editor, I can tell when writers have a particular passion for their subject—and when it’s a subject I think is timely, one that people are already talking about or interested in, the stars align.
It sounds almost formulaic, when of course it’s anything but. You really do have to follow your heart when you write. It’s too time-consuming to do anything else—and it’s not productive. As I was writing Tease, a little voice from the editor’s side of my brain said, with a cautious bit of excitement: “This might be a thing … a trendy thing.”
But the writer part of my brain knew that you don’t follow trends, you follow your heart. That voice said: “Shh. I’m writing.”
Emma Putnam is dead, and it’s all Sara Wharton’s fault. At least, that’s what everyone seems to think. Sara, along with her best friend and three other classmates, has been criminally charged for the bullying and harassment that led to Emma’s shocking suicide. Now Sara is the one who’s ostracized, already guilty according to her peers, the community, and the media. In the summer before her senior year, in between meetings with lawyers and a court-recommended therapist, Sara is forced to reflect on the events that brought her to this moment—and ultimately consider her own role in an undeniable tragedy. And she’ll have to find a way to move forward, even when it feels like her own life is over.
With its powerful narrative, unconventional point of view, and strong anti-bullying theme, this coming-of-age story offers smart, insightful, and nuanced views on high school society, toxic friendships, and family relationships.