Monday, July 13, 2015

Sex & the Sequel

If I don't write to empty my mind, 
I go mad. 

- Lord Byron 

Good morning.

Don't hate me. I could not resist the title, & if you stick with me you'll see that it's actually quite perfect.

I'm in the middle of some deep thinking that far exceeds my typical July brain activity. No, it's not Harry Potter-related, so all this thinking is on top of the thinking going on as I continue on Harry's journey. I'm not going to discuss Harry today, but please don't think you're off the hook; the Potter gushing is an inevitability at some point.

I've been a busy little bee on Twitter for about a year now, & in that time I've learned a good deal about the publishing industry, & I've met a handful of other writers who share memes about grammar & books that I so love. I've also discovered a few freelance editors who work for publishers, &  - - hold the phone - - last week I got an email from one of these publishers offering me a contract.

Don't get too excited. I think I am going to pass. I realize it may be the only book contract I am ever offered, but even if that is the case, I still feel this is a good decision. I think. Obviously I did a little bit of research on this publisher before submitting to them, but you learn more about a publisher in the process of submitting to them & conversing with an editor who's their representative, & after a few days of this & then sitting & reading over the contract, I don't have a good feeling about it.  Maybe I am making a terrible decision. I don't think I am, but then, who moves forward with a decision they think is terrible?

So obviously this email I received last week & the news it brought have plunged me into chaos, but the whole back & forth process with editors that's been taking place has also sent my brain to other, perhaps more harrowing, depths.

There's a list of things any editor who's about to consider your work wants to know, beginning with word count, target audience, & genre. There are so many more target audience groupings than you likely think possible, & it makes sense that the publishing industry works this way because even if you write a masterpiece, if a publisher cannot readily identify a group of avid readers likely to buy it, they're unlikely to take a chance on the book. Your basics are Children's, Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, & Adult, but there are further delineations about which I won't elaborate because I suspect you don't care. Within each group, there are genres, like romance, science fiction, etc.

The Internet has dramatically changed the publishing world in a thousand different ways. The Internet makes it possible for someone to self-publish, & it also makes it possible for small to mid-level publishing companies to give writers not named John Grisham or Nicholas Sparks a chance.

Wikipedia defines New Adult this way:

. . . a developing genre of fiction with protagonists in the 18-30 age bracket. St. Martin's press first coined the term in 2009 when they held a special call for, "fiction similar to YA (young adult) that can be published and marketed as adult - sort of an 'older young adult' or 'new adult.' " New Adult tends to focus on issues such as leaving home, developing sexuality, and negotiating education and career choices.
I'd never heard the phrase New Adult when I started writing about a twenty-two-year-old woman beginning graduate school. I'd unknowingly read some fiction that falls in the NA category, but they don't stamp the category on the cover of the book, so I didn't know. The category has proven marketable, especially to women (of all ages). Young Adult fiction has long been a staple in the publishing world as it appeals to readers of all ages, &, unlike most NA fiction, much of it appeals to both male & female readers. The Hunger Games trilogy & the Divergent trilogy are just two examples of Young Adult fiction with broad appeal. John Green's works are also YA reads that cut across lines of age & gender.

There are loosely constructed rules & expectations for these categories, but the only steadfast rule is that the age of the protagonist *usually* dictates the line between YA & NA, & between NA & A (adult). Under eighteen is the typical YA cut-off, while the majority of NA protagonists are going to be in their early twenties, usually no older than twenty-six. They're adults, but they're in that phase of life where adulthood hasn't fully taken root. They're often unmarried, have no kids, & are very much focused on, well, themselves. I am trying to avoid the phrase finding themselves, but, well, there it is.

Let me tell you who is writing New Adult fiction (& who's reading it): women who've aged out of the New Adult phase of their own life, women who're no longer juggling boyfriends, but toddlers, women who're up at three in the morning with a sick kid, rather than a drunk friend. As a writer, if I am going to sit down & put myself in someone else's shoes,  I can tell you, she won't have any kids, she will read a book when & where she pleases, she won't be up at two in the morning checking blood sugar, & her shoes will be expensive & fabulous, because there will be little chance of anyone ruining them in the world she inhabits.

So, I say all that to say this: I may have another offer on the book, & I may not. I don't know right now. The one thing everyone I've been in contact with has asked is if the book is a stand alone, or if there's more. They ask this because publishers are always interested in a series, but they also ask me this specifically because, as a handful of you who read the book know, it's fairly clean, especially for a New Adult book, a fiction grouping not famous for its chaste leading ladies. So they're basically asking me, She sleeps with him eventually, right? 

One editor told me the best thing I can do right now is keep working on the second book. It keeps me writing, & if anyone wants the first book, they're going to be interested in seeing the second. I'm having raging internal debates with myself as I dive back into this second book. Do you have any idea what it's like to have a debate with yourself over what a fictional character you've created would do?

I wrote a little review of Fifty Shades of Grey earlier this year when that movie was released. Fifty Shades of Grey & the subsequent books in that series fall cleanly in the New Adult category as the leading lady is, oh, maybe twenty-one. I'm not sure of her age, but she's in her early twenties. She's fresh out of college & navigating the early stages of her career while juggling the creepy & abusive advances of a beautiful, filthy rich man whose emotional baggage is staggering. While the execution of the story is an unmitigated disaster, the set-up is classic New Adult.

I didn't want to send my sweet Edie into the cold, cruel world of work right out of college, & so I sent her to graduate school to earn her M.A. in literature, because if I'm going to invent a person, she's going to be reading & writing a lot, & she's going to surround herself with people who know how cool she is for doing all the reading & writing. That's the beauty of fiction; the people bow to my every whim.

If either of my books detailing Edie's time in graduate school are ever published (one of which is a long way from completion), I know I'll likely have a conversation with an editor about the absence of sex. I don't think there's any place for it in the first novel. In fact, I structured the novel so as to avoid the issue; Edie spends most of the book unwilling to even breach Dr. Foster's personal space, & then, just as she is reaching a point that would force me to address the sex issue, plot intervenes: The End.  

Except it's not the end if there's more. I can't keep them physically separated forever, & dear Dr. Foster does *spoiler* obtain a divorce, & so I don't know where Edie is headed, physically & emotionally. I just don't know, but I do know that random & gratuitous sex is not something that an editor could request I insert in her story during editing; I would balk, & it wouldn't slip easily into the story anyway. Edie would spend a minimum of five chapters thinking about & lamenting over her actions; she'd wallow in tears & coffee & dramatic self-assessment for, oh, at least a month.  

Obviously, I want to at least sketch it out on my own before anyone else has a say. As I said when I wrote about Fifty Shades of Grey, I'll read just about anything, including of course books that contain premarital sex, however, *HOWEVER*, I don't care to see it glorified, like it's a therapy substitute, & I'd prefer to see characters learn from it (& this certainly applies to anything I might write). I want some tears & some soul searching. I'd like to see more of this in secular fiction, rather than only in Christian fiction. 

I do not care for the assumption (& it's there in the publishing world) that the absence of sex in fiction means it's Christian fiction, or rather, perhaps, the inclusion of deep thought about sex & the context in which it's best enjoyed automatically equals Christian fiction.  Why not address it the same way an honest author handles other things, like fear, anger, loneliness, grief, joy, by which I mean handling it realistically & responsibly?  Why write a woman who's torn up over, say, her lack of a relationship with her father, & then in the next chapter she has few if any reflective thoughts about sleeping with a man to whom she's not married, who has given her no more an indication of his commitment to her than her absentee father?  It may be somewhat realistic for a young woman to seek affection from a daddy-substitute, but if this is portrayed as healthy, & she never realizes this is a detrimental step to take, that's bad, irresponsible writing, but in many books, the absent father is the bad guy, while the naked guy in her bed is the hero.

Okay, I am done.  I am truly sorry if this is not interesting to you at all.  I did once, last summer, write an entire blog about a cream cheese appetizer I enjoyed at a local fine dining establishment, so I assume you'll continue to extend me some grace.  I began writing with the intent to simply explain why I yanked the book from the blog, because to my utter astonishment a few people noticed, but this is what often happens when I begin writing with simple intent.

If there is further news on the book, I will share.  Do understand that things in the publishing world move at a glacial pace.  If ever I am presented with a contract that I feel good about & decide to sign, at that point, the book will go through numerous editing rounds, both for content & then a line edit combing for errors.  Glacial, glacial, glacial.

I did have a nice reprieve from my head Friday.  Henry spent the afternoon with my mom so Reagan & I could do fun things by ourselves.

Lunch at Chili's, which is Reagan's new favorite place to eat because not only do they have delicious orange macaroni & cheese on their kids' menu, they have devices on every table on which children can play games.  Well played, Chili's, well played. 

Next stop was the mall. We rode the escalator in Dillard's, & before I let Reagan ride it back down I forced her over to the children's clothing section where we both selected a few things she might need when she begins pre-school in about a month. One of us made more practical selections than the other, unless of course pre-schools are now requiring a collection of Hello Kitty purses.

Then it was back down the escalator & to the merry-go-round, which we rode twice, both times on the upper tier, which is great because not only are you dizzy & nauseous when the ride is over, you then have to safely navigate you & your child down a narrow, steep flight of stairs. 

We left the mall & ran in Target because, well, like you need a legitimate reason to go to Target.  Reagan rested her legs in the buggy while I meandered through the store, finding various things I didn't know I needed.

Next stop was Toys-R-Us, which is really just a cruel form of torture for kids.  

We discussed why Reagan does not need a piggy bank in the form of a huge red crayon.  Then we discussed why I called it a piggy bank when clearly, it is a crayon & in no way resembles a pig.  She is her father's daughter.

We spent a long time in the car aisle where I delivered an eloquent speech about not buying every last thing we want.  Yes, lurking in the back of my mind while I was speaking was a picture of the current state of my closet.  

Never far from my thoughts, I admit I took this pic of this Gonzo doll because his sweater vest reminds me of Dr. Foster.

To be clear, only the vest reminds me of Dr. Foster, who, in my mind (which is his primary residence), looks a little something like this:

After about an hour, we finally left the store with a Hello Kitty sleeping bag in tow.  Reagan is ecstatic about her sleepovering bag & is busily planning her sleepover schedule at her grandparents' respective homes for the remainder of the summer.  

I hope you're weathering July well.  The only thing it has going for it is that it's acceptable for me & the kids to sleep until ten, eat lunch around three, & eventually put on some "real" clothes & mosey on over to my parents' house around seven-ish so I can exercise.  Despite a thick, oppressive heat that persists until well after the sun sets, exercising is something I must do, for my thighs & my mind, which are both becoming increasingly difficult to rein in as thirty-five looms. 

If I had a scribe to follow me & take dictation as I walk, I'd have written several tomes by now.


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