Neither Fish Nor Fowl

Charing Cross 371

“Books can not give you freedom, or a big bank account, but they can light a pathway and for kids like Autumn, I wonder if we are doing enough. By not writing about someone in Autumn’s situation, by not making money part of the story are we ignoring her yet again, along with everyone else in or near her situation?” – Colleen @ Chasing Ray

Collen Mondor, together with her posse of fellow authors and bloggers, has put together another intensely intelligent What A Girl Wants (W.A.G.W.). This month the question deals with socioeconomic levels as viewed through the lens of young adult literature.

This is a …difficult topic for me, because I grew up differently from what I became. Or, I was different, even as a kid, than people expected, or than I appeared. Not sure just how to put that.

Fact: my parents had a high school education and nothing more, for a long time. Fact: I’m the first person in my immediate family to have a Master’s, although my eldest sister did me one better and a year and a half later came away with a double-Master’s. (Yeah, I know. Overachiever Alert!) Fact: there is NO ONE in my family with a PhD. No one. We’re blue-collar janitors, bus drivers, and childcare workers. No doctors or lawyers in the pack. Not yet, anyway.

That being said, I went to private school. My parents scrimped and saved and stretched the pennies ’til they wailed to send me to a Christian school with a small teacher-to-student ratio, where I would excel and achieve. Despite the massive blocks of government cheese we ate, or the Safeway reject flour, out of which we sifted the cigarette butts (which is why they probably only rarely sell flour in bins in grocery stores anymore) and the reject produce from which we cut the bad spots and froze the rest, there were expectations about how we were to act, speak, and think. There were kids with whom we weren’t allowed to socialize, because we were moving out of the class and economic strata where our parents were currently situated. ALL OF US went to school, even my parents. We were ALL supposed to move up and out, and do better.

Maybe that’s the kind of novels I should be writing, those plucky “hard luck” tales of socioeconomic woe, where Determined Girl Makes Good. Those novels in which a girl strives and stands on the shoulders of the past to uplift herself and her race… maybe those should be my forte. Certainly it seems lately like those are the only ones that will sell.

Glasgow Uni D 490

Ach, don’t mind me. I’m a little disappointed, a little cranky. Two recently rejected manuscripts have characteristics in them which shake the status quo, which is what got them rejected, I’m afraid. I’m not sure how to react to that. I’m determined as a writer not to be pigeon-holed, not to be stuck writing just one kind of book because that’s what the market supports, but I’m a little worried now, two strikes later. What if there’s only one kind of book I’m expected to write? Where’s the mirror reflecting the world for kids who grew up like me?

“Possessing characteristics which are seen as “normal,” and thus not worth being mentioned. In this society, at this time, this includes being white, male, heterosexual, cisgendered, affluent, and with certain physical abilities. Just about everyone deviates from the unmarked state in one way or another, though some ways are deemed important and others are not.” – Nisi Shawl, co-author Writing the Other

If you haven’t read W.A.G.W. yet, go — it’s well worth your perusal. Here’s to thinking deep thoughts and writing them down.

8 Replies to “Neither Fish Nor Fowl”

  1. Ditto, ditto, ditto, ditto, don't you dare quit writing your story. While I'm not an author/writer-ly person, I have been reading your writing for almost 20 years and what you say is important and needs to be said.

  2. Double-ditto! Tanita, this blog post and MotherReader's recent blog post about taking risks reminds me of a career risk I took a number of years ago that I still wonder about. I think about Madeleine L'Engle, too, and how many times A Wrinkle in Time was rejected. Yeah, yeah, I know someone always comes up with the "X author's wonderful ms got rejected Y number of times" example, and it's so easy to compress all those years into a sentence or two.

    I believe in you. I believe in your books. I hope that each book does better than the last. But even if it doesn't, and even if it takes a long time before another book is published, you are still wonderful and worthy.

  3. I'm sorry to hear about rejections, too. I hate to say "ditto" to what someone else wrote, but dude….DITTO to what Adrienne said. So totally ditto. Well-written books, which is What You Do, will find an audience. I can't imagine navigating the crazy world of publishing. And "hang in there" sounds awfully trite, but ….hang in there.

  4. I really believe, Tanita, that there is no type of novel you "should" be writing. Your own personal narrative adds up to who are you and what you do, but it doesn't lay out specific parameters for you to follow. Stretching against expectations — as a writer or as a kid eating government cheese — is nothing less than transcendence and it's how greatness happens. Someone will say yes to your best stories in the end. Because they're your best stories, not because they're a type of story. Carry on, sister. Please. For all our sake….

  5. Yes, Tanita, you keep writing what YOU want to write.

    I don't know if I told you this but I think about Mare a lot! I could picture her exactly. My great aunt was a little like that. She didn't take scat off anyone, and at one point she drove a Camaro. When I read Mare's War, I felt like I was hanging out with people from home.

  6. Sorry to hear about those rejections, Tanita. What a tough call. How can a writer establish a "brand" and avoid being pigeon-holed? I agree with Adrienne in that anything well written will find an audience.

  7. Ah, Tanita. I'm sorry about your disappointment.

    I finally got to read your SLJ article for the Writers Against Racism series yesterday. Between that and this, I know I'd be interested in stories that reflect the world for kids who grew up like you. I always think it's kind of a cop-out when people say there's no audience for this type of book or that type of book. It seems to me that the truth is that well-written books about just about anything have the potential to find an audience, if only someone gets them into people's hands, which is where librarians and teachers and hand-selling and booktalking and writing articles and reading aloud come in (and also decent covers–the wrong cover can just KILL a book). What a boring world it would be if the only books that got published were ones like the ones that had already been selling well.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.