The Author-Reader Relationship: Reaching Beyond Expectations, a guest post by Halli Gomez
When I first wrote my young adult novel, List of Ten, a story about a teen living with Tourette Syndrome (TS), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety, someone told me the only people who would read the book are those with TS. I argued against that statement, insisted it wasn’t true, and kept pursing the publishing dream.
When List of Ten sold and I began going through the publishing process, I thought more about that statement. I agonized over it. And I realize now, I may have had a Field of Dreams attitude: write it and they will read it.
And why wouldn’t they? People read books for a variety of reasons, not all of which involve a personal connection. We read about magical characters, but we are not magic. Mysteries, but we’re not detectives. Dragons, and we are definitely not fire-breathing fantastical creatures. Maybe that statement was true. This book is different. It focuses on a lesser-known disorder, mental health, and suicide. Would people read this book? And more importantly, why?
The first two manuscripts I wrote didn’t sell, and thinking back, I didn’t have much thought after getting the words on paper. Sure, I had dreams of seeing my book on store shelves, but I can see now that I was missing a crucial piece. The author-reader relationship.
I’ve given a lot of thought to that relationship over the past few years. Does an author have a responsibility to their readers? What is the overall purpose? A question as big as the universe, but appropriate since books have the power to change the world.
Any writer will tell you there’s a feeling to create, a desire to tell a story that’s deep inside and won’t let go. Despite the stress, time, and rejections, we keep writing, often laughing to ourselves as we do it.
So, we are going to write, but what is the purpose? As a reader myself, I thought about what I look for in books. Entertainment, sure. At times I want to escape my life, the struggles with neurodiversity, even the sky when there are too many rainy days in a row. But is that the extent of the author-reader relationship? To entertain and chase the blahs away? Being able to make someone happy with your art is a wonderful gift, but there is much more authors can do.
Think about the books that have impacted today’s generation. Harry Potter brought out the love of reading in many reluctant and non-readers. Hunger Games embodied female empowerment. Thirteen years after the book was published and nine years since the movie was made, I still hear the well-known phrase “I volunteer as tribute.” Most will admit the books are entertaining, but many readers will say they formed a deeper connection.
It’s time to look at my own reading journey. I read everything from picture books to adult fiction and non-fiction. Mysteries, historical fiction, contemporary, ghost stories and much more. I choose stories based on the authors (I frequently refer to John Green as a literary genius) others based on the plot, and many because I want to learn about new people and places.
Books in general, but List of Ten in particular, and others like it, for example All the Bright Places, Brave Enough, Challenger Deep, The Fault in Our Stars, Turtles All the Way Down are not to be taken lightly. They deal with very tough topics and may not be for everyone. I went back to that original statement again, this time keeping the author-reader relationship in mind. Who would read a book about Tourette Syndrome and suicide?
To be honest, the answer surprised me. I hoped people with similar issues would connect and feel seen. I hoped it would bring a greater understanding of misunderstood neurodivergent individuals. What I didn’t expect was an even greater audience. I’ve heard from people who see books like List of Ten as a way to connect with their own children and family members, and others who are sharing it to promote inclusion and respect, and even others who have found themselves questioning their own behavior toward neurodivergent individuals.
To forge that author-reader relationship, stories don’t have to be as blatant and serious as List of Ten. The story a writer wants to tell, the theme they want to impart on the reader can be wrapped up in anything. It can entertain and impact.
I hope to accomplish that with my work-in-progress, a young adult thriller filled with suspense, secrets, and a dead body. But running through it all is a girl who has been talked over and disregarded her entire life. More than solving the mystery, I’m writing this for readers who need to see what can be accomplished when they find their voice, and, just as important, for those readers who need to understand what happens when you don’t allow people to have a voice. And, of course, for those readers who will discover their own connection.
Meet the author
Halli Gomez teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults. She has written several stories with neurodivergent characters including her young adult novel List of Ten (Sterling Teen) When no one is looking, she sock skates through the house and talks to dogs like they are human. When people are looking, she enjoys reading, outdoors, and breaking out of escape rooms with her family. Halli lives in North Carolina with her husband, two boys, and two dogs.
About List of Ten
A harrowing yet hopeful account of a teen living with Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder . . .
and contemplating his own mortality.
Ten: three little letters, one ordinary number. No big deal, right? But for Troy Hayes, a 16-year-old suffering from Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, the number ten dictates his life, forcing him to do everything by its exacting rhythm. Finally, fed up with the daily humiliation, loneliness, and physical pain he endures, Troy writes a list of ten things to do by the tenth anniversary of his diagnosis—culminating in suicide on the actual day. But the process of working his way through the list changes Troy’s life: he becomes friends with Khory, a smart, beautiful classmate who has her own troubled history. Khory unwittingly helps Troy cross off items on his list, moving him ever closer to his grand finale, even as she shows him that life may have more possibilities than he imagined. This is a dark, intense story, but it’s also realistic, hopeful, and deeply authentic.
Publisher: Sterling Teen
Publication date: 03/16/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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