Slow Burn: An Appreciation Post for Writers Who’ve Been Around A While, a guest post by Bev Katz Rosenbaum
Publishing is obsessed with splashy debuts. And for good reason–fresh new voices who talk about fresh new things and write in fresh new ways will always be the lifeblood of the industry. But hear me out: we should pay just as much attention to books by writers who’ve been around a while.
Because here’s the thing: an author who has published a few books has become a better writer with every book. As in all things, practice makes perfect. Speaking for myself, it’s only with my sixth novel, I’m Good and Other Lies (a YA released in the U.S. in February), that I feel I’ve finally closed–or at least, significantly lessened–that gap Ira Glass famously talked about between taste and achievement. I’m Good and Other Lies, about a teen’s experience with her dysfunctional family over the course of Toronto’s first COVID-19 lockdown, is exactly the book I’ve always wanted to write.
Readers loved the voice, above all. Which tracks. As a former in-house fiction editor, now a popular freelance developmental editor, I can tell you that voice is the hardest aspect of writing to learn. Because there isn’t really a way to learn it. Writers start out copying the styles and voices of authors they admire. Developing one’s own voice means learning to write in a way that reflects your own world view and attitude. Which sounds like something that should be intuitive, but one has absolutely no perspective on anything having to do with one’s own self, right? It stands to reason that it takes a few books to develop and relax into your own voice–to write the way you think and speak.
Something else: I’m Good and Other Lies was the book of my heart, the book I’ve wanted to write for years, reflecting some of my own experiences growing up and my desire to let others in my heroine Kelsey’s situation know they aren’t alone. It isn’t uncommon for these heart-books to take years for authors to write, to gain the perspective and wisdom required to do justice to these stories and to find just the right way of telling these tales that are so important to them.
In the case of I’m Good and Other Lies, I’d worked on it for years, but in addition to the much-needed perspective I needed in order to do the story justice (thanks, years-of-therapy!), I always felt my manuscript was missing some x-factor I couldn’t identify. When the COVID-19 pandemic came along, my heart went out to all those kids and teens stuck at home in less-than-desirable situations. (For some kids, as we all know, school and not home is the refuge.) Suddenly I had a topical backdrop for my story–that extra ingredient it was missing. The lockdown backdrop also gave me a built-in plot/structure, which was, for an author whose strengths are dialogue and voice, super helpful!
My writer friend Joanne Levy is the author of nine middle grade novels, and a recent one, Sorry for Your Loss, is the jewel in her writing crown. Not unsurprisingly, it is Joanne’s heart-book, with a main character whose family runs a Jewish funeral home like the one Joanne’s father runs in Hamilton, Ontario. It’s a book with a big theme–loss and grief–told in a confidently droll middle grade voice. That’s a tricky balance, pulled off beautifully by a seasoned author.
Another friend, young adult novelist Danielle Younge-Ullman, became a critical darling with her third novel, Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined, about a teen sent against her will to a wilderness camp. Danielle, too, drew on personal experience for that book, which took time to process. And by the time she was ready to write the story, she had developed an assured voice.
Writers who have been around for a while can also make better school and library presenters. Marty Chan is another kid lit writer pal with with dozens of books to his credit, who is an in-demand presenter at libraries and schools. Although he had a theatre background, he claims it took him three or four books to build up his skills as a presenter.
When I taught a Writing for Children course at Toronto’s Centennial College, I regularly brought in authors to talk to my students. At the end of one term, my students told me their favorite speaker was Frieda Wishinsky, who by then had been writing kid lit for years and presented to countless schools and who insisted my students leave their desks and arrange their chairs in a close circle for an honest, intimate talk rather than a dazzling, hi-tech (frequently soulless) presentation.
So there you have it. Don’t just read or hire the splashy debuts–seek out the seasoned authors! Trust me, it’ll be worth it!
Meet the author
Bev Katz Rosenbaum is the author of several works of fiction, most recently the young adult novel, I’m Good and Other Lies. She has worked in-house as an editor for book publishers and magazines and has taught writing at the college level. Currently she juggles writing YA novels with freelance editing and eating chocolate cake. She is @bevrosenbaum on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, where she regularly posts writing tip reels. More on Bev at bevkatzrosenbaum.com.
About I’m Good and Other Lies
“This is a book for RIGHT NOW.” — Teresa Toten, author of The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B
Is it asking too much to live a typical twelfth grade existence? Kelsey Kendler just wants to earn some money for university, hang out with friends, maybe even snag a boyfriend. But her pill-popping mom and distant dad scare off anybody she tries to bring home, making those last two things feel impossible.
As the lockdown takes its toll on Kelsey’s mental health, she starts to see the appeal of her mom’s pills. She hates what they do to her mom, but numbing herself to the world seems like a pretty good idea right about now. Horrified to find herself following in her mom’s footsteps, she can only hope she’ll eventually figure out some other way to cope …
Publisher: Cormorant Books
Publication date: 02/15/2022
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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