By Saralee Rosenberg
Yesterday I finished writing my novel for girls. Again. It took two and a half years, fourteen versions, eight different titles, a thousand cups of coffee and enough paper to equal two trees in Oregon (after losing a manuscript in progress, a hard copy is my bff).
One would think that a book requiring this much time and energy would have been written by a beginner. But HOTLINE TO HEAVEN is my fifth novel. It’s just my first for girls.
When I decided to try my hand at writing for a younger audience, I thought of it almost as a calling. I would dazzle middle grade girls with my “high spirited” humor while delivering life lessons through the back door. Readers would laugh the whole way through but never see the preachy-stuff coming. Kind of like a print version of Leave it to Beaver.
It didn’t work. The plot was banal and the main character, Stella, witty but annoying. Editors urged me to keep going but to ditch the sermons.
In the next versions I made the main character, Hannah, more multi-dimensional but apparently there were too many adults involved in her decision making. Editors urged me to keep going but to ditch the parents. “Think Charlie Brown and the Muppets. Adults should be seen not heard.”
In the versions that followed (I’d been at it so long I referred to them as the anniversary editions) I gave birth to a new main character, Haley. She was a virtual orphan who occasionally passed tall people in her house but didn’t speak to them very much. Editors urged me to keep going but to ditch, well, everything.
Clearly I could entertain and enlighten, but I would get nowhere if I kept using a mallet instead of a pen.
Last summer, fed up and discouraged, I re-read my four adult novels and made a great discovery. I didn’t need to abandon my voice and style to appeal to a younger reader. I simply had to tell a story that mattered.
I started over from page one and yesterday the jury rested.
And the verdict? This new version is everything I hoped. Funny, touching, honest, deeply revealing and a hell of a good story. Maybe even a little empowering but without the neon sign that screams: YOURAREOFFICIALLYEMPOWERED.
Mostly it’s a heartfelt tale of a thirteen-year old psychic who channels her dead mother until she is blamed for the disappearance of the boy she likes.
I am still in shock that it took me as long as it did to connect with a young heroine, but I don’t regret the journey. I so enjoyed being immersed in her world, fraught with family secrets and friendships gone bad.
My hope is that girls (and maybe their moms, too) will hold the book close to their hearts and think, wow. That was a great ride.
Or as my character, Haley Jacoby, says: Sometimes when you think your life is falling apart, it’s really falling into place.
May it be.
Saralee Rosenberg is the author of four contemporary novels: A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, FATE AND MS. FORTUNE, CLAIRE VOYANT and DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD (all from Avon/HarperCollins). Visit her website www.saraleerosenberg.com