Tuesday, July 15, 2014
I recently finished writing my debut novel for girls. Again. It only took four years, six versions, eight titles and enough coffee to keep Dunkin Donuts in the black, so to speak.
One would think that a book requiring this much time and effort would have been written by a beginner. But THE MIDDLE SCHOOL MEDIUM is my fifth novel. Which is why my dear father would say, “Confidence is that feeling you have right before you understand the problem.”
What took so long?
When I began I was sure that between my experience and the shorter word count, I could wrap this project in six months. I was also sure that it would be easy to razzle-dazzle girls with my “high spirited” humor. They would laugh the whole way through and never see the preachy stuff coming.
Ha! My first attempt was a witty tale, but my beta readers were a group of seventh graders who turned out to be mini New York Times critics. They were not in love. For starters, they told me that I sounded like an adult trying to sound like a kid. Ouch. They also said that although they weren't boy crazy, most girls they knew were, and the story was boring without any guy characters. Double ouch.
In the next version, my main character was more authentic, her plight more dramatic and now there was a boy. A cute boy. Ahh, but apparently now there were too many adults. I was urged to ditch the grown-ups. Think Charlie Brown and the Muppets editors said. They should be seen, but never heard. Gotcha.
In the novel that followed (referred to as the anniversary edition) I created a plucky, indomitable main character who occasionally passed tall people in her house, but didn’t have much to do with them as she was too busy being in love. Editors urged me to keep going but to ditch, well, everything. Clearly I could entertain, but my character’s journey wasn’t compelling, captivating or full of complexities.
Wait. You mean it had to read like an adult novel? Why didn’t anyone say so? My next step was to re-read my four novels. Then I had an ah ha moment. I didn’t need to abandon my voice and style to appeal to a younger reader. I just had to tell a story that mattered.
I started over and now hopefully the jury rests. THE MIDDLE SCHOOL MEDIUM is funny, touching, and an honest exploration of family, fate and friendship. Mostly it’s a heartfelt tale of a lonely thirteen-year old girl who is accused of practicing witchcraft after a TV medium helps her connect with her dead mother. And if you remember middle school, you do not want to be accused of anything.
And yes, there is this boy...
I never imagined it would take me this long to connect with Stella Jacoby, my heroine, but I don’t regret the journey. I so enjoyed being immersed in her world and rediscovering how challenging it is to transition from an innocent girl to strong-willed teen. And my hope? That when published, readers will hold this novel to their chests and think, wow. That was a great ride!
Or as Stella so aptly says, “Sometimes when you think your life is falling apart, it’s really falling into place.”
Saralee Rosenberg is the author of A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, CLAIRE VOYANT, FATE AND MS. FORTUNE and DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD (Avon/HarperCollins). Visit her website. www.saraleerosenberg.com