Thursday, June 6, 2013

If you didn't come to sweat--you need to leave right now!

Roll!  Work!  Advice to all wannabe published novelists: SWEAT!  Don’t sell out!  SWEAT!  "Work!"  Don’t write something because you think it will make money.  This sounds like a no-brainer, right?  Not really.  Desperate times can call for desperate measures.  Be strong.   

After being rejected by every New York literary agent (accepting unsolicited queries) from A-W in The 2004 Writer’s Market, I tried to write a more “reader friendly novel.”  I tried to write linearly, which is all but impossible for me to manage because my brain simply does not work in a straight-line kind of way.  I can go back to a manuscript and move things around, but my mind translates to the page in images that connect, usually in subconscious ways.  The linear book SUCKED.  It is somewhere now, but I'm not sure where.  500 pages of "this is what I think people want to read..."  Not good.  


my latest novel, currently in the editorial process, the story of two women separated by oceans, generations and war, but connected by something much greater--the gift of wings, was not planned, not linear, not fathomed.  It is the tale of one woman born in 1925 in Lithuania, Europe, and the other woman born in 1973, northern Florida, in these United States.  This novel started with the image of a girl carrying handmade feather-pasted cardboard wings onto a bus, her boots on the black tread, the wings pressed against the metal bar, the bus driver telling her to hurry up, but she didn’t know where to sit. 

The question of where to sit and with whom is metaphorically at the core of this novel.


My parents do not recall my birth as particularly pleasant.  As a matter of fact, I think that as a fetus and then a baby and then a human being, I came between them.  Before I emerged, they were in love, and they probably would’ve remained that way if it weren’t for me.  But it’s not my fault that they had unprotected sex.  It’s not my fault or my doing that they mixed this mad concoction that produced a Prudence Eleanor Vilkas.  That’s my name.  My father chose the first two and the last one is my surname, my Lithuanian birthright.  I am a Vilkas.

When I started, I imagined a sixteen year-old girl riding a bus.  Other factors at play, the death of two World War II survivors, one German and one Lithuanian, while I was pregnant with my son—factored into, and formed this novel.  Their voices spoke through me.  Strange coincidences kept happening.  For example, the German woman, Mac (Inge Rosemarie Kischel McGarrity) used to give me German marzipan every Christmas.  I was not particularly fond of marzipan, but she didn’t have to give me anything—so I bit my tongue.  Plus, my mother would’ve killed me if I was rude.  My mother and Mac were best friends. 

As an adult, I would give Mac jelly jars so that she would keep giving me some of her amazing blackberry preserves.  She was my surrogate grandmother, my oma.  Anyway, spinning round and round, while writing a scene in Germany for the novel, I wrote about a rose garden and marzipan.  I later found out that it is a custom to flavor marzipan/the almond paste with rose water.  Little things.  All the time.  Everywhere.  Things I couldn’t know about places I hadn’t been, but filled my head just the same.  And then, this year, just as I was finishing the novel, my pastry chef friend who made my son's birthday cake, made the decorations from marzipan.  I guess that when you are willing to see the incredible, it's there.  

I love this novel so much that even if no one buys it, I don’t care.  I am elated to have brought the characters and story into being.  It was a cathartic endeavor, a nearly three-year journey, excluding the life experiences that came to the forefront of the book.  I am grateful for the gift and pleasure of writing, and as one of my professors advised, “If you are writing to become rich or famous, stop now!"

As the rapper Lil' Jon would say (for all my Zumba buddies), “If you didn’t come to sweat, you need to leave right now!”  It’s true.  Like all great endeavors, writing is something that you have to do for the sheer joy of putting those words and ultimately that story on the page and into life.  If it’s good enough, someone will read it.  I promise you!

Michele Young-Stone is the author of the Target Book Club novel, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors.  Her next two novels are under contract with Simon and Schuster.  When Michele is not writing, she is volunteering in her community, Zumba-ing and paddling around in her pink kayak.  She likes to bird watch and color outside the lines.



  1. I am so NOT linear, and it's reassuring to read that I'm in good company! Just this morning I was whining about my inability to shove my plot into those cubby holes of structure. Finally, I decided I needed to let myself be me, which means making order out of chaos. Then, I can pluck what works out of the sea of ideas instead of trying to fish for them one at a time.

    This is how I want to feel about everything I write: "I love this novel so much that even if no one buys it, I don’t care."

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Love this inspirational post, Michele!! This is so funny-- I can only write in a linear fashion! And I'm always so jealous of work that doesn't follow the rules. See, it's all perspective!

  3. Thanks for commenting, Brenda and Christa. I had a lot of fun writing this post, (more fun than struggling with piecing my last book together... ha ha) but I do love it so much, and it feels good. It is all perspective, Brenda. I had to give up trying to write linearly. XO. Thanks, ladies!

  4. Wonderful post, Michele. You inspire me!