Monday, April 14, 2008

COLUMN: Fiction

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my absolute lack of concern when it comes to fashion. I wouldn't know what trends are in vogue even if I was looking in Vogue while listening to En Vogue.

Still, I've apparantly got enough fashion smarts to recognize one thing about myself: I look terrible in green.

One of my closest friends spends her off hours writing books for the demographic I believe you're supposed to call "young adults." And she's great at it. She's already managed to woo a big city agent and is hopefully on her way to a publishing deal.

Happily, whenever she finishes a new book, she lets me have dibs at reading the first draft. This makes for some spirited lunches, where we ponder such questions as "If you were the main character and in 9th grade, and you were kinda cool but not SUPER cool yet somewhat intellectual, would you listen to Beyonce?" (Answer: Beyonce isn't cool no matter WHAT grade you're in.) The wait staff at Ross' must think that we're certifiable.

She just finished her new one, and it's fantastic. It's truly a page-turner, despite the fact that it's clearly written for people half my age, more specifically GIRLS half my age. I didn't care. I got sucked in to her story line regardless, and by the halfway point, I was sitting there going, "Omigod, she had BETTER find a boyfriend before the big Homecoming dance!"

It's so weird that every character, every line of dialogue, and every word in this book came out of the brain of one of my best friends. I'm so happy for her, and so hope that she finds success in such a difficult market to break. That said, the whole scenario is also turning me an icky shade of green.

I can't NOT hear the evil voice in my head that goes, "If SHE can do it, YOU can, too!" That's not to say that I fancy myself a better writer than her, but I mean, heck, the newspaper donates a page for my drivel every week, ergo I must be a Super Awesome Talented Writing Dude, yeah? Fiction for kids -- how tough can it be?

Answer: Very.

Over the past few weeks, I've put pen to paper (okay, who am I kidding, fingers to laptop) and tried to muster up a Work of Fiction For The Ages. Specifically, the ages of 12-15.

This isn't my first stab at cracking open my laptop and hoping that the Great American Novel will pour out. Writing a classic novel involves a level of intellect I simply can't muster up. Think back to your lit classes in high school. Powerful fiction involves symbolism and imagery and poetic narrative and all that other stuff that bores me to tears. I don't think like that, and I can't write like that.

Maybe my problem, though, is that I've been setting my sights too high. I could write 10,000 pages about grapes, and they'd never end up Wrathful. My Gatsby would not be Great; he would be The Mediocre Gatsby at best.

Kids, on the other hand, don't need symbolism. Dr. Seuss didn't write allegorical morality tales about mankind's struggle against societal oppression. He wrote about cats. In hats. This is more my speed.

In fact, I've got a few ideas for a kid's adventure book that could theoretically work if someone with talent were to piece it together. Unfortunately, I decided to do it instead. Bad move. After writing a few pages, I sat back to re-read the beginnings of my epic tale. Annnnnnnd WOW do I suck. What I was convinced would be a future career move turned into the fastest-deleted file in the history of my laptop.

Apparantly, I'm incapable of writing in ANY voice other than the one you're reading now. What I created was no less than five characters who were all, umm, me. Everyone talked, thought, and acted exactly like I would in their situation. My young protagonist hero already had a sarcastic pessimism and a sailor's mouth. The girl of his dreams was a sarcastic pessimist in Katie Holmes' body. The parents could have been locked up for child neglect, whom they neglected in a most sarcastically pessimistic way. The underlying moral at work appeared to be "Well, kids, life's a hopeless suckfest, might as well make fun of it while you can." It was not a good start.

I needed help, so I turned to the mecca of children's adventure lit: I went out and bought myself a Hardy Boys book. In the great pantheon of kid-lit, no heroes were truer to my heart than the brothers Hardy. I opened the book excited to relive my youth.

One small detail the 8-year-old me must have never picked up on: it was written in 1927! I'm somehow supposed to use THIS as inspiration? Seriously, these are lines in the book like:

"Say, we fellows should search for my jalopy after we dine on this Welsh rabbit!" "That's a swell idea, chum!"

Greeeat. Then we can all watch a new-fangled talkie and do the Lindy Hop down to the speakeasy while we oppress minorities and give women subservient societal roles! That'd be the bees knees! Sigh.

So I'm back to square one: a half-corked idea and a writer with a loooooooong way to go. J.K. Rowling I am NOT. Still, I'm not giving up quite yet. Maybe there's a novel idea of a novel in me yet. I'll still keep plugging away at the laptop, though I've changed out of my envious green into a more comfortable embarassment red.

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