Thursday, November 19, 2009
Seekerville Welcomes Lara Zielin
Tina, thanks so much for hosting me on your blog! It’s an honor to be here, and I’ll do my best to talk about some of the things I’ve learned writing YA—both good and bad.
DONUT DAYS was a labor of love for a long, long time. The first time I ever penned the book, I wrote it as chick-lit (back when chick-lit was a burgeoning book genre) and my protagonist was in her late-20s. The setting for the book was the same: the area outside a soon-to-open donut store in Minnesota, where excited fans of the franchise had assembled to be the first in line.
As first drafts often go, it wasn’t fabulous. I wasn’t in love with my protagonist, and something just wasn’t clicking with the manuscript. I don’t know at what point the light went off inside my head and I realized I should revamp the whole thing to be YA, but it did. I think subconsciously I’d been flirting with the idea for a while. I’d always read YA (even past my teenage years) and I often found it more enjoyable than so-called grownup books.
But finding my YA voice wasn’t easy. In fact, I’d say finding my voice, period, as a writer was a challenge and something I still struggle with to some degree. I wrote and re-wrote DONUT DAYS numerous times to get it right. I read other YA books voraciously and dissected them to try and figure out how plot, pacing, and character development worked. I made my close friend and writing partner, author Ellen Baker, read and re-read the novel to try and help me get it to the finish line. I submitted it a few times to agents and publishers but … no love. Eventually I tossed it in the recycle bin and there it sat for a while.
Ellen encouraged me to dig it out and try, try again. Which I eventually did after a few dramatic realizations.
I knew that one of the problems I was having with the book was not making my main character, Emma, believable. For example, I’d write that she and her family were hard-up for money, but then I’d have her wearing Mac lipstick. Which, how is girlfriend going to afford that if she has to work and save just to buy a pair of jeans from Old Navy?
Also, I was telling a LOT and not showing very much. For example, Emma was always saying how her parents never talked to her about anything and how they left her in the dark, but there weren’t any scenes that illustrated this.
I think that there’s a misperception that people fail at writing YA because they “talk down” or “preach” to teens in their writing, but I disagree. I think it’s more simple than that. I think I failed continually because I couldn’t put myself in the shoes of my main character convincingly. I wrote as if through a veil—almost like I was afraid to have her experience, think, or feel anything real. For that reason, my book was plot-heavy for a long, long time (This happened! Then that! Then another thing!) so that the hot-and-heavy action kept my main character from ever having to stop and actually have an emotion or an experience.
When I was able to empathize with Emma—to almost become her in a way—I had my breakthrough. Some authors have characters who reveal themselves almost in a vision. Me, not so much. I practically have to take my characters on myself. It’s kind of brutal—but it’s the only way I’ve been able to find success.
The process was a little bit easier for my next novel, PROMGATE, which comes out in summer 2011. Again, I had help, and also I’ve been reading YA novels more voraciously than ever, which is the best thing I can recommend for any aspiring YA writer. Reading good YA helps you write good YA.
I haven’t figured it all out by any means—I’m still growing and evolving a lot as a writer—but I love YA and want to keep at it as long as my publisher and agent will let me.
Seekerville Background Check on Lara:
Lara Zielin is from a town in Wisconsin called Eau Claire. She likes cheese. She once swallowed a moth.
Be sure to check out Lara's video Editing Letter.
The other reason we invited Lara to Seekerville is because her favorite drink is Starbuck's grande, non-fat, no whip, pumpkin spice latte. (That and because she is hilarious. We like hilarious around here. Especially in writers.)
Lara will be giving away a copy of Donut Days (hardcover even),
to one lucky Seekerville visitor.
And, Seekerville will be giving away a five dollar Starbuck's card so you can buy a grande, non-fat, no whip, pumpkin spice latte.
Drawing will be held at 8pm MST and announced in the comments.