After a long term teaching, I’m back to writing. Yahoo. I’m in that wonderful stage of editing where I’m fine tuning a project, trying to convince myself I’m ready to let go of it, to let it be seen by other eyes, to call it finished. Do writers ever believe their work is finished? I’ve promised myself only to read this manuscript one more time, then to call it done, otherwise I’ll tinker with it forever. So happy to be back at it!
10 useful things I learned when doing research for my next book.
1. Nesting pythons don’t eat. So, if you run across a nesting python, don’t fret. How will you know if it’s nesting? The eggs are the giveaway.
2. Lots of Ghanians are named after the day of the week. Adio is born on a Monday, Abena is born on a Tuesday, Akua is born on a Wednesday, etc. And, by the way, Kofi is born on a Friday, so now we know something more about the ex Secretary General of the United Nations don’t we?
3. Jerry Rawlings was 32 the first time he took over the leadership of Ghana. And I thought I was doing well having a career by 45.
4. Ghana has 9 government sponsored languages. Yes, you read that right: 9. Canada, get over yourself.
5. John Travolta was hot (that means cool) in 1979. But he was cool (that means hot) too.
6. The Sony walkman was released in June 1979. OMG I feel old.
7. YMCA sued the Village People for libel because of their song of the same name. Sid Vicious, a former member of the Sex Pistols, died due to a heroin overdose during the trial for murdering his girlfriend. What is the useful thing I learned? Entertainment was just as crazy then as it is now.
8. The Eagles, Pink Floyd and the Police were big. Need I say more?
9. In 1978 Argentina won the World Cup. Yep, important and useful information.
10. Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of Great Britain in1979. Okay, I should have known that, but hey, I was only 12 at the time.
I just finished reading a fantastic book called Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta. I loved this book, and it got me thinking about what makes a book at YA book. Is it that the character is young? That can’t be, because there are lots of examples of books with young protagonists. Is it that the themes are related to young people? But the themes in this book are dealing with loss, grief, love, finding oneself… all the things any great book is about. So what is it then that makes this a YA book? Or is that category not real? Maybe there are no barriers between what youth and adults read. After all, I’m not a young woman, and I read books lablled YA.
This week, for the first time, I gave the manuscript of a novel I’ve been working on to a reader. Wow, what a moment. Like walking off a precipice you can’t turn back from. There’s no pretending now. No saying, I’m not really working on this thing, it doesn’t really matter. It’s a manuscript now. A book in the making, not some notes and scenes I’m messing around with.
A big step yes, but I chose my reader carefully. I wanted someone who was an astute reader, but not a writer. Someone who could read with enough distance from writing to be a reader, but enough knowledge to be able to articulate their thoughts about the book to me. I didn’t want someone who’d just say, “it was great” or someone who’d day “I hated it, I don’t know why.” I needed someone who’d say I liked this part but not that, and here’s why. Someone who’d care enough to tell me the truth, and to take the time to tell me gently.
So who’d do all that? My husband of course. He reads voraciously. More than I, even. And he loves YA, which is what I’ve been working on. He was the perfect choice and he told me all the things I already knew but had been hiding from, plus a whole lot of other things. He honed in on the places where I wasn’t sure, as a writer, where I hadn’t quite made up my mind. He found the places I’d skipped over details because I didn’t quite know what I was trying to do. He took a look at the big arc of the story and found the places I hadn’t filled in. He told me when my characters knew too much or not enough. Wow, he gave me enough feedback to start editing again, this time with purpose, with direction.
So thanks Michael. Your input was invaluable. My next reader’s going to be writer Laurie Elmquist, who’s fine eye will catch even more detail. I’m intimidated already at the thought, though I know it’s necessary. But I’m also encouraged, because I know how empowered I feel right now to continue with this project.