Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Finding New Inspiration from an Old Source

After my publisher Booktrope announced that it was going to close its doors, I went through a really tough time. In some ways, I’m still going through it. I’ve questioned my legitimacy as a writer and have been wondering if it’s what I should be doing.

One of the things that has plagued my mind is that my books seem too short. I look at all these other books in the young adult genre—the bestsellers like the Twilight series, the Hunger Games, and the Divergent series—and they are these really thick, big books. Mine, on the other hand, top out at a little over 200 pages—if I’m lucky. Some are a tad shorter.

Am I doing something wrong? Should my books be longer?

I’ve attempted to make my books longer, but they end up being just words without meaning. Every word that is put into a story should further the plot in some way, but I find that I’m just sticking things in there to make the book longer. Surely, that can’t be the right way to do it either.

It was frustrating and disheartening. I was convinced this was why I would never be a well-known author with movie deals. I put down my pen (yes, I still write my first draft longhand with a pen and paper) and tried to figure out what to do. I also decided to go back to a source of inspiration that encouraged me to become a writer in the first place.

When I was in junior high and high school, one of my favorite authors of all time was Christopher Pike. He wrote these amazingly dark young adult books that I devoured. I decided to pick up a few again and reread them to see if they still had the same effect on me as they did back then.

There’s an inherent danger going back and rereading something from your past. It’s possible that time and experience will change how you view those stories, and they may not hold the same power they once did. In a way, you’re viewing them through a new set of eyes, and they might not be the same book they had once been.

This was absolutely not the case when I went back to read these books. They were still just as powerful and amazing as I remembered them being.

What Christopher Pike did when he was writing his books was start a new trend in YA stories. He didn’t back away from controversial teen issues like drugs, drinking, and sex—they were right there on the page (not in vivid detail, granted, but present nonetheless). He talked to teens on their level, he didn’t treat them like idiots, and they loved it. I loved it. I still love it.

I also loved how his books dealt with the supernatural and alien beings. They were horror without being in-your-face scary. His books encouraged and inspired the dark within me.

And most of his books aren’t much longer than 200 pages.

As I thought more about it, I decided that it’s not the length of the book that matters. A story needs to be told in however many words it needs to be told in. If it takes 300+ pages, so be it. But if it takes less, that’s fine too.

One of the things I enjoyed and still enjoy about Pike’s books is that I can read them in a relatively short amount of time. I can immerse myself in the worlds he’s created and get to know the characters, but I don’t necessarily have to spend a long time doing it. If I want (and I have) to finish a book in an afternoon, I can. And it’s amazing. They are the perfect afternoon getaway, then I have the opportunity to move on to another world or get back to the real one. (The latter is usually the case. I have a family to take care of.)

That’s something that can’t always be done with longer works. However, with longer books, readers have the opportunity to be immersed in these magical worlds for a lot longer. They aren’t confined to an afternoon, they are there for days or weeks—maybe even months. Reading is supposed to be escapism, and sometimes we readers don’t want to come back to the real world, so having a longer work fulfills that need.

There’s no wrong or right way to write a book. Well, there is, so I should probably phrase it that there are no rules to the limit on how long a story should be. If the story is only 200 pages, it’s only 200 pages. If it’s longer or shorter, it’s longer or shorter.

What it boils down to is I have to write the book I want to write, and that book is one that I would want to read and enjoy in an afternoon. Again, there’s nothing wrong with longer works, they obviously appeal to a lot of people, but they just aren’t my thing.

Is that the reason I haven’t reached stardom and have movie producers and agents knocking down my door? Maybe. It’s possible it’s also my subject matter. Maybe my stories don’t appeal to what the world is looking for in a book. But I’m fine with that. I’ve always been the type of person who marched to the beat of my own drummer. Since I was little, I’ve been told that I’m weird because I didn’t always follow the status quo. That doesn’t discourage me, in fact, it propels me forward.

Being different means I have a unique way of looking at the world, and I try to put those ideas into my stories. So I may never be famous, and that’s okay. There are still readers out there who enjoy my books. And that’s all I can ask for. I’m not going to betray who I am because it might make me famous. Again, I’m going to write the stories I want to write. That makes it more fun.