Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Taming the Tension Among Teens

So what’s in any good novel? Some might suggest sex, violence and (fill in a third element here but not rock and roll) might be an interesting mixture of ingredients to stir up the pot of interest. Face it, even your most average of romance novels seem to slip in a dalliance or two to tickle the imagination.

My philosophy has always been that writers write for themselves. Much has been written about a writer understanding the audience he or she is writing for. There’s a lot of mis-information (for newbies) about emulating the best sellers and giving their audience what you think readers want in terms of characters, settings, etc. In the words of one ebullient philosopher, ‘That’s all hooey.’

I believe you write what you want to write about, what drives your interest, what gets you out of bed in the morning and plants you in front of your keyboard. You should write from the heart and hope there is an audience for your work. At least that’s been my guiding force for as long as I’ve been writing.

So imagine my surprise when it was suggested that my latest novel, ‘Follow the Cobbler’ might be a good candidate for adaptation as a YA, Young Adult Novel. Following the formula of my other works, ‘Cobbler’ has its fair share of sexual tension, violence and interesting sidelines. I try not to write for any specific audience, but kids! Seriously?

Yet there was a precedence here that had already been set. I was surprised to learn that a lot of women seem to like my western novels. I had foolishly decided who my audience was for westerns and totally missed an important segment of the reading public in the process. After my second book fair and talking to women, I realized I had better keep my mouth shut and not assume anything about reader’s interests.

‘Follow the Cobbler,’ is a suspense thriller that follows my protagonist Brian, and his fellow traveler Katherine, around the world in pursuit of an elusive character simply known as ‘the cobbler.’ They, in turn, are being pursued by hunter-assassins known only as ‘the druids’ (named after a religious sect from early Roman times in ancient Britannia.) The novel contains some scenes of romance, intrigue, sexual tension, violence and many references to ancient times. It would hardly seem to be the fare for younger minds. Vida, my editor thought differently.

I’ve been down that long arduous road called ‘being a teen ager’ before. Teen angst is nothing new to me but it’s certainly not a backroad I’d care to retrace at this stage in my life. So I was more than a little taken back when Vida suggested that ‘Cobbler’ might be a good YA novel if edited properly. And she knew just the people to do it. Imagine that, me writing for teens? Turns out the notion wasn’t that far-fetched. It just took a set of younger eyes to see it for me.

Amelie and Nedda are a couple of precocious twins with ‘fearless hearts and critical eyes’ (their mom’s own words) who were able to turn my 566-page juggernaut into a novel for the YA market. Other YA novels such as the Twilight series and The Hunger Games have proven immensely popular with teens and pre-teens. Upon reflection, I think there’s no reason why this newly revised version of ‘Cobbler’ might not do the same.

I trust Vida as well as my wife to give me honest, accurate feedback and editing and NOT CHANGE my style of writing. That is critical for a writer and his editor. I trusted Vida so I trusted her daughters.  It can be a precarious balancing act between changing the tone of the story and not to lose the trust intent of the story. There were some real challenges ahead for anyone wanting to edit that manuscript:

1.      There were scenes of sexual activities that were critical to the storyline.
2.      There were scenes of violence and fighting that added to the drama of the storyline.
3.      There were scenes of ancient history that were critical to the storyline.

So the real question was could Vida’s daughters change those scenes for a younger audience but not to the extent that they lost their core value as an information conduit. In other words:

1.      Keep the sexual tension without the sex.
2.      Keep the violence without the blood
3.      Keep the ancient fables without being boring for a teen-age mind.

The twins spent last winter editing my manuscript, designing a new book cover and changing the title from ‘Follow the Cobbler’ to ‘Chasing Ophelia.’ They had cart-blanch freedom to go as far or as easy as they wanted to in editing my work. My reasoning was simple. If they were Vida’s daughters, I was in good hands. I love the new book cover and title. Readers will very quickly grasp the significance of the cover and its background of Celtic symbols.

Now the real work begins. Vida has written a press release which we are actively sending out to local newspapers, magazines, tabloids and anywhere else we think might print it. We have beta readers reading the novel right now and giving us feedback on the YA marketplace

Of course, it was only fitting that my eldest granddaughter, Maya, be the first in the family to read ‘Ophelia.’ Her twin siblings are clamoring for their chance at the book, as are the Minnesota cousins. Their time will come with, I hope, with a lot of teens and pre-teens. This spring our local newspaper picked up the story of the girls. A nice tribute to Amelie and Nedda and the great job they did on creating my newest YA novel.

I have a 6:30 pm ‘Meet the Author’ presentation scheduled for October 18th at the Rosemount Library. It will be a fitting way to share the twin’s story of a job well done.

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