March 28, 2010

Discovering My Audience

I must have asked myself what the hold up is on Right of Succession a thousand times over the years. I mean, I started on the thing about this time of year back when I was thirteen, and I'll be 29 in a few months.

Filled with the self-assurance of the immensely amateur, at first I was sure it was simply the time eaten up with class and homework holding back the rate I could write. Then my family bought our first computer my freshman year of college, and I began researching publishing online and participating in writers' groups. After a couple of years and many blows to the ego, I realized I had a lot to learn about writing in general, let alone readable fiction.

Then I had one of those life altering moments.

During all these years, I wrote and rewrote Succession four or five dozen times. It improved with each new draft, but something still wasn't working. Trouble was, I couldn't name the issue. So, when I came across a group looking for a new writer, I requested membership. Even though my time with them was shorter than I would have liked, I am grateful these ladies welcomed me into their group.

They called themselves the Snark Mamas. All were working on young adult novels, and they provided critiques with encouraging comments and snarky remarks alike. At the time, I was revisiting my first attempt at fiction, Ben the Unlikely, with an eye toward self-publishing a reprint of it as a middle grade novel opposed to the unillustrated short story version printed on The Writer's Hood children's page back in late 2000, if I remember correctly.

These ladies had me feeling completely inadequate. Their voices were unique and sure, and I felt I hadn't really developed my writing voice at the time. Carrie Harris had me nearly tumbling out of my chair giggling with each new chapter. Humor writing is something I've always wanted to do, but like poetry, it's largely outside my skill set. Elise Murphy and Amelia Nichols work had this quality about it that made you want to curl up next to a fire with a cup of cocoa as you read their stories. And I'm still hoping Michele Thornton's take on the Odyssey is published, so I can get it for my girls when they start studying Greek Mythology.

Over the months I was with the group, I learned more than I did in the college writing courses I took. Reading their work, their comments on my stuff, and what they had to say about each others work and discussing some issues back and forth was fun, frustrating, and educational by turns. Yet, no matter what I tried, Ben the Unlikely wasn't working. I don't remember exactly which lady brought it up. For some reason, I keep thinking it was Carrie, but I'm not sure. But she stated that while middle graders would be interested in the subject matter, Ben was at first too young and later too old for the age group to care much about him.

The comment stuck with me.

I honestly obsessed over it for a few days. Several facts clicked into place for me for the first time, and I began to realize why I had been so uncomfortable writing since I graduated college. I was writing for the wrong audience. My natural inclination runs toward the darker side of things. Now I know YA fiction gets fairly dark now and again, but some of the topics begging to be talked about in Succession especially are a bit beyond what one would find in the YA section. I'd been holding back for years, trying to cram the story into a mold it didn't fit.

I was asked to leave the Snark Mamas to make room for another YA writer after I finally found my audience. This upset me quite a bit at the time. I'd come to think of these ladies as friends. I didn't have much of a social life at the time, so loosing what little adult conversation I had at the time was a blow. (Let's be honest. Out of control pregnancy hormones probably didn't help either.) But I understood why they wanted me to step aside.

Writing for the correct audience has made all the difference.

A little over two years later, I can be more objective about it than I could then. Things have calmed down, and I'm slowly but surely getting a life again. Hubby's health, and mine, is so much better than in 2007, and it makes getting out and about as well as just thinking so much easier! I feel I've found my voice. I have a plan, and I'm working it. Succession has come a long way since I've let it bloom into what it was meant to be in the first place.

It's funny how inspiration can be so far removed from realization. When I started writing it, I was too immature to imagine the depth the story would eventually take on. Even just taking the villain. That first version of Ralic seems like a fluffy puppy compared to the one I'm envisioning now, especially after the video idea prompted character study. Advances in science have made some of the ideas I had originally more plausible given a few centuries between the present and the Galaxia's exodus from the Sol system, and they've also pushed my imagination past those original concepts.

Then the review by Editorial Anonymous pointed out an issue with my writing. I was honestly expecting more of a snarkfest when I submitted the first page to the first pages clinic. Being told my prose was still a bit purple was a relief. It was something I could fix.

I took my wordwacker to the pages, and the "something's off" feeling is gone when I read those first few chapters now. Once the e-book is done, I've a feeling I'll be querying Succession within a few months.

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