Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Channeling My Inner Sixteen-Year-Old

For the past couple of months, I’ve been working on a proposal for my very first young adult novel. I’ve been wanting to write a young adult novel for a long time. I finally decided to take the plunge earlier this year. My trip to Paris last year gave me the idea for the setting for the first book this new series, which can loosely be described as the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants meets Relic Hunter. The main characters in the book, four multicultural foster sisters, are all sixteen-years-old, which means I’ve had to reach back and remember what it was like to be sixteen. It hasn’t been easy. So, I’ve been looking through old yearbooks, and reading old letters, and diaries, and talking to my mom trying to jog my memory. I’ve remembered a lot. I’ve also remembered why I didn’t want to remember. Here’s why:

I was a dweeb with my nose stuck in a book all the time. I was scared of my own shadow and shy and self conscious. I was frequently grounded for reading Harlequin romances instead of doing my homework, which is really funny since I now write for Harlequin. People thought I was stuck up because I was so quiet. I always had crushes on boys who didn’t know I existed, except when they were making fun of me. I never dated. I always thought my mom didn’t know what she was talking about when she lectured me about life and my future. I was a loner with few friends. I always felt like I was on the outside looking in. I was very self-absorbed and moody.

Sixteen was not a fun age for me. Hell, my teen years period weren’t a good time for me. What has been so fun about writing this book is being able to give the four main characters some adventure, mystery, and intrigue to go along with the usual teen angst. Plus, it’s kind of like getting a second chance to have the kind of fun I never had at sixteen. How great is that?

One of the hardest parts of this writing process isn’t just seeing the world through sixteen-year-old eyes, but seeing it from four very different points of view. The first draft of my proposal, which included the first three chapters, were written in third person. My agent gave it to a young adult reader for feedback. The reader expressed not feeling connected to the characters because of it being written in third person. To be honest, I felt the same way.

So my agent suggested I write the book in alternating first person narrative. I was very doubtful about this approach thinking that shifting points of view could easily confuse readers. When I voiced this concern, he suggested I do it in sections by having each character narrate not just a chapter but an entire section. I have to admit he was right. In changing the perspective to first person, I’ve not only gotten a chance to better know my characters and what motivates them, but having each character telling what they are thinking and feeling in their own words makes for a better story. I turned in the revised proposal last week. I’ll keep you posted ; ).



patricia sargeant said...

Angela, I look forward to hearing more about this project. It sounds excellent! I have to admit, when you were describing 16-year-old Angela, I thought she'd make a great character. One I could really sympathize with. Good luck on this new adventure!

angela henry said...

Thanks, Patricia! This has been a challenging project to say the least. Anyone who thinks writing a young adult novel is easy needs to think again. But I'm having fun!

Nine to Five Diva said...

Hi Angela,

I love the idea for your YA novel! My neice is 15 and I think she would love to read something along those lines. It's ironic, because I have been working on an idea for a YA short story for middle school aged kids. Obviously you know you have my support on your project.

All the best,

~ Charlotte

angela henry said...

Thanks, Charlotte! I've been wanting to write a YA action-adventure/paranormal/thriller novel for a while and the YA market is really hot right now. But, you rarely, if ever, see YA novels of this type with multicultural characters and I can't figure out if publishers think there's no market for them or if no black authors are writing them. If they are I'd love to know who they are.

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