Confessions of the Clueless, Part II: Think Outside of the Genre Box At Your Authorial Peril

[*Note: Confessions of the Clueless Part I was my #hashtag rant. Here comes Part II.]

Nothing like working on the cover design of a book to let you know how hard you’ve made life for yourself. I’ve been looking for an image that…

…captures the dark beauty of the Pacific Northwest, without being too beautiful

…suggests the ugliness of the American industrial underbelly, without being too ugly

…encompasses an aerial view, but not from too high

…orients the viewer toward the water, but still keeps the shoreline visible

…won’t involve me in complicated and expensive negotiations over copyright usage

…allows for the addition of text elements in line with the previous books in the series

Turns out I really could not have thought up a more difficult set of requirements. Starting with beautiful vs. ugly: waterfront pictures are generally taken for two purposes, a) to lure tourists, or b) to lure business. The first wants only beauty; the second, only utility. And don’t forget that je-ne-sais-quois whiff of Northwest! Gotta have some dark forest in there. I searched internet images from Oregon to British Columbia. These were a couple of the finalists:

Port Angeles, WA–good on ya!

Or maybe, further north:

Powell River, BC, anyone? Great town.

But the image dilemma is really a stand-in for the difficulty my books face in terms of categorizing. You see, the Flying Burgowski series 

…takes its time to drop its heroine into the action, and said action involves no combat, no werewolves, no vampires, and not a single zombie.

…is fantastical enough to involve flying humans, but otherwise very much real-world (sorry, no parallel universe lurking just behind Platform Nine and Three Quarters!)

…deals with political issues like religious extremism, homophobia, and human trafficking

…has a middle-grades heroine, but one who faces adult themes like divorce and addiction from a very early age

…follows said heroine into her mid-teen years where, guess what? sexual maturity is suddenly an issue.

Let me dwell on that last point a moment. Jocelyn Burgowski’s personal literary hero, Harry Potter, also ages in his series, has a crush, finds a girlfriend. But author J.K. Rowling managed to keep Harry’s physical responses to said girlfriend–his natural teenage lust–safely off the page. Author G.K. Wing was not that unrealistic, or smart, depending on your perspective.

So, bottom line? How would YOU characterize this series? Have I made these books difficult to advertise, or what?

I call the first two books of the Flying Burgowski trilogy Middle Grades Fantasy, and the last one YA Fantasy–because I have to call them SOMEthing. But you know what? I’d really just rather call it a damn good read. Can that be a thing?


Watching Your Writing Role Model Strip Bare: Iris Graville Publishes Hiking Naked

If you’ve published your words in any form, you know the feeling when someone looks you in the eye and tells you they read what you published. It’s not like singing at a concert or displaying visual art. These are YOUR WORDS, your literal, expressed thoughts, straight from your brain into someone else’s. Who is about to tell you what they think.

Now imagine those words you’ve published are your MEMOIR. And imagine the people who are looking you in the eye are your neighbors, folks you bump into at the market, at the post office. 

My friend Iris’s new memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, could not be better titled. As Iris tells it in her latest blog post, “Baring My Soul”:

I reel a bit each time someone says something like, “I’m reading your book, and it really speaks to me.” Or, “I was right there with you.” And, “My back hurt just reading about your work in the bakery!” What stuns me is the realization that, as I go about my life each day, some number of people are reading about it. There’s an intimacy in that knowing that I hadn’t anticipated. I’m discovering that the metaphor of “hiking naked” extends to how I feel about others now reading my words.

(Courtesy Homebound Publications)

My own forthcoming book, Altitude, Book Three of the Flying Burgowski series, could not be more different from Iris’s. My book’s a novel. It’s Young Adult (although I’m finding that Older Adults seem to like it just fine). It’s fantasy–not vampires nor zombies nor dystopian archer-warriors, certainly, but hey! my heroine can fly. So, yes. Fantasy enough.

The only thing my book has in common with Iris’s is that she helped “midwife” mine, via critique, while I did the same with hers (both of us with a LOT of help, and in her case, Masters-in-Fine-Arts-level help).

Well, maybe two more commonalities: they’re both set in the northwest, and they’re both about strong females.But that’s it.

So how can Iris be my writing role model? Because she is, to borrow her metaphor, hiking ahead of me on that rocky path called publication. She started years ago, creating her own press to co-publish Hands At Work: Portraits and Profiles of People Who Work With Their Hands, with photographer Summer Moon Scriver.

Then last year she published Bounty: Lopez Island Farmers, Food and Community–which is just what it sounds like, only more mouth-watering.

But all the while, Iris was working on that memoir. Crafting and drafting, re-crafting, re-drafting; pitching, pitching, pitching; writing and submitting short pieces to increase her visibility; keeping her chin up through inevitable rejections…until one day…

You go, girl.

I am still bummed to have missed Iris’s launch party because of some silly plane tickets to Ireland. But now that I’ve heard about it, I’m totally planning to follow in her footsteps at my own launch party in November.

(Not sure who took this photo…but Iris will tell me.)

Iris introduced by her own writing mentor, Ana Maria Spagna? How ’bout Gretchen Wing, introduced by Iris Graville? 

I better ask her, huh?

Coming of Age in the Land of What-everrr

Without a deliberate approach to adulthood, we're kinda stuck learning the hard way.

Without a deliberate approach to adulthood, we’re kinda stuck learning the hard way.

The other day I made a birthday cake for a fictional character.

Well, it was an important one! The heroine of my novel was turning 21. On the 21st. Her Golden Birthday.

Only as I was mixing the batter did I realize I had very nearly made my character into my son’s twin. His 21st birthday was the day before. The age was NOT intentional; my character began her life a couple of years younger. I only aged her, using my godlike powers critical judgement, after realizing the plot worked better that way.

The DAY of her birth, however, was no accident. I chose Summer Solstice on purpose for its symbolic value to the story.

And that got me thinking. Because here on the island where I live, a small part of the community offers teenagers–16, 17, 18–the chance to have a real coming-of-age ceremony on the Summer Solstice. I don’t know much about it yet, since I moved here after my kids left for college, but from what I’ve heard, it’s serious stuff. The kids choose a mentor for themselves, a sort of sponsor, who spends time throughout the year having conversations about what it means to be a man or a woman. Then the teen writes his or her own part of the ceremony, and shares it with a group of 100 community members on the longest night of the year. (The number is strictly limited to 100.) The whole ceremony takes place on a smaller, remote island over the course of a few days, and involves community cooking, music-making, and soaking-up of nature.

To me that sounds WONDERFUL. More than that, it sounds like what so many kids in our society need.

If you’re Jewish, you can have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. If you’re Catholic, you can be Confirmed. If you’re a girl of Mexican heritage, there’s the Quinceanera. Most Native American tribes and bands have important rites, and I’m pretty sure Amish kids have something. But these ceremonies are limited by faith and/or ethnic membership–we can’t all participate. And we all know the faith-based ones are often (sorry, God) less meaningful to the kid than the community would hope. PLUS…they can be pretty darn EXPENSIVE.

Life requires important benchmarks.Life requires important benchmarks.

What coming-of-age ceremony is there for that American kid who wasn’t raised in a religious or ethnic tradition, or doesn’t find that tradition meaningful?

Here’s what that kid is left with: Getting a drivers license. And…getting legally drunk.

When my husband called my son to wish him a Happy 21st Birthday, he jokingly said into the phone, “How many fingers am I holding up?” Of COURSE you go out drinking when you turn 21 in America, right? What other benchmarks of adulthood do we have?

courtesy Pinterest

(courtesy someecards)

So am I missing something? Graduation? First hunting trip? What do you think of when you think of Coming of Age in America? Do you think our society suffers as a result of not moving kids more deliberately into adulthood? What kind of ceremony might we adopt?

I love hearing from y’all!