As I've said before, we’ve had a lot of fun shining our spotlight on some very fine young adult authors so far. In fact, I will continue with this list until I feel it is utterly too long (maybe renew it every six months). We've brought Linda Dawda, Brian S. Pratt, Sara Zarr, Jaime Adoff and Susan Beth Pfeffers (but on a Monday), Christine Hart, and Nancy Werlin into our spotlight we affectionately call the moon and stars, and today is no different!
I'm proud to bring you Kimberly Joy Peters, the author of Posing as Ashley, which was pretty darn good!!
Happy weekend! My name is Kimberly Joy Peters, and I am the author of Painting Caitlyn, Posing as Ashley, and the forthcoming (Definitely Not!) Camelot, all published by Lobster Press. I live on the lake in a small town in Central Ontario, Canada, where I work at the local school as a teacher of French and Art. Although I would never write specifically about my students’ lives, working with adolescents all day definitely helps keep me in touch with YA readers and their interests. I am often asked what it is like to be a YA author, and, as I considered that question for this blog, it occurred to me that in many ways, it is just like being back in one of my all time favourite places: high school. Hence:
1. The possibilities are endless
Years ago, I couldn’t wait to get to high school. Then I couldn’t wait to be a senior…a graduate…a university student. Not that I didn’t enjoy myself along the way: it was just that there were so many opportunities before me, and having goals kept me going forward.
As a writer, I continue to be excited by the endless possibilities for my career. Just writing a book as a personal challenge morphed into the goal of finding a publisher, and that achievement led me to spin-offs and awards. I feel very proud of what I’ve already accomplished, but I also look forward to seeing what lies ahead.
Confession: when I was fifteen years old, I had a big crush on a guy in my math class. My father had died earlier in the year, and I was feeling grown-up and oh-so-mature in the aftermath. So when this boy – Paul – invited me to go camping with him and five of his friends, rather than making up an elaborate story and lying to my mother about it, I decided to act like a grown up and just tell her I was going. And thank goodness I did, because she put her foot down firmly and said “absolutely not”. “But you can trust me!” I argued, explaining that there would be separate tents. “It’s not you I don’t trust,” she countered. “It’s just not a good idea.” Flash-forward to adult me: she was totally right. It was a stupid idea. Parents do know things, despite what we believe when we are young.
Editors are kind of like parents. When I come up with elaborate, unconvincing stories, they rein me back me in, pointing out exactly where the flaws are in my plans. Sometimes, it feels unfair (I’m an artist! I should be able to create what I want!) But they are the ones with the wisdom that comes from experience, and I need to trust that – like my mother – they have my best interest at heart.
Once upon a time, my sister came along with me to pick up a male friend with whom I was going to a movie. As he trundled down the driveway in his army-green, ankle-length trench coat, his shoulder-length hair wrapped in a bandanna resting just above his sixteen or seventeen earrings, my sister gasped out loud and exclaimed: “Oh my gosh, Kim – I didn’t know you knew anybody like that!” Long hair, earrings and all, Neil was probably one of the brightest, kindest people I knew, but his appearance almost made my sister dismiss him. Eventually, she looked past his “cover”, and today they are the parents of two beautiful children.
Still, just as in high school, when first and lasting impressions are based on your clothes, your hair, your make-up (or lack thereof), and your expression, book covers can make or break a novel. And as much as I believe that it’s what’s inside that counts, I’ve seen grown men avert their eyes at the sight of the bare midriff on Painting Caitlyn and teenage girls squeal with delight over the bubble skirt on Posing as Ashley. People do judge books by their covers. I’m lucky, because my publisher does an amazing job at making my books visually appealing, but it’s ultimately up to me to make the insides worthwhile. Wish I’d understood that as an adolescent when my face was dotted with zits.
There are some things you can’t admit to anybody… (oh – wait – that’s the first line of my first novel, Painting Caitlyn. But then again, it works here, too…). Adolescence is, traditionally, a time of self-discovery. Much like the Ashley character in my novels, I spent much of my adolescence trying to balance my desire to be perceived as “normal” with the brainiac label I already had, and knew wasn’t “cool”. Often, as a result of this conflict, I’d present myself – not deceptively -- but differently, depending on who I was with. It wasn`t that I couldn’t admit to who I really was – it was just that I wasn’t yet sure of it myself.
I’m still doing it. Although I’m honored and proud to be an author of YA literature, when the dental hygienist asked me last week how I spend my summers off, it didn’t even occur to me until after she’d left the room that although I’d told her (honestly) about boating and cottaging and walking the dog, it hadn’t even occurred to me to mention that I also write books. Partly, I was just caught up in the “non-author” parts of my life – wife, teacher, slave to my pets. But truthfully, on some levels, I still don’t believe that I’m fortunate enough to be a published author, and privileged enough to touch the lives of my readers the way so many authors touched mine. Seriously. I popped into this blog a few weeks ago, hoping to get some ideas about what other guest bloggers had submitted, and saw the name “Susan Beth Pfeffer.” Here. On the same blog as me. And I got really excited to read what she had to say, because I can still tell you exactly on which part of which shelf her books were found at my local library when I was growing up, because I read them all. So even though I’m told that I’m an author, I still, most of the time, feel like a reader.
If you asked me whether I was popular in high school, I would say “no”. I didn’t date much, and in fact never dated anyone who actually went to my high school (I did marry one, but that’s another story). I rarely went to parties. I didn’t join clubs, or have a large group of friends. But a few years ago, I got a very touching email from a guy who’d attended high school with me, and who wanted to thank me for always being nice to him, even though he was (in his words) “socially challenged” and I was “popular” (his words again). The “popular” label surprised me, and I’m still certain that many of my former classmates would disagree with it completely, but from his point of view, it fit.
To me, my “popularity” as an author of YA fiction is a similar mystery. I do not share movie billboards or million dollar sales stats with New Moon or Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, but Painting Caitlyn did join them on both the 2007 American Library Association's YALSA Quick Picks list and the 2008 International Reading Association's Young Adult Choices list [Now I have to give my library some sh..er..good talking to for not carrying Painting Caitlyn!]. And as a Canadian author with a small publisher, I am unlikely to have the luxury of “quitting my day job” any time soon. But my publisher says my books are well received, and continues to ask for more. So maybe, as with my high school social standing, my legacy as an author will ultimately depend not on final sales figures, but on how my books entertain and inspire the people who read them.
Even though I didn’t date much in high school, I was crushing on one or two guys, and trying to get them to notice me.
As a YA author, girls readily pick my books, but guys tend to be more reluctant. It’s not just the pink and purple covers: reading isn’t something that most guys consider cool, and fiction is not generally their first choice. Still, one of my favourite compliments ever came from one of my male eighth-graders who asked when my first book, Painting Caitlyn, would be available for purchase. I’d already read the final draft out loud to his class, so I expressed surprise that he still intended to purchase it. He replied with “Yeah, but it was funny, and interesting, and I just really liked it.” Too bad those guys I used to crush on never took the time to listen to me the way my student listened to the book. They would have found out that I was funny and interesting and likable, too.
You know how you can work really hard on an essay or project, hand it in with confidence, and then feel completely pathetic when it comes back covered in red ink and suggestions to “make it better”? My editor makes the adjustments electronically, and she tries to be gentle, but I still often end up believing that I suck. Later, after I’ve forced myself to actually consider her suggestions, I often discover that there was room for improvement, and with a little revision, my work ends up better than before.
In high school, when I had a deadline, there was inevitably something good on TV.
Not only am I still under deadlines as an author, but technology has evolved so much during the past twenty years that now there is cable, satellite, and digital T.V., Home Box Office, and DVD rentals and – most distracting of all – YouTube.
[heh, heh, you forgot cell phones, PDAs and Kindles!]
Yes, I pulled all-nighters. It wasn’t that I wasn’t thinking about my essays in advance – it was just that once I actually got started on them, I had so many, many ideas that I couldn’t stop, and the best ones seemed to come just as I needed to finish up.
And yes, my brain still works that way. What began as five has morphed into nine, and I`d love to go for ten, but it`s time to hit ``send``.