On writing

Last month at Maya’s book club we read the book “The Eiffel Tower’s Daughter”.   It was chosen primarily because its’ author was 10 years old when she wrote it,  and the girls were duly impressed.   A published author – of a YA novel no less – at the age of 10!

Parents read the books for the club as well, and although I read “Eiffel Tower’s Daughter” with the constant caveat of “Yes, but the author was 10” running through my head, I was puzzled.   The story was impressive in scope, but there were holes and jumps in the narrative that I could not see any editor ignoring.    A good editor should, I think, also be a kind of coach or sounding board; doubly important with a young author.  (This is all my own opinion – any editors who might be reading this are welcome to weigh in.)   At our meeting, the girls, who are generally very even-handed in their criticism, could not hide their disappointment.    Their main complaints revolved around the aforementioned holes in the story line, but also centered around the overuse of adverbs and adjectives, which wound up distracting the reader rather than enhancing the scene.    We all puzzled over our feelings;  was the book simply published as a novelty with the publisher setting aside all the usual criteria?   It didn’t seem plausible.

Then we looked up the publishing house on line – something it had not occurred to me to do earlier –  and discovered that the book was in fact self-published.  (www.authorhouse.com in case you’re interested)

Now I don’t want to get into a discussion on the relative worth of self-publishing and quality of self-published books in general; some very good writers have self-published, including Margaret Atwood, and it has served them well (in most cases, self-published books that sell result in the author landing an agent and publisher in very short order).

In this case, however, it explained many things.  Why flaws in the writing & narrative were overlooked being first and foremost among them.

When the girls heard the book was self-published, they said they felt duped.  The article in which they’d heard of the book said nothing about it, and even called the book a “Bestseller of Teen Fiction”.     I pointed out that, even with its’ flaws, the book was a respectable 85 or 90 pages in length; quite a feat for a 10 year old.   They were not convinced, and so we challenged them:  Write a short story (we won’t even ask for an entire book) and bring it to our next meeting.    We talked a little about the use of adverbs and why they are disparaged as “lazy writing” by authors like Stephen King and Elmore Leonard.   We took a few adverb-laden sentences from “Eiffel Tower’s Daughter” and read them out loud, first as written and then again, removing all the adverbs (and for fun, all the adjectives as well).   Everyone agreed they liked the sentences better when they were spare – without multiple adverbs cluttering things up.

Eyes began to sparkle in the room as the girls pondered writing their own stories.    Our next meeting is in two weeks, and I can’t wait to see what they bring in.

Despite the fact that The Eiffel Tower’s Daughter was not our favorite book, the meeting at which it was discussed was one of our best.   It was the first time we talked about the process of writing.  I think the fact that the author was so young made the girls feel they had the right to approach the writing as equals and to weigh in accordingly, which was fun to watch and to challenge.   Having them write something of their own will also give them a new perspective on the books they read – an appreciation for the art and effort that goes into fully realized characters in a full length novel.

I can’t wait to see what they come up with and in two weeks, if I get their permission, I’ll  post their work here.

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