My Horny Hump Day post is here.
Every first Wednesday of the month, the Insecure Writers Support Group meets. Participants share their insecurities, fears, hesitations, and issues as writers, and support other writers in the process.
I did not query much at all in 2012. I sent out a few queries for my Russian novel (which I’ve since done even more rewriting, editing, and revision on), and just got rejections. I was rather miffed that I got a form rejection from one agent who specifically said in a blog post that she was hungry for long, sweeping historical sagas like GWTW and wasn’t afraid of very long books. I’d figured I’d at least get a partial request, since my book is exactly the type she said she was interested in!
I entered Jakob’s story in a number of contests and actually got a few partial requests, but no offers of representation. I was kind of confused at one rejection that said the agent wished the historical voice had been stronger. I’ve been told many times that I have a very natural, strong historical voice, so I’m wondering if perhaps some of that criticism came from the fact that it’s third-person omniscient and not as directly personal and in-your-face of a voice as first-person.
A lot of my querying hesitation came from the fact that I’ve been legitimately confused and torn over whether to query that book as upper YA or regular adult that just happens to have a protagonist who ages from 14 to 20. Modern YA historical in the U.S. is not what it was when I was growing up. The best YA historicals I’ve read from recent years have been published abroad. A lot of these American YA historicals seem teen-centric first and historical as a distant, minor second. And that’s not necessarily bad, if you just want something light and fluffy, but those aren’t the kinds of stories I enjoy reading or writing.
I’ve gotten a fair number of comments from people who have liked what they’ve read of Jakob’s story, even people who have just read the query. A number of those people expressed the idea that it does seem more adult in nature and voice, and I don’t recall anyone in any of the various contests, where I classified it as adult, asking why it wasn’t YA because of his age.
I’ve read a lot of novels and memoirs set during the WWII/Shoah era. So I’m used to following a character over a long period of time, and seeing the character age from a child to a teen, or a young teen to the late teens or early twenties. The same goes for reading a book set during other long-running events, like the Civil War, the Vietnam War, the American Revolution, the Russian Civil War, or World War I.
I would think other people who love historical feel the same way, that it’s normal for a character to age over time and for the story to cover 5+ years. If you like the story and the character, you can connect and sympathize with him or her even if you’re not in the same age range for the entire story. It makes me sad to think about the classic Bildungsromans like Anne of Green Gables or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn that would have a hard time getting published today, since the protagonists age so much, thus making the books harder to shoe-horn into one age-based category.
I worked really hard on making Jakob like a teenage boy, albeit a teen boy of the 1940s. I even did a tasteful fade to black in the wedding night scene, where he and Rachel don’t technically consummate the marriage (for fear of creating a potential half-orphan), but do other sexual things. I wanted to make everything about it a young man’s story. For a very brief moment at the beginning, I even played with the idea of doing it in first-person, then remembered that that’s not only not my personal style, but something I haven’t done in about 20 years. I’m so far out of practice in first-person, outside of short interludes like letters or journal entries. But it is a lot closer to third-person limited than I usually do.
In scope, tone, and voice, I’ve realized it feels a lot closer to the adult historical I’ve grown up reading, even if the character is young. For similar reasons, I realized Little Ragdoll doesn’t read like YA at all, in spite of Adicia aging from 5 to 20. I really think that if any of my books could be successfully queried as YA or upper MG, it would be my Atlantic City books. I’m even iffy on those, but I’d at least be willing to try to query The Very First (which has been rewritten so that the ages are ambiguous, but known to be under 12) as upper MG and see what happens.