Anonymous asked: Hi! Just curious: What are your thoughts on teens who want to get their novels published, and have done their research and an extensive amount of editing? Thank you!
I wrote my first published novel when I was nineteen. It was the seventh novel I’d written. Of those seven, four were written while I was still in high school (or the summer right after I’d graduated). I know what it is like to be a teenager seriously pursuing publication!
Much of my advice for teens pursuing publication is similar to my advice for people of any age pursuing publication: keep writing and revising and getting better with each book; know that many writers do not sell their first book and that this is largely a persistence game; do what you can to defend the joy you take in writing; be professional and act professionally.
As for advice I have especially for teens—advice I might give Teenage Jen, if I could go back in time and talk to her—I would say:
Be extra kind to yourself, Teenage Jen, even though being kind to yourself isn’t necessarily something that being a teenager has prepared you to do. Writing and pursuing publication is not like anything else you’ve done. It is not like getting an A in school, or studying for an exam, or working to make first string on your sports team. It is not like any of those things AT ALL.
Acceptance and rejection are not solely about what you did “right” or “wrong.” And even once you sell your first book, Teenage Jen, even once you’re living your dream, it will often be hard. Because you will be *living* it, and the reality *is* hard, and selling a book is not the end of a journey, but the beginning. Be prepared, Teenage Jen, to essentially be running your own small business, because as a professional author, that is what you will be doing. There are so many things, Teenage Jen, that go along with being a published author, other than just the writing, and if you were to decide you were not ready for that yet, that would be okay. It would not make your writing mean any less.
Do not wish away the moments you have now, Teenage Jen. The nights when you are writing, the way it makes you feel, the joy you find in telling a story, how excited you get just to get a hand-written note on the bottom of a rejection letter. Enjoy being exactly where you are, Teenage Jen, because you will eventually come to the conclusion that NONE of this is about reaching some end-point or achieving some specific thing. There is no end-point! There is only the journey.
I have so much respect for teens pursuing publication. It is wonderful to work toward a dream! But I think it’s especially important for teen writers not to put too much pressure on themselves, and especially not to give themselves arbitrary deadlines. “I want to be published by the time I’m 16!” “I want to be published before I graduate college!” “I want to be the youngest person to X!”
Because honestly, guys, IT DOES NOT MATTER. You don’t get a prize for publishing young. If you are in this career for the long haul, if it is your dream to be an author, then it really doesn’t matter how old you are when you sell your first book. Because, if all goes well, there will eventually be a second book and a third. And you may find yourself reinventing your career many times over, and by and large, PEOPLE WILL NOT CARE how old you were when you published your first book. It will, in all likelihood, be pretty much irrelevant to your career as a whole. It is much more important for your first book to be the book best suited to launching your career than it is for it to be a book that you wrote when you were however-many years old.
The last piece of advice I have for teen writers is related to something that I am very grateful that Teenage Jen did (and that Teenage Jen largely has her parents to thank for, so THANKS, MOM AND DAD), and that is this: if you are pursuing publication as a teenager, that means that you will be entering an adult professional world at a young age. There can be tons of obligations that come along with that, and I am so grateful, looking back, that I made an active effort to not let writing (or publishing) stop me from having the experiences my same-age peers were having while I was starting my career.
I had a rule in college that I couldn’t write until everyone else had gone to bed. I didn’t *always* follow it, but the reason for the rule was that I did not want to miss out on other things—experiences that I could only have at that stage in my life—because I was shut in my room writing. I had to make an active effort to say yes when people asked me to do things, to get involved in activities, to explore majors, to DO THINGS that had nothing to do with writing. As an adult, there are many times when I have made sacrifices to write. I am very, very grateful that I didn’t let myself make those same kinds of sacrifices when I was in high school and college.
Melissa’s list of unfinished pieces sounds so reasonable! Mine include (I kid you not): *A book about a group of teen models who, due to a mystical mishap during a fashion show, end up stranded on an eighteenth century pirate ship. (Seriously. I wrote 25,000 words on this before I realized it was CRAZY). *A book about a girl who gets vision of the future, but only when she’s dancing. (She’s not a dancer! She’s a danseer! As in a seer!) *A book that my good friend Sarah Cross used to refer to as the Magic Swordfish book. (I actually finished this one, but was never quite happy with it and so did nothing with it. It involved immortals and grim reapers. And a swordfish, obviously). *A dystopian about a post-nuclear world in which a puritanical cult of vampires lives in the ruins of what used to be Yale. All of these, I might add, were written well after the publication of my first book… We will not speak of the bits and sundries written PRIOR to that…
After hours of revision, my eyes are fuzzy, so I was poking around my “incomplete_or_old” files. I ended up in one of the usual distractions: a 50,000 word children’s novel that I start revising every so often for fun. I have a version of it re-started as a YA, one where it’s modern, one where…
Anonymous asked: Are you turning The Naturals into a series? I would love to hear about more cases and Cassie's relationships with both Dean and Michael.
Yes! Book 2, KILLER INSTINCT, is due out in November. And the case will bring Cassie face to face with DEAN’S DAD.
an-introduction-to-fandom asked: Hi, I saw your post about parasocial relationships, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about what you do for your day job? All of this new research is fascinating to me, and I would love to know how you got involved!
I’m an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oklahoma. There are two basic components to my job—teaching and research. I teach four classes each year: two are psychology classes, one is a professional writing class (Writing Young Adult Fiction), and one is an honors seminar called The Cognitive Science of Fiction, which brings together research and discourse from a variety of different disciplines to ask big questions about the science of fiction and why we like it. We read a lot of philosophy in that class (Aristotle and Hume, they had lots of thoughts on fiction!), plus psychology, media studies, literary criticism, and more. In general, the class challenges students to think about how we can use the scientific method to design studies that ask big questions about why people like fiction, how we interact with it, and what kinds of effects engaging with fiction might subsequently have on the way we view the world and our real-world biases, beliefs, and cognitive abilities.
The reason I chose to teach a class on the Cognitive Science of Fiction, when the university told me that I could teach any class I wanted for my honors seminar, is that it is my area of research (and also a huge passion!). As a psychology professor, in addition to teaching, I actually conduct research experiments. The way this usually works is that I will develop a question—based on prior research, or my own observations, or questions people are raising in the publishing industry—and then I brainstorm different answers to that question and design a method that will allow me to distinguish between those different answers. And then once I get the answers, I often discover that my gut instinct was wrong, and I revise my theory, and use the new theory to generate a question, and test it all over again!
So, for example, in my lab currently we’re doing a ton of different experiments. Some of them are online (some of you may have even participated in them, if you follow me on twitter), while others take place in my lab. One of the lab studies we’re doing right now is on what they call the “paradox of tragedy,” which is basically says (1) people avoid negative emotions like sadness, (2) tragic fictional stories make people feel sad, and (3) people seek out tragic fictional stories. To get out of the paradox, you presumably have to deny one of the three premises. But which one do you deny?
Philosophers have argued about this for a very long time (hello, Aristotle! Hello, Hume!), but in my lab, we’re exploring one class of answers to this question, which depends on meta-emotions, or how you feel about how you feel. Basically, we’re looking at whether people feel good about themselves for feeling sad, and whether you can push around liking for tragedy by making people feel guilty beforehand.
My lab also does a variety of other research on topics like: what is the cognitive profile of the professional fiction writer and how do they differ from non-writers and from voracious readers; how do we become attached to fictional characters and how intense are these attachments; what can fanfiction tell us about the cognitive science of fiction and why people like stories; how does fictional morality differ from real-world morality; how does reading fiction versus nonfiction differentially affect our abilities to read social and nonsocial situations? And MORE.
Basically, I have the freedom to research whatever I find interesting, and I find the way we interact with fictional worlds to be fascinating. The awesome thing about being involved in psychological research is that there is a psychology of EVERYTHING. If there are people involved, there is psychology involved. So I have been able to combine my passion for fiction and my experiences as a YA writer with my academic research.
As for how I got started, I first got into psychology research as an undergraduate. Freshman year, a friend talked me into going to work in the “monkey lab,” which studied how monkey cognition was similar to and different from human cognition. Mostly, I wanted to play with monkeys. And spend summers on Monkey Island, off the coast of puerto rico. But I got addicted to what I consider the very core of scientific research to be: asking questions and systematically testing answers. I am constantly surprised by the way research turns out, but that is why research is so important! Because some of the things we assume are true are not true, and research helps us find answers and—above all—use those answers to create even MORE QUESTIONS.
So, long story short, I got involved with designing experiments and also started volunteering in other research labs, too. I took a class on the Cognitive Science of Fiction, taught by Paul Bloom, who later became my PhD advisor, and got super interested in the topic. Then after I graduated (with a degree in cognitive science), I went and did a one-year research-based masters at Cambridge, where I did autism research. My advisor there was super supportive and suggested I do something on fiction and autism. So I did. And then I did some more research on that topic. And then I came back to the states and did a Ph.D. in developmental psychology. My dissertation was on how kids’ story preferences and adults’ story preferences are affected by the social content in the stories, among other things.
So basically, I lucked into finding a field I love because I was blessed to work with some very passionate professors when I was an undergraduate. And now I am a very passionate professor who works with undergraduate and graduate students to do research on fiction and stories and storytelling.