intentions

In ALL, BOOK PUBLISHING by Stephanie Klein48 Comments

I’m writing Moose right now, and it seems my biggest challenge is how to handle voice.  It’s a story about my adolescence, taking place when I was twelve.  It’s clear that I’m reflecting on this past as a grown woman now, but I don’t want to get too much into my preachy, snappy, sometimes funny, adult voice because it takes the reader out of the moment.  There’s an intimacy when you read it, making you feel exactly how I did then.  In the telling, it’s as if you’re beside Stephanie age 12.  And when it’s told that way, through those eyes, what I lived and felt then, it’s so much more present, there, in the moment.  And when I jump to this adult voice, adding in a sense of reason and perspective you cannot have at twelve, it feels… wrong. 

I know people liked Straight Up and Dirty for the boldness and humor.  For the honesty.  It’s a funny book.  Moose is different.  I don’t want to tell it in quips and witty puns.  Because that’s not what adolescence is.  It’s awkward and tender, vulnerable and angry.  It doesn’t always make sense.  It’s messy and clumsy, and a part of me feels disloyal to the age, to how it really was, when I get clever.  I don’t want the book to get preachy or "lessony," or to end on some triumphant note.  I don’t want to illustrate some big epiphany.  It’s not a book about eating disorders, or loving yourself at any size, finding peace and loving you just as you are.  It’s a book about adolescence, and it takes place at camp, and it just so happens to deal with weight as the issue that plagued me.  I just wanted to share what it’s like, the thought that goes into the telling of a story, a coming of age book where despite our best intentions, everything goes horribly wrong. Which in the end, isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Comments

  1. perspective, schmerspective.. write what comes naturally to you–this piece is a memoir afterall: an account of your youth, touched by your adult-self.

  2. How painfully timely – tonight I was driving with my littlest baby – 13 year old girl and painfully brilliant- and she was lovely – until she was evil. And it was as if a switch had flipped… one second – lovely, evil. And then I said to her:

    There once was a girl
    Who had a precious curl
    right in the middle of her forhead

    And when she was good, she was very very good
    and when she was bad, she was horrid.

    Not original, not close – but it came out of my mouth today.

    Right next to the idea that instead of a "That was easy" button by Staples, there should be a "That was evil" button for teenagers.

    Gotta love em – it hurts to be them and know them, but we have great faith.

    1. Looking for a place to write tonight, and I happened upon this entry of 5 years ago. Thank you, Stephanie, for putting the history links in. What a treasure trove of memories.

      Happy to report that aforementioned brat-tastic teen did, indeed, survive and overcome her evil tendencies. She is now the most beautiful, poised, nervous, accomplished, precious about-to-be-college-freshman you have ever seen. For years now, instead of pushing me away, she is snuggled in close…drinking deeply of the hummingbird feeder known as mom as she prepares her big flight from the nest to a different continent…the honors dorm at the University.

      Yes – the countdown to empty nest continues…now it is weeks instead of months or years or eternities…and the babies will fly away. The darlings are each preparing themselves in their own way. I am preparing, too. Is unbridled joy too strong a term? Unmitigated delight? Probably doesn’t qualify me for mother of the year, but damn. I’m so excited!

      So – one of the weird things I’ve realized is that this is the first time in my entire life I will live alone. Ever. I went from being a kid to a wife and then to mom…this is the first time to be me. I wandered around in a furniture store the other day wondering what I like. Wondering what wasn’t practical or ‘kid friendly’ or what my ex-husband would like. God, I wandered for hours. I picked up this and that – I put them down. I have no idea. I know what I don’t like…that I’m good at – but to reconstruct as a single woman…god, it is too fabulous.

      I ended up with two purple pot holders. Seriously. I love them.

      And then today – back to work.

      Such a transition – such a life-altering time – so many thoughts and decisions. Mom and dad have slipped into the space reserved for the caring for and adoring the darlings – now they need caring for and adoring. Life shifts, the world turns.

      This year will always be my best of times and my worst of times. I love this year and I hate it. I treasure it and fear it. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

  3. Hi Stephanie,
    First of all: how is your sweet baby Lucas? I hope everything is going to better.
    I have a question for you.
    In your blog you have linked photos of you, of Lucas, of Abigail and of the twins. So, why there isn't a link with photos of Philip?
    If I were Philip I will feel jealous ; )

  4. Read the novel: Tempting Faith DiNapoli by Lisa Gabrielle for a a good example of this writing style. Good luck,

  5. Sara, I think you're massively underestimating what it takes to write. The idea that you can just do what comes naturally, just let it flow, is a romanticized version of something that takes a lot of conscious consideration.

  6. Stephanie,

    Is there anyway you could observe or interview a group of 12 year olds for inspiration? Maybe you could talk to someone in the educational field and ask if you could observe a middle school class for research. Girls club? Girl Scouts?

    It might help you get into that "voice" or see that 12 year old perspective a little clearer, plus it would be fun!

    Just a thought…

  7. The scary thing is, 12 yr olds don't speak the way we did when we were 12. They seem so much older now – and look older too. So, hanging around a group of 12 yr olds probably wouldn't be as helpful as reading some of the books that your posters above advised. Sure, the emotional part is very similar, but it seems to be coming on much earlier than 12. Like I said, Scary!!

    I hope Lucas is doing well. And, you and the rest of the family, too!

  8. I actually thought your voice in Straight Up was the weakest part of all – the description, characters, etc. were so much more appealing than your euphemisms and your catch phrases. Go with what you are doing now – sounds like it will serve the readers much better!

  9. I just started Charmed Thirds (the third book in Megan Mccafferty's series) and I felt that Sloppy Firsts(the first one) really captured what it feels to be an adolescent coming of age. (So, far I don't know how well Third's will do) If you haven't already read them, I would definitely suggest the the first one as it may help get you into a state of thinking that can frame your voice better or more like what you're looking for.

  10. I just bought Straight Up and Dirty this weekend! I can't wait to start reading it! LOVE your blog! Well wishes to you & your family.

  11. I suppose there's a balance, like with everything else, that needs to be met. I'm struggling with when to just write a scene and let it stand on its own, and when to step in and comment on it as an adult.

    I thankfully have my puffy lavender bejeweled diary to keep me honest to exactly what happened at the time. Though I'm planning on taking all my fat-camp experiences (five years worth) and condensing them, having them take place over one summer, for a smoother narrative, which is also tricky. Otherwise, the reader would never be able to keep up with all the different people, boyfriends, cabin mates, counselors. Far too messy. This is the kind of thing that goes into writing a memoir. These kinds of decisions. People always ask me about my process during book readings… this is it. Writing outlines, seeing if it all makes sense, focusing on what I'm writing towards. Deciding how much of my adult life, if any, to throw in for contrast, to show where I am now, on the thinner side of fat, and how fat-camp changed me (for the good or bad). There's a lot to think about, and without a writing group, as I had in NY, I don't know what's most interesting to readers (beyond Phil).

    As for Lucas, he is thankfully scheduled for an EEG this Wednesday (not some 72 hour one, as someone suggested here), and will see a neurologist for the first time… so I'm hoping they at least rule some things out for us.

  12. How much license to change details, timelines, etc. can a writer have and still call a book a memoir? I am interested in hearing about this especially after the James Frey debacle. Your previous book held a disclaimer, and it was obvious that details had been changed and condensed since they were different than what was on your blog in real time. I wonder what counsel you received on this topic as a memoir enthusiast myself.

  13. This post reminds me of two books I read a few years ago, both written by Jennifer Lauck: "Blackbird" and "Still Waters." The first was a memoir of her childhood, the second of her adolescence and young adulthood. They were written in a child's and adolescent/young adult's voice so, so perfectly and poignantly, it gave me goosebumps to read. I have no doubt that you'll find that voice, too. Hope you guys and Lucas are doing okay.

  14. 12 year olds can be clever and witty. The only difference is they don't have the confidence to say these things outloud.

  15. I trust your heart to write more than our advice and any analysis of tone. A recent article mentioned that our voices are strongest and most compelling when we are connected to our passion. Sounds like something to stick with in your writing.

    Perhaps a teenage editor??

    Take care and good luck with the munchkins.

  16. Instead of "getting preachy" and commenting as an adult on what happened back then, I would show contrast by putting in anecdotes from your adult life that show how your perspective has changed or how the problems you had have persisted.

  17. In your book Straight up and Dirty you act like going to get an abortion was like getting a root canal. This was a child you planned and you so carelessly took it away. I wish I could get a refund I am so disgusted.

  18. Hey Stephanie,
    I'm curious when you find yourself switching to your adult "preachy/analytical" voice? Any particular scenarios/memories? Maybe you should try not writing from your adult perspective at all? Sometimes I find it's hard not to insert the "lessony" adult perpspective if I'm writing in my adult voice looking at the past. Have you tried writing in your 12 year-old voice, really allowing whatever comes up to land on the page? Then, later, if you'd prefer it be written from a more adult perspective, you can always edit those notes or reformat the more raw emotions/memories?

  19. Wally Lamb, "She's Come Undone."
    It's brilliantly written in this adolescent voice. Come to think of it, it's also about weight issues. Check it out if you haven't already.

  20. I believe Melissa Banks accomplished this in both her books "The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing" and "Wonder Spot". There are a few chapters in each where is around 13.

  21. How do you plan to make the book "tell" how to be happy at any size, when that is something that you have so clearly not yet learned to do yourself?

    I don't mean that as criticism, because I really do think that you are an amazing writer, and I love your journal and Straight Up and Dirty.

  22. Amanda, I think you misread a part of the post. I'm almost 100% that's what SK said her book wasn't supposed to do: "It's not a book about eating disorders, or loving yourself at any size, finding peace and loving you just as you are." Not sure if that's really what happened but it may answer your question if she hasn't already. =)

    Stephanie, have you read Toast by Nigel Slater? Super good. And I'm sure you have. His memoir moreso tracks his life thorugh food…but it follows him through his childhood. Good luck!

  23. My best writing professor in college taught me the value of the rewrite. Get the story out. Pour it on paper..don't get hung up on voice. You can go back in after the meat is done, and address just tone. Writing is a 7 layer cake and 6 layers are edits(at least).

  24. Memoir, meaning, my story. Things that happened to me, the way I want to tell it. I plan to be clear in the beginning of this book that I've compressed my memories and chose to include select composites (taking two people and making them one person in the book) to facilitate a rich narrative arc. I think the issue with Mr. Frey is that he simply made stuff up, without a disclaimer. I recently read a memoir with a disclaimer stating, "Yeah, and I made some stuff up, too." As long as you're straight about exactly what it is you're setting out to do, and they are your memories, and it is your story… I believe it still fits under the masthead of memoir.

    As for voice, I do think it's important to include some of my adult voice. The book is NOT written by child, but by an adult looking back on her childhood and sometimes commenting on it. I'm finding some success with using the broken line. That is telling a story or showing a scene, stopping to analyze it or make an adult observation that seems important or at least a bit humorous, and then returning to the scene or story. I'm also trying to vary the cinematic angles, taking the reader very quickly through certain details, almost an aerial view, and when I want the reader to be there in the moment with me, as a twelve year old, I narrow in for a close up and describe things as I was feeling them at the time, the smallest details, things only I would know.

    One of the hardest things too is this: sometimes real life can be too obvious. I do not include this in MOOSE, but I had someone who used to torment me as a child, someone thin, who of course later in life turned up fat. Now, as just as that might be, and as absolutely true and real, it's not all that interesting, no matter how creative I am in the telling. Because it's predictable. I think about this too, when deciding which memories to include. So much thought goes into this stuff.

  25. i just finished Four Blondes (candace bushnell) this weekend… all of the NY talk made me think of you & your book……

  26. very interesting, stephanie. i absolutely love hearing about your writing process – i find that to be the most fascinating part of any book. and i know just what you mean. i'm attempting to draft a memoir (at this point in my life, it's not for publication…just for me) and the hardest part is keeping to my adolescent voice and not reflecting as an adult on all i have learned from those teenage experiences – and i especially don't want to discuss how far i've come. it feels an impossible feat, but sticking close to the material will absolutely be a challenge worth undertaking. it will make for a much more authentic and emotionally raw piece.

  27. I am looking forward to Moose.

    I love your blog and loved your first book.

    Lucas is in my thoughts and prayers.

  28. One thought on the "obvious": Not everything is obvious. It depends on what you take from a given scenario. The unique/unpredictable is you and what you bring to it. So this skinny-minny tormentor later turned out to be fat. The outcome might be predictable in a plot sense, but what you take from it or how it affects you isn't necessarily so. Maybe you feel vindicated and then guilty because of that. Or maybe if offers you no solace. Maybe you've moved on so far that it doesn't matter to you nor affect you at all. Or…maybe it's just the punchline to another story you tell. Just thinking out loud for what it's worth… you know what you're doing. I miss having a writing group, too. :)

  29. I've read one too many books where the switch between child and adult voice is entirely too jarring. I do find in my own writing, that if you have a strong enough sense of voice (and self, in your case), the reader will be able to still hear the 12 year old's voice within the voice of her adult self.

  30. Hi Stephanie
    I literally just finished your first book which I got my local library to order for me down here in Melbourne Australia.
    I cannot get over how similar our experiences have been down from the woggy background (I am Greek) to the marriage break up and what you had to do thereafter..many times I would be reading in the train on the way to work and your honesty would hit me in the guts and bring a tear to my eye…..things I have never shared..but your expression I feel it has helped me get through a rough time. I applaud you sweet angel for being brave and truthful. May you and yours be blessed and all the very best for Moose

  31. I read Striaght Up last summer, but after reading this blog and all the comments I think I'm going to re-read it. I tend to do that with books I love.

    Looking forward to Moose- I know you'll figure it all out and it will be lovely!

  32. How about "Lovely Bones?" as inspiration. I have heard that book truly reads like an adolescent wrote it. Good luck with Moose.

  33. From a child's/young perspective, trying reading others who have handled the same problem. Read:
    Stick Figure – Lori Gottlieb
    Sleeping Arrangements – Laura Shaine Cunningham
    Singing Songs – Meg Tilly
    Angelas Ashes – Frank McCourt

    Or any Judy Blume, which is somewhat lighter. I am not sure how dark (tone)your story goes. Somewhere online there is an interview where Frank McCourt discusses how he found the right way to approach his story – ie the voice of a child, which doesn't judge.

    Singing Songs is a very good memoir, I'd recommend it even just as a read rather than research, the author manages to keep an optimistic tone and authentic child/teen voice even when the subject gets a bit dark.

    Good luck!

  34. Way to stick to the topic katherine. Hope someone judges you just as harshly when your life doesn't go as planned. Hope you paid full cover price too.

    What I really was going to say…Stephanie – I forgot to say – my best to your little guy. You are handling it with grace. You are a good mommy :)

  35. Read "Durable Goods" by Elizabeth Berg. It's a short book, but she accomplishes the 12 year-old introspective voice perfectly.

  36. Oops – I meant Jamie. Her comment really bugged me and was very off topic. Sorry Katherine!

  37. Um.. I didn't read anything bitchy into Katherine's comment, suze (not Suze).

    I was actually coming on here to suggest "Angela's Ashes" also as a potential source of inspiration, if you haven't already read it. I just finished it last night, and it's beautifully written.

    Can't wait to read Moose! Hope the beans are doing wonderfully, still praying for sweet Lucas. Have a wonderful day, Stephanie!

  38. I think Running With Scissors is a great example of a good balance of an adult showing a teen's perspective in a universal yet age-appropriate voice. You feel as if you are listening to a precocious teen telling the story (which Burroughs I'm sure was), but can still imagine him telling the same story the same way as an adult.

  39. I agree with Katy B. Jamie your comment annoyed me severely. You obviously haven't had much life experience yourself to make such an immature and harsh judgement like that. THAT disgusts me!

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