Monday, May 7, 2012

The Choices We Make As Writers Addendum

I wrote this last week for my group blog: FOR THE LOVE OF CONTEMPORARY and liked it so much that I thought I would repost it here. Also, I am curious as to what you all think of this (if you haven't read it yet). AND, I added a paragraph at the end that discusses something remotely related that I have been thinking about quite a bit this month.

So I've been to a few conferences lately and one of the things that has come up is the issue of "writing for a wider audience." I went to this excellent panel at RT2012 on "Pushing Boundaries in YA" and Aprilynne Pike discussed her more "mainstream" books. To paraphrase: She is a fierce advocate for boundary-pushing in YA, but also, when she wrote her books, she understood that to reach the widest audience, she needed to pull back more on some things. She made that choice not only for a wider readership, but because writing was a primary income for her family. So the question becomes, are we sacrificing our artistic integrity so that the books that we sell might be carried in more places, used in more schools, etc?

I think the answer to this comes down to how much boundary-pushing things are central to your plot. I could NOT alter TRAINWRECK to make it workable for a Scholastic Book Fair. Yes, I could take out all the f-words (there are a lot), but the premise hinges on a horrible rape and the emotional fall-out of the victim and her boyfriend. My Ani loses a part of herself in that rape and becomes incredibly promiscuous afterwards because she can't find an identity beyond that. The plot hinges on a premise that could not be sold at Scholastic Book Fairs.

However, this does not mean that all rape books or issue books won't work in schools. We KNOW that they do. 13 REASONS WHY is in many school curriculums. SPEAK is in school curriculums (although LHAnderson has had to defend it from censorship many times). When I was in school, we read THE BEST LITTLE GIRL IN THE WORLD for health class. My teen betas now read WASTED in health.

Which begs the question, is it smart for authors to self-censor to reach a wider audience? My gut instinct is to say yes, if you can, than you should. It will just make it EASIER for you and that's a good thing. You ultimately want people to read your books. So if you can make that work, why wouldn't you?

That being said, there are some of us (ahem, me) who CANNOT write books that don't end up horrible in one way or the other. We write for the fringes. Stephanie Kuehnert said on that same RT panel, "I love the letters I get from my readers talking about how my books helped them with addiction. It means more to me than anything. But they'll never use my books in high schools and my primary income comes from being a bartender. So there's that."

Sometimes we HAVE to make choices about our writing because of our lives and our histories. Sometimes we WANT to make choices because we have important things to say and damn the man if they try to ban us. But, if you can get your IMPORTANT THING out to a wider audience by toning down language or making the hot tub scene slightly less racy, why wouldn't you?

New added thought: I have been relatively quiet on my blog lately. Have you noticed? Partly it is because I'm busy, but also, honestly, it is because I am a bit paralyzed by blogging. I worry A LOT that I am going to say the wrong thing, piss my agent off, piss my editor off, piss my publisher off, etc. I worry that maybe one day after TRAINWRECK comes out, someone will read some of these old blog posts and make judgments about me and my life. I have always tried to be honest about the person that I am. What you see is really what you get. But I fear that maybe that person isn't what should be all out there in the world. If I talk about my life or tell you about how I embarrass myself, is this somehow later going to be used against me? I know that I am not for everyone and I never will be. But I don't want my blog to keep people from buying my books.

I think that this is a problem that a lot of published writers have. I'd like to think that there are some out there who really just say what they think and deal with it. But even those who are relatively vocal probably have an off button now that they are published/getting published that they didn't have before. I am blessed to have my agent and my editor. They have NEVER been anything but supportive of all my crazy. But what happens when my book is out in the world and not everyone who reads it is 100% in Camp Christa? 

I don't know the answer to this. It's just something I've been thinking of. Maybe you all think and worry about it too. That's all. 


Pam Harris said...

Christa, I think that you should follow your writing and be fearless! People love visiting your blog because of your honesty. I understand the pressure, but don't lose you in the process. We think you're awesome. :)

Christa Desir said...

Pam, I adore everything about you. For REAL. :)

Jess said...

I love that you're willing to share this. Thanks for that. I think a lot of us worry about how our readers/editors/publishers view us, which is also what makes us great writers. We're able to see the impact our words have. We know their power. And that's exactly why we need to put them out there--with thought and integrity behind them.

I think that's exactly what you did with TRAINWRECK. There will always be those who are fearful of the message a book has (gotta love the ban-happy parents who bring books into the public eye). You wrote for a specific audience. Not necessarily wide-ranging, but no less important. Don't temper your words now. It's why you're a writer. It's why you have an agent and editor who believe in you (not to mention soon-to-be countless adoring readers). Spread the literary love one word at a time. :)

Steph said...

Im 100% camp Christa! :-)

Emily R. King said...

The world needs your books, Christa. Don't censor your voice too much. The truth is hard to hear, but people need to hear it. Keep up the good work. I'm Camp Christa all the way.

Jolene Perry said...

People will NEVER be 100% camp Christa.
People will never be 100% camp PERRY FTW!!!

What I think is THE most important thing - more important than image, or what we put off, is really, truly being ourselves. I know. I just sounded like a really cheesy bumper sticker, but hear me out.

I'd way rather people hate me for the person I really am, than hate some person I'm trying to be to please everyone. Because no matter how freaking hard I try, some people are going to hate me. Hate what I write. Think I'm a hack writer. Think my stories are crap. Think I'm snobby. Think I'm an idiot...

Guess what? I'm gonna piss people off. And I have this really conservative following who may send me hate mail. But trying to be too polite or too PC is just too damn exhausting.

Since I'll never have everyone happy with me all the time, I might as well have them be annoyed by the person I actually am.

Also - the only people who read blogs of authors are other authors, and they're awesome, but can be a persnickety bunch ;-)

Also. I would be very sad if you weren't your crazy self on here.
I'd be sad if I wasn't my crazy self on my blog.
So. There's that.
And I just wrote a WHOLE NEW POST in your comments section.

Also. I will always be camp Christa because you know how to get past all the BS, and I surround myself with people like that. And your writing effing rocks ;-)

Jolene Perry said...

Now that I'm looking up at my comment - I really did do a whole freaking post. You'll be seeing this on my blog in the near future...

Katy Upperman said...

I loved this when you posted it last week, and I love it even more today. I agree with Pam: Continue to be fearless! No one else can write the books you write.

And yes, I worry about blogging sometimes too, but I like it too much to quit at this point. I try to keep my posts fairly general, fairly upbeat, and fairly middle of the road. That may be the coward's way out, but I don't think (what I hope to be) my professional blog is an appropriate place to be anything BUT professional. (Does that even make sense?)

Anyway, fabulous post, lady!

Mandie Baxter said...

Ah! I love your blog! Always be you. That's who we want. And I'm so ready to read your books, broken characters and all. :)

roxanne s. sukhan said...

I think Jolene said it best ...

Jessica Love said...

Oh, Christa. I always love your posts.

I worry about this re: blogging ALL THE TIME. Like, every time I hit submit. I can't keep my true self off of my blog. I just can't. And sometimes I do/say/think dumb things. I've already gotten mean email and gotten trash talked on another blog for a post, and I'm sure I'll get way more. But I can't be anything but myself. So I feel your blogging hesitation. I SO do.

Jessie Humphries said...

I say do what u have to do, be who you are, and also who you want to be. I know I am always myself, to my often detriment, but I am trying to be better all the time.

Jessica Silva said...

honestly, that worry is why I don't really blog anymore. I haven't found a way to be 100% me and unforgiving about it. I never loved my blog, and I rarely ever wrote from a place that was completely faithful to whoever the heck it is that I am. part of that could be because I'm still finding myself (proudly), so I just don't know how to translate it yet. but for camp Christa, just know that I don't comment on your blog posts because of your books or your writing or your agent or editor or whatever. I'm here for you because I like you :)

Elodie said...

Christa, you know I´m on your team it´s also called Team Christa-because-let´s-face-it-she-rocks (yes it´s a long name :D).
I think you´re right that the "toning down" decision cannot conflict with your personal history, with the history you´re trying to tell. And let´s remember that the fringes sometimes become the crowd because they want this harsh honesty thrown at them so that they too, can try to understand, can feel even if it´s painful all those raw emotions and events that happened to the characters.
I also agree that when it´s not needed, when it´s not the pure essence of what the book is, then maybe toning it down is ok because it is not really a compromise on the true self of the author nor of the message of the book...
Am I making sense? or am I just rambling?

Ok, when it comes to the blog: I don´t have an agent (yet) nor am I published (yet) but I too sometimes wonder what I put out in the big big world, mostly because I don´t usually share much. I mean, of course, I do but it´s scary to put yourself out there for people who have never met you, it´s sometimes easier but sometimes scarier.
Again, do I make sense?
Anyhow: Christa, you rock!

Brinda said...

Well, you can say exactly what you feel. I'll be a Camp Christa member either way. Most of us censor ourselves to a degree. Actually, I censor myself too much on my blog and all social media.