Straddling The Fence


This is one I can’t figure out.   Some of my favorite books, SECRET LIFE OF BEES, ELLEN FOSTER, CROSSING BLOOD, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA  were written from the perspective of a young narrator.  They ranged in age from eight up to fourteen years old.  These books were read by adults, and young adults alike and to my knowledge, there wasn’t any question as to who might enjoy reading them more – they crossed into both genres.

Initially during the submission process of my first book, THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE, there weren’t any questions as to the genre from my editor, (www.carolineupcher.com) or my agent, John Talbot (www.talbotfortuneagency.com).  I wrote it as literary fiction, with a narrator who is eleven years old.  She deals with some bad “stuff,” physically and emotionally.   The book was submitted to top editors in NY.  I’m talking Jamie Raab, Pamela Dorman, Jonathan Burnham, Trish Todd, and Amy Einhorn, to name a few. 

As time has gone on, and the book hasn’t sold, my editor suggested perhaps trying a few young adult editors.  My agent agreed, and why not, considering the books above?  So, some of those were added into the mix.  Based on a few who provided some feedback, they came back and said it reads more adult, more like southern memoir.  (yes, like all writers we do tend to use our own personal experiences to think up what goes on in our books…but most of what happened to DIXIE is pure tee fiction – thank God – right?)

Anyway, so some think of it as adult and some YA, and therefore it’s straddling the fence.  And I’m like, really?  Who cares?  Why does this matter?  What about Twilight series?  And Hunger Games?  And what of the success of the books I mention above, with their young narrators?  Adults and YA have enjoyed them, hence the NEW genre I’ve read about known as “New Adult.”

So, I have to come to a conclusion that despite getting some great feedback from the publishing editors, like, “lyrical, poignant, strong voice, accomplished writer, commendable job, heartbreaking, funny and wise characters…”  there must be something about the book that isn’t striking the right chord, and I won’t even try to figure it out because it’s too subjective. 

The good news is, it is still on submission, so there is still hope.   The feedback has meant a lot to me, yet has confused me as well.   So, while I wait to see if someone else “gets it” like my agent and editor did, I’m still scratching my head, while sitting on this fence over here. 

What about your story, does it fit nice and neat, into a recognized genre?

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15 Comments

Well yeah, two novels fit right into their genre but the other one; it’s so far away from the fence, and the pasture, and the whole G-damn farm, that for someone to take it on they either have to be brave or a hell of a visionary. But enough about me…
One thing I have learned in life is that, pre-GPS, when looking for an address, and the street numbers are messed up or gone, and the road gets narrow, and the houses are far apart, and you can’t see the power-lines, and up ahead there’s a place to turn around and go back, don’t. One more mile, one more block, just go a little further and almost always, boom, there’s the address. Don’t give up, don’t get frustrated, hang in. You found an agent and an editor who get it; publishing will eventually get it, and probably a movie producer too. Wouldn’t that be nice?

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    Lord yes, more than nice…

    That has happened to me many times…, (your analogy) and you’re right – almost always there it is, the address, just a little further up the road.

    I guess I’m in it for the long haul. I thought about the things I’ve started in the past that I’ve stuck with until I accomplished a goal. (getting a degree, running a couple marathons, etc) This one seems so close at times, but what makes it the hardest one to reach…, for all of us…we don’t have control over the outcome. No matter how bad we want it.

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I think my blog limits my ability to reply but “x” times…which in my case might be good, since I tend to go on.. so, not sure where this will land, BUT:

@Jennine – I don’t think it will sound whiny if you put facts on the table and perhaps even use a bit of humor, sprinkled here and there. (?) Here’s something I read recently and if Betsy ever asks the question again about what’s the best advice you’ve ever been given I’d say this (and it pertains to memoir specifically) “When you’re hot, write cold.” I want to give credit for where that came from (Donald Maass?) but honestly, I can’t remember… And by hot = emotional/angry/melancholy/ whatever the emotion is…and then write cold. (factual, to the point, no melodrama!)

@JAX1984: As a fellow writer, you know that means a LOT. Thank you! And…another Upcher author – yay! I love, love, love Caroline. She’s been incredible and I’ve loved working with her. She’s got a knack for picking out the parts that are missing – she’s made me laugh (and cry – although she doesn’t know that) a time or two with her feedback. Big Upcher fan over here!

Namaste.

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First, let me say I love your blog.

I guess I’m in a weird position where I am a YA writer who also plays with dark themes. And I’ve often asked myself the same question. But I think for me, the number one thing that differentiates YA outside of other types of fiction, is that it specifically speaks to the teen experience. Yes, it may contain monsters or vampires. Dystopian societies. Or have an issue driven-plot centered around abuse, drugs, etc. But all of that is navigated in the story alongside school, friendships, fights with friends, fitting in and budding romances.

Otherwise, what can you do? You write the story that is in your heart. And you write it to the best of your ability. Then you just do… A. LOT. OF. YOGA. 🙂 On that note, I hope you get some good news soon. And I can’t wait to read THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE!

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    Hey, thanks so much – very nice compliment!

    You hit the nail on the head about YA. One of the YA editors said the issue she had with DIXIE was that there was too much emphasis placed on the adult characters…so to your point, subject matter can be dark, etc, but if the action/problem solving etc is centered around the YA age protagonists, etc, it’s more of a YA book.

    As to the yoga? Funny you mention that…as my running has been sidelined temporarily and that’s exactly what I took up.

    I hope for good news too, and I absolutely hope you (and others!) will get to read DIXIE DUPREE. 🙂

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      I’ve been lurking for a while. But I’ve loved following your journey. (I’m also an Upcher author.) Anyways, you write beautifully. I can’t imagine the book is any different.

      Yeah. Exactly. I like to say it’s, “A Charlie Brown world.” Where even though adults may be present, and even be present as the antagonist of the story, it is the kids who are the driving force of the story.

      If you’re interested, I would take a look at Barry Lyga (BOY TOY) and David Klass (YOU DON’T KNOW ME.) They are both writers who have done issue-driven books about abuse for YA. Point is, it really might not have anything to do with your book. You just need the right fish to bite! ((fingers crossed))

      And the best part about Yoga is… you can check your email while doing it. 🙂 Just kidding.

      Namaste.

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I’m a little confused where men would fall. My story is the story of my mother’s childhood and how far she’s come…probably the real life version of your Dixie it sounds like. However, whenever I write I find myself wanting to use first person. So if I’m telling a piece of someone’s life from first person, what would that be? A ghost writer?

I’ve tried making it my memoir of my relationship with my mother…using her childhood as how I’ve learned more about who she is, etc. But I feel it takes the focus from my mom’s story too much.

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      LOL! Well…darn it, just when I was getting ready to have fun with that! Like, I think men should fall where we tell them, into a great job, into our arms, into bed…:) see if you’d get what the hell I was talking about…

      Well, you telling your mother’s story, if it were only her story = biography. If the intent is to show how it impacted you, what you learned about her et al, then to me, it’s memoir. I see this as being much like Jeannette Wall’s THE GLASS CASTLE which is about her parents and how their lifestyle impacted her…and it was sold as a memoir. She also wrote HALF BROKE HORSES which was considered fiction, but was the story of her grandmother, Lily, about her life, and she told it from the perspective of her grandmother, which I thought was really interesting. (

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      Yea I’m leaning more biography simply because my life wasn’t a bad one, although my relationship was strained with my mom because she did everything purposefully to avoid similar things in our lives. So I had it good and yet the strain there was because of this stuff. I just feel that my parts would look whiny compared to where my mom is coming from. Now if I could just get the point of view to work out…it doesn’t sound right in third person.

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      Oh and I knew you’d take advantage of the autocorrected “men”! Lol

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I think there’s a lot of confusion and misunderstanding, in the publishing industry and elsewhere, about how the age of a narrator dictates (or doesn’t) the genre. The actual age of the protagonist shouldn’t have much to do with whether it’s a YA or adult book. The tone, the writing, the subject matter, etc. — those are what should decide. But lately, and possibly because of the explosion of YA books and their popularity, it seems like everything with a young narrator is automatically labeled as YA.

I was actually shocked that THE AGE OF MIRACLES was marketed as an adult novel vs. YA, because the narrator is young. So it can still happen these days…but it seems rare. And I think “marketed as” are the key words here. It all comes down to the marketing and selling process instead of the book itself, it seems. So I’m just going to keep writing what I’m writing and let the rest fall into place.

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    I loved this reply..”I’m just going to keep writing what I’m writing and let the rest fall into place.” Yes and yes! (I should have included THE AGE OF MIRACLES too, b/c I read that and it’s a perfect example as you point out.) It is a bit disconcerting…, and your thoughts about subject matter and the writing are exactly why I wrote DIXIE the way I did…I hoped it was strong enough to hold it up as literary, and I hoped the subject matter wouldn’t turn off editors. Personally, I love stories with a young’un in them, telling it from their view. Look at the popularity explosion of one of the youngest narrators I know of…”Hushpuppy” in “BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD.” It can work…if publishers want it to…

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