Writing outside perspective, universal truths, and Look Past

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Look Past  will be out a week from tomorrow 🙂 Amazon has already begun shipping pre-orders. Therefore, my book will soon be in a lot of hands (I hope), and so I thought I might answer the one question that is going to come up: who am I as a cisgender man to write about a transgender teen?

Recently, there has been some very negative language about writing “the other”, a phrase that itself is problematic. Setting things up as this or that, black or white, like me or other than me, establishes so many boundaries that it’s difficult to then talk about the gray which exists between any such set of poles.

For me, that is where I have always looked, especially in my writing. All of my work, including Look Past, doesn’t hold to rigid and easy classifications of the world. We have a rich and nuanced existence–that is of we allow ourselves to see it.

And that is the thrust of Look Past. As much as I want trans teens to find themselves within the pages, I also want people from all walks of life to feel the same. I was once part of a Twitter exchange–that most likely only I remember–with A.S. King and a reader of her novel Ask the Passengers. The reader was wondering how King felt comfortable tapping into the emotions of a her teen, lesbian, protagonist, as King is an assumed heterosexual. King’s response stuck with me, which I’ll paraphrase as such: Emotions are emotions. We all feel the same. Sure they look different and come about for different reasons in different contexts, but at its heart, human emotion is universal.

Of course she was eloquent in delivering this wisdom, which probably took five tweets to render, but the concept struck a chord with me, as I feel it should with all authors who are writing from perspectives other than their own. Focus on the universal truths of how we feel and keep in mind how the context changes those actions and reactions.

In Look Past I present numerous events where Avery, my protagonist, feels a whole host of emotions. Many are over the death of his first love, Mary, and others are over the ways in which he is treated, predominately in response to the fact that he’s transgender. It would be easy to say that in those latter scenes I have no idea what I’m talking about. That even though I’ve researched for years and have conducted many interviews and have had sensitivity readers vet my manuscript, that I still am clueless because I am not in Avery’s body and so I can’t know that truth. Okay. But if that’s the case, then the same is true for Tony in Tap Out, Ben in Dare Me, and Greg in Press Play. I have never lived their lives, but I worked very hard to see the universal emotions King discussed. I have done the same in Look Past.

I wholeheartedly agree that writing from someone else’s perspective is problematic, and I absolutely support the #ownvoices initiative. I am not blind to the ways authors have made egregious mistakes rendering lives about races and genders and belief systems completely foreign to their own. I tread lightly here. I respect that more work needs to be done when writing in order to execute this perspective switch. But, I have lived by the following adage, and frequently offer the same as writing advice: Be interested in the world and those around you, not only yourself. Broaden your horizons.

That’s the goal. And soon I’ll know if I’ve fallen on my face in my attempt or if I’m still standing. I’m prepared for either. In my heart I know I’ve done my absolute best to be sensitive and to listen to King’s advice. I care very deeply that my work represents a universal truth about this human condition. Because I do feel we are more alike than we are different. The title of Avery’s story is testament.

P.S. I have a Goodreads giveaway going on right now if you’re interested. And of course there’s still time to pre-order (or if it’s with Amazon, just order 🙂

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On Failing Forward: revision literally is everything

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It took me 3 years  and 7 drafts to get Look Past right. What exists now is a 288-page story that is fine-tuned and honed to as perfect as I’m ever going to get it. It’s my best work, but possibly not for the reason you think.

People often ask me, “Which is you best book?” It’s unsettling because I know my answer is going to sound so cliched: I can’t choose. That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child. Not gonna happen.

So when I say that Look Past  is my best work, it’s because it was so much work to complete, and because it pushed me so far as a writer. Yes, Tap Out was one hell of a learning curve, but that makes sense. I believe most people assume that the writing gets easier as you go. Not so. At least for me. If anything, it’s gotten more difficult.

I’m constantly trying to one-up myself. I want to be able to see new stories, new perspectives, and then try different ways of approaching how I translate them into novels. I believe that is how any pro stays on top of his or her game–by challenging himself or herself, by taking risks.

But as so often happens when taking risks and gambling on oneself, you lose. I lost big time with my first two stabs at Look Past. Each failure was accompanied by comments from my agent akin to: “There’s a story here, but you haven’t figured out how to tell it.”

And then I did.

That’s how writing goes for me. I try, I fail, try again, and keep at it until I figure it all out. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that as Look Past is about to hit shelves, I’m working on another story, and guess what…I’m failing big time.

Yup, on this third iteration, I flat-out focused too much on one element and forgot the rest of them. I did not adhere to my previous editor’s adage of “seeing the forest and the trees.” (still solid, Lisa Cheng).

So, yeah, it’s tough to have failed, but it’s only temporary. I’ll figure it out. That’s literally my job. And I’m so fortunate to have the space I do. Taking risks and “failing forward” is fundamental for growth, and so when I finally get this one right, I have to believe it will be even better than Look Past.

Which, right now, feels impossible. But the only way for you to find out is if you first read Look Past 😉 You’ve got 22 days until its arrival and I hope you’re ready for awesomeness.

I mean that. Objectively speaking, this is one hell of a great story. And if you don’t believe me, check out this review from Goodreads. The opening line alone sells it.

So, here’s to failing now for a greater success later. I look forward to making a mess of things, so that I can clean them up and present them to you, all shiny and wonderful.

 

Time to Pre-order Look Past

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One month from today Look Past will be published. As exciting as this is, and as much as I look forward to seeing people at my events, I also know how important pre-orders are.

“Pre-orders hold the magic. For media, publishers, retailers, and consumers, they represent your book’s potential. Those early sales numbers truly set the stage for how momentum will build and whether sales will skyrocket” (“Why Pre-orders Matter…“).

I don’t write pretty stories. I don’t even necessarily write happy endings. I write stories that I believe in with all my heart. But writing a solid story and selling an abundance of copies are two different things. Bottom line: I want both. And Look Past is a stunner of a story. One worth pre-ordering for yourself, for a friend, for a colleague, for that student who you think will benefit from reading a copy. The time to do so is now. Let my publisher, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and all of the people who pay attention to these numbers know that this is a worthwhile book to stock. Put it on librarians’ and teachers’ radars. Pre-ordering starts a chain of events that leads to more people knowing about this story and my work.

If this seems like a greedy pitch, trust me, it’s not. Selling through (earning back my advance) is a very difficult thing to do, and so please don’t think that I’m looking to earn more money than I’ve been paid. Not. Even. Remotely. Close. To. The. Point.

I want Look Past in as many teens’ hands as possible, and that starts with you saying to whomever or wherever you purchase your books, “I want it now!” Feel free to bring that book to one of my signings. I won’t be offended. I’ll sign it and thank you for getting the ball rolling.

Trust me, I don’t like to raise my hand and say, “Look at me! Pay attention to me! Buy my book!” That just feels awful. What I have no problem saying is that if you pre-order, you are helping raise awareness, which could ultimately result in a teen who is in desperate need of reading this story having a copy fall into his or her hands. That makes you a damn saint in my book. So, don’t pre-order for me. Do it for yourself, do it for those who need to know this story.

P.S. Here’s my current list of events. Come see me with those pre-ordered books in hand 🙂

10/14, (4-8 pm) Launch party/Happy hour at McGreivey’s Restaurant, 91 Broad St, Waterford, NY 12188
10/15, (5-8 pm) Signing at Northshire Bookstore, Saratoga, 424 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
10/22, (9 am-4 pm) Teen Reader Con, Shenendehowa Middle School, Clifton Park, NY 12065