I had every intention this morning of getting some quality work done. I planned on browsing through middle grade novels, in search of the perfect agent possibilities and perhaps even submitting to some of those agents in my (frustrating) search for the magic needle in the haystack–a person with whom I connect who will find me and my work interesting.
I wandered into the bookstore, only to realize that NOTHING is labelled as Middle Grade. Things are either shelved for young readers or ya . . . so what the heck is middle grade, I ask myself? Is this just another label that eludes me, which is all about marketing and has little to do with the stories I want to tell.
Why can’t we focus on just writing the books we want to write, in the format we want to write them?
No problem, I think, I will do some research on-line, and get my head reoriented . . . figure out what the heck I’m doing.
But first I should focus on my grading and prep work for tomorrows classes.
I head over to the coffee shop area, order some caffeine, and settle in to work.
The automatic update that took place on my computer last night, seemed to dislike allowing me to access the internet on a public wi-fi network. It took me an hour to finally connect.
I get connected, enter my grades, and do a search for middle grade fiction. I stumble over to this article by Brian A. Klems “The Key Differences Between Middle Grade vs. Young Adult”.
Now, as usual, I’m thoroughly confused.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned, but I have completed another manuscript. I want to find that book a home. I am proud of the book I wrote. I thought I knew what it was, but according to “rules” I’m wrong, so I have no idea what I’ve written.
Except that I’ve written a book, and the people who have read it find it worthwhile. My daughter is reading it now. She’s 13.
I’m so tired of rules.
I guess I should explain. According to Klems, the length of a MG manuscript is generally 30,000-50,000 words (although fantasy can run longer)
- my manuscript (Giving Up the Ghosts) is running at 62,000 words, but it it is technically fantasy since there are ghosts. Does that mean it is MG or YA?
According to Klems, MG protagonists can be up to age 13 for more complicated stories.
- my protagonist is 13, which puts her in the range of upper MG, but I’m not supposed to say that in a query (not the age, but the definition). I could make her older, I suppose, but I don’t think it would work. So I am in the range of limited readership even though I haven’t read any recent YA that has protagonists as young as mine. Again I ask, what did I write?
According to Klems:
Mind-set: Focus on friends, family and the character’s immediate world and relationship to it; characters react to what happens to them, with minimal self-reflection.
Voice: Often third person.
- This is where I struggle. Charlie, my protagonist, is struggling to fit into the middle school community with an ability that makes her an outcast–she can see ghosts. She can’t discuss it with her parents, because they won’t believe her. Her journey is very much a reaction to her immediate world and her relationship to it. However, I wrote in 1st person because it works better for this story. I wrote it as a journal. She reacts to what happens to her, but she also reflects because it feels true to her character.
So what did I write? I am so tired of the “rules” that try to place things in niches that don’t apply I am so tired of being limited by someone else’s perceptions of what kids are able to read–because (in my opinion) we have lowered our expectations of kids abilities to the detriment of everyone.
I see it in my own (college) classrooms. Do you know how many of my students have never read a book for pleasure? Do you know how many of my students don’t know how to read for understanding? Do you know how many of my students cannot or will not think for themselves?
- What do you mean by presentation?
- What do you mean by ritual?
- Why do I need to read this?
I’m tired of lowering my expectation, so I don’t anymore.
I won’t do it in my classes. I won’t do it in my writing.
I won’t vote for lowered expectations to govern my society.
I’m frustrated. I’m tired. I give up.