Friday, February 5, 2016

Why I Write (Middle Grade)

At one point or another, everyone who writes for this blog has been put to the ubiquitous question, “Why do you write/care about Middle Grade?” For most of us, it’s something we discuss in our very first post here, as Stefanie demonstrated so fantastically earlier this week. I did this too, way back in October, 2014, which, in internet time, is like back when Earth was still cooling and the dinosaurs roamed. 

Truth be told, I’m pretty sure that everyone to ever make any mention or use of the term Middle Grade in public or private or surveillanced conversation has been immediately tasked with explaining why that was a thing they cared about. Sometimes I feel like once you commit yourself to MG, someone should maybe give you a course on managing the question, not unlike spies get counter-interrogation training before M or P or K or which white-coated bloke hands them a bolo tie that includes both a micro-chip camera and enough explosive play dough to blow a hotel door off its hinges. “Here’s your middle grade welcome kit, Agent MG171, mind you talk about how much the kids need books these days! Oh, and try not to sear your finger tip off with that fountain pen laser. Poor Agent MG169.”

As I was pondering the curiousness earlier this week of why, as a MG-er, I seem to have to account for myself far more than, say a Sci Fi novelist or a Romancer or that Dinosaur Erotica writer1, I came to a startling realization: I’ve mostly been lying to everyone, everytime I’ve answer that question.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a bit there. I haven’t out-and-out lied about anything. It’s not like I’m running for public office or anything. But my usual explanation typically includes some reference to how I stumbled into MG thanks to my kids, how I hope it makes me a better, more understanding, possibly “in-touch” parent, how kids raised on Instafeed and Facegrame need books these days, yadda yadda yadda.

All of which is true and kinda important.

But none of it is really why I write Middle Grade.

The real why of it boils down to two things: a) The first story I ever remembering telling in written format, and b) complete and utter selfishness.

Okay, so as for part A, way back when I was but a middling-wee thing — probably 4th grade, perhaps? — I was given a writing assignment at the start of the school year, the particulars of which I no longer remember. What I do recall is that on the last day of school for the previous year, I broke my arm in spectacular manner, and the breaking of it was one of those things I’ll never not see replaying as a fascinating horror movie in my head2.

For the How I Spent My Summer Vacation writing assignment, I wrote about that accident. But inspiration took me, and I felt like doing something different. I decided the paper shouldn’t just be another essay, recounting dry facts, but rather a scene, representing the event. For the first time in my life, I wrote a story for someone else, the story of what happened one fateful day, three long months prior. I framed the tale using voice and descriptive language, things I didn’t know about or could have named then, but that I already realized would make for a better retelling.

Oddly, the story was 100% true, which ironically makes my first piece of “real” writing narrative nonfiction, which I doubt I’d attempt at this stage in my life.

I got an A+.

I’m not going to lie to you, in and of itself, that wasn’t an unusual thing. I got a lot of A+’s throughout my primary education. I was that kid, the one that never studied but usually got everything right, frequently ruining the bell curve in the process. Although everyone called me “smart”, the truth was that I’d been gifted with the a limited type of eidetic memory, allowing me to remember things as pictures, sometimes still and somtimes moving. As an adult, I realize now it’s a visualization gift that lets me to render better scenes when I write. Back then, though, I didn’t know that a specialized form of memory recall is what made me “the smart kid”. But that’s a different post.

What I did know was that I usually got A’s because I could see test answer in my head. But this? This was a creative work, something I’d never had much gift with before. Seriously, I almost failed Kindergarten because I couldn’t – and still can’t – color inside the lines. 

That A was different. Special. Of all the A+’s I got in elementary school, that one has always stood out for me. Because I’d put a part of myself in that assignment, and my teacher appreciated it. The feeling I had when I got the paper back was incomparable.

That feeling is why I write. I’ve spent my life chasing it, and it took 30 years to figure out what did it. Now that I have, I never want to get tired of it.


But does that really explain why I write Middle Grade? Only about half. Sure, that experience was absolutely formative, but let’s not forget about part B, selfishness. That is, I believe with my whole, shriveled, darkened heart that part of recreating “that feeling” comes from writing with a Voice that 10 year-old me would identify with.

See, it all comes down to what I want to read now. I can remember that as a middle grader (back when the internet was still a thing only nefarious defense contractors had access to), a good book could take over my whole world. And it didn’t need to be a middle grade book, even. Goodness knows I read many that were intended for adults. But whatever I hurried from the school library to class with back in the day, from mystery to scifi to fantasy, from space to the future to Narnia to Middle Earth to Prydain to Krynn and beyond, I tended to become lost in it. And even when I wasn’t reading, the words, and the worlds, would stay with me. I didn’t have to be reading to be there.

I enjoy writing Middle Grade because I selfishly want to remember – and in whatever way possible recreate – that feeling. I want to write books that middle grade me would have enjoyed. Books that remind me of what it was like to get transported to another place and/or time, or another person’s life, and get lost there.

Preferably places, times, and people without a mortgage or weekly status reports.

Can I do that by writing adult-age novels? Yes, of course. I’ve done it, actually. But the thing is, those “adult” novels I’ve written would still have been enjoyed and appreciated by middle grade me.

Which, at last, gets me to the stark, honest truth:

I write Middle Grade for many reasons, and it’s not simply because I want to make something for middle grade kids – even my own childen – to enjoy. That’s a great reason, and there are dozens of other great reason to go along with it. But at the end of the thousand word post, it’s first and foremost that I want to write books because of the way doing it makes me feel. Especially if it’s a book that middle grade me would have enjoyed.

Everything else if just a magnificent bonus.


1 No, I’m not kidding. Go to Amazon. Search in Books for Dinosaur Erotica. Apply brain bleach as needed.

2 I’ll spare you the thousand words I just wrote to recap the experience, but if you’re curious how a 42 year-old with experience writing would tell the story, you can find it on my personal blog.

1 comment:

WendyMcLeodMacKnight said...

Wonderful post! I get the question a lot, too, and while I write some YA as well, and may even write for adults now and then in the future, my heart is firmly rooted in middle grade!