Angela graduated from Lesley University's MFA program in January, 2013, and now spends her time writing children's books and fantasy stories.
She spends the rest of her time watching nostalgic shows on Netflix, trying to knit a blanket, and endlessly scrolling through Twitter.
On a recent episode of The Yarn podcast, Victoria Jamieson (author/illustrator of the middle grade graphic novels Roller Girl and All’s Faire in Middle School) spoke about how hard being that middle school age was for her, and how that informed the way she wrote her books.
I hadn’t planned on writing a middle grade book, it’s kind of naturally what the books have fallen into… When I write my books I try to write about some of the hard parts of being that age because as a kid I liked to know that other kids are going through what I go through.
Jamieson writes about middle schoolers because that age was so hard.
Ten years ago I would’ve picked the same spot for myself. And I did pick it, with all the longer stories I wrote focusing on 11 year old girls. But, that was right at the beginning of my 20s, my actual hardest age, as I was about to discover. I didn’t know who I was, or what I was going to do with myself. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with myself.
In my late 20s, and now early 30s, I finally feel more settled with who I am, what I need, what I want. Also finally, after a lifetime and two degrees, I’m getting the hang of writing. So is it any wonder the novel I’m currently querying stars an awkward 20-something? Is it a surprise that the story I’m anxious to brainstorm now is about a woman fresh from adolescence who doesn’t understand what she needs and wants? (I’m also sure there’s a metaphor in their enemies being ghosts and demons, respectively.)
This isn’t to say I won’t attempt middle grade stories still (I have one written and waiting for a readthrough and other ideas stewing) but now that I finally feel settled, I keep pulling from a time of frustration and confusion to write.
Does your writing center around a hard time in your life? Do you pull your characters from somewhere else?
After story time a little girl ran up to a table of painted rocks, clearly marked “Don’t Touch!”, and proceeded to touch every one of them.
“Stop it!” the mother said, and the girl dropped her hands to her side. She continued to stare at the rocks, bright green and blue, paint swirled and spotted .
“I want to put one in my pocket.”
Her words were so quiet and clear, the confident voice of someone who knew exactly what she wanted out of life: to take one of those smooth, bright, carefully colored rocks, and keep it in her pocket just for her.
She didn’t get to, obviously. The mother towed her away before she could filch anything, which is probably for the best. But I hope she was able to find something else to stow away, something pretty and perfect and all for herself.
I get attached to things where I made a start. My worn out Monchhichi I’ve had since a baby still sits on my shelf. Moving out of the condo my husband and I lived it depressed me, even though we’d outgrown it (before miss baby even came along).
She has her bad days, where she cries and whines, and needs to be held and rocked and read to. Even on the good days she holds tight to your arm while PBS (or, let’s be honest, something on Netflix) plays on the TV, she finds today’s favorite book and wants you to read it again (and again and again) or grabs your hands because it’s time to practice walking again.
I’m not complaining (ok, maybe a little bit); I love to hold her and play with her and listen to her laugh. Still, all of this interaction leaves little time for writing during the day. I cram a few paragraphs in while she naps, and try to get some writing done when she’s down for the night, between spending time with my husband and getting some actual rest. While this helps me relax (going to long without writing makes me feel itchy) it always feels like too little. A page or two, a few days a week — how much am I really writing.
A decent amount, it looks like.
I usually write by hand, a benefit of which is when I feel stalled up in the story, I can take a break from writing and type up the chapters, getting myself back into the story. I’ve hit my second snarl of this write-through, so I began flipping back through my notebook to find where I’d last started up my writing.
And flipping back and flipping back…
I can see by the way I’ve gone through my outline some of the progress I’ve been making as I sit at the desk, hunched over my notebook in the glow of the baby monitor. But seeing this chunk of pages is an actual measurement of what I’ve done, of how far I’ve gotten as I move forward inch by inch.
Bonus content: I’ve always had problems fitting in my writing, the baby is just the most recent excuse.
Before my daughter was even born, I wondered: what kind of things would she like? What would be her favorite shows, the books she read again and again? I figured I had a while before these preferences set in.
Then around 10 months, I read Llama Llama Red Pajama, repeating the story every time she flailed her arms and grunted, “Unh!” (It was many times, over many nights.) One afternoon she hit the PBS Kids app on my phone and accidentally started an episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, thus beginning an ongoing love of imaginary tigers singing infuriatingly catchy songs. And she has not yet had her fill of this bunny video…
Her personality set in so much faster than I realized it would. Every day she becomes more distinct, more herself, and watching this happen is so exciting.
As I helped set up the kid’s movie at the library recently, a boy filed in with his family, his nose in a graphic novel. Moms chatted, kids flopped on cushions, and this kid kept reading his book.
Ninety minutes later the movie ended, and we turned on the lights. When I noticed the kid again, he was standing among the other kids, book open, looking down. It was seamless, as if he’d never closed the book since I turned out the lights and hit play on the movie. And maybe he didn’t– maybe he read straight through, more interested in what he could read then what he could watch. Or maybe once one form of entertainment ended, he slipped back into the other one at hand before I could even see the transition.
I was the girl who read Animorphson my lap between lessons, who couldn’t leave the house without a book in my bag, who couldn’t handle a trip to Maine until her mother took her to a bookstore to restock. So kid, I relate.
I got pregnant, which isn’t much of an excuse because the baby wasn’t here yet, but that’s what happened. I let myself get distracted by new clothes, rearranged rooms, doctor appointments, the complicated, borderline torturous task of finding child care. There were family illnesses, family deaths. The holes were filled with writing, editing, critiquing, all with a constant film of worry over what kind of country I was bringing a kiddo into.
Then, the baby came. She became everything. A whole pink cooing farting world. Caring for her, and sleeping, were my only concerns.
And then they weren’t.
She didn’t become easier (I think she’s harder now) but we’ve grown used to each other. I started reading more, and I wrote my novels.
My blog was still untouched.
Now a year has gone by since everything changed — for the better, though sleeping past 8 is still a fervent dream. Even longer since I hit “post”on something more elaborate than an Instagram picture.
But as everything else eventually settled back into its place, maybe this is coming back to me, too.
Between the election and some particularly terrible personal stuff that’s been going on, it’s been a rather craptastic couple of weeks. I haven’t had the time to get all of my writing and house chores/baby prep done, but when I have moments I find myself lying sideways on the bed, staring at the wall. But even as I sink into these moods that range between heart-twisting sadness and an echoing emptiness, there are some things that cheer me up and lift me out.Read More »
I have voted in elections where the candidate I did not choose has won. I was disappointed, or annoyed, or frustrated. I gave a deep sigh, thought “Well, that’s how it is, then.” And I moved on.
Not this time.
This time, I’m scared. This time, I’m angry. This time I want to do something.
Over the last several years I have grown into someone who identifies as a feminist. I think and care about issues that don’t affect me personally, but which I know are so, so important. I have cared about the environment I think since I knew what the phrase “endangered species” meant. With this election, all of that is threatened.
In his post, “The Pram in the Hall”, he brings up his own point of view, along with the point of view of many other writers, that you don’t have to be a bad parent in order to be a good writer, or that focusing on your parenting necessarily takes away your ability to write.Read More »