Monday, July 1, 2013

Guest Post: Tricia Slay, author of Not So Long Ago, Not So Far Away

*Tricia Slay, the author of the Star Wars-inspired book Not So Long Ago, Not So Far Away, talks about how good parenting = a bad novel.

Check back on July 3rd for my review and a giveaway of Not So Long Ago, as well as on July 10th for a second guest post by Tricia and another giveaway on my film blog.

Tricia Slay author
author Tricia Slay
Ten years ago, I witnessed the murder of a very promising young adult novel. It was a horrible crime to behold. The memory of what happened to that poor novel and its struggling author still looms like a shadow over me, causing me to approach every new writing seminar and critique group with extreme caution. While I am forewarned and able to protect myself, I know there are other YA novelists who might be blind sided. That is why I want to tell the story. Perhaps I can prevent another novel from being extinguished before it has the chance to find its light.

Let's start with the basic facts of the happened during an online workshop for aspiring novelists. This was a serious workshop with a substantial price tag to match. There were eight of us in the class, but only two of us were writing young adult novels. The other YA author came to the class with an absolutely brilliant concept for her novel. Seriously. This writer turned in an early description and synopsis that were spectacular. Never before and not since that class have I felt such awe and, yes I'll admit it, a wee bit of jealousy over another writer's work in progress. (That said, you'll have to take my word for how wonderful this novel could have been since it's not my work and, therefore, not mine to share with the world.)

The format of the class was simple. We submitted a writing assignment every Thursday. The instructor would send feedback to each student privately. However, our assignments were also posted in an online forum where our fellow students would give Peer Critiques...that is where the terrible, awful things happened.

Two of the non-YA writers enrolled in our workshop were devoted, protective, conscientious mothers who were both writing boring drivel about restless housewives. (My apologies if that sounds overly harsh. No doubt, my opinion of their work has been colored by my disgust over what they did to a fellow writer. That said, it's important to consider the source when receiving critiques and these two women were not, as yet, producing any good writing themselves.) I'm sure these two women did not intend any harm. And yet, these two loving mothers tore the heart out of a fictional story and ripped an amazing premise to shreds. Why? Because they wanted, no, demanded better parenting for its main character.

Most of their critique statements were prefaced with qualifiers like "What kind of mother allows..." or "I would never allow my child to..." or "No, this would never happen if the mother...."

I tried to fight all of the invalid feedback. I really did try to rescue that novel, but I failed. It was a twelve week course. By the eleventh week, my fellow YA author stopped posting her work in the forums. She thanked everyone for their feedback and mentioned taking some time to "reconsider her options" in writing this story. As far as I can tell, her novel was never published. Ugh!

This was a case of death by parenting...or, rather, death by parenting a fictional character straight into a safe, supportive, loving existence that rendered the entire plot and character arc invalid.

Almost any great story in the history of YA literature was made possible by bad or inadequate parenting. And most YA stories could be ruined with good parenting. Think about it. Would Melinda Sorvino in Speak (by Laurie Halse Anderson) need her art or her art teacher so desperately if her parents were truly attentive and supportive.? Why would Margaret need to write letters to God if she could talk openly to her parents? Could Looking For Alaska (by John Green) take place outside of a boarding school? Would Katniss Everdeen have survived The Hunger Games if her father had not died in that coal mine and her mother had not been destroyed by grief? There are many more examples, but the reality is obvious.

Good parenting = Bad Novel.

I'm sure every reader could think of a successful YA story that is an exception to this rule, but the exceptions are few and far between. Every YA protagonist does not need to have evil parents. No, not at all! But, for the purposes of the story, the parents of the main character need to be disengaged for some reason...they could be dysfunctional, disabled, absent...or dead.

Would Hatchet have been such an amazing story of survival if Brian's dad was fighting by his side for those 54 days? Would Arnold (The Absolutely True Confessions of a Part-Time Indian) have fought so hard to get off the reservation if his parents weren't incapacitated by alcohol? If Ponyboy's parents were alive (The Outsiders), would he have ended up hiding in that abandoned church with Johnny?

In YA novels, as in any novel, things need to happen. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Excellent parenting gets in the way of a good story. Throw it away. Set the characters free to screw up, struggle and prevail. Otherwise, you may just be murdering a perfectly wonderful story where parental guidance is neither required nor desired.

About the author:
Hello. My name is Trisha and I’m a writer. I wish it wasn’t so. Truly. I wish I could redirect this passion for storytelling into something more sane and comfortable…like knitting plush Angora socks or organic mushroom farming. Unfortunately, writing has proven to be (at least for me) an incurable condition.

Currently, I live betwixt and between the Atlanta metro area and the North Georgia mountains, but I’m originally from Ohio…by way of the San Francisco Bay Area. (In other words, I drink pop, practice yoga and would like to thank all y’all for taking the time to read my bio.)

By day, it’s my job to make sure this country has thousands of opportunities to pause for refreshment. By night, I transform into a rather frightening hybrid of the next great American novelist and Cookie Monster. (Translation: I’m still an unpublished author and a bit of an emotional eater.)

When I’m not polishing my prose or polishing off a bag of Popchips, my interests include:

■70’s pop culture
■Unsolved mysteries
■Star Wars (original trilogy)
■Historic movie theaters
■Haunted history
■Reading (especially YA novels that don’t appear in the book section of Wal-Mart)
■Nutrition/Weight Watchers/Healthy vegetarian cuisine
■Hiking (exploring the National Forest trails with my guy)
■Yoga/Meditation (spiritual, not religious)
■Miscellaneous crafting projects (that rarely turn out as I envision)
■OSU Buckeye Football
■Writing letters I never intend to mail

My first novel, entitled Not So Long Ago, Not So Far Away, combines most of my interests into a cohesive coming of age story.


  1. Thank you for this post! Very interesting!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Melanie!
      Check back Wed. for my review of Not So Long Ago, Not So Far Away, as well.

  2. Very good points. I think the biggest thing to remember is that for most stories, YA novels are about the hero's journey and it needs to focus on how the character grows and overcomes obstacles. The parents can't always be a huge presence since it means that the character wouldn't necessarily have to figure things out on their own.

  3. Excellent points! I cannot wait to read your review and then read the book!

    1. Glad to hear that, Alaina! Thanks for the comment. :)


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