the infants are coming!

INTERN is staring a birthday in the face (tomorrow, actually) so thoughts of age have been on her mind. She went to the library yesterday to check up on the new YA novels and actually felt creepy for being there, even making up excuses of "professional interest" to justify her lurking presence (and definitely not, um, to justify wrestling the latest Laurie Halse Anderson novel out of that little thirteen-year old girl's hands and running away with it.)

Then something creepier happened. INTERN more or less fled from the new books section (too many fresh-faced youngsters about) and perused the other YA stacks. Then it so happened that every book INTERN picked off the shelves (OK, two books, but whatever) were indeed written by 13-year olds. The first was In the Forests of the Night by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, whom INTERN had never heard of, and the other was something by Gordan Korman of This Can't be Happening at Macdonald Hall renown, who was INTERN's absolute favorite author growing up and who wrote the aforementioned Macdonald Hall book in grade seven.

This led INTERN to spend the rest of the day in dire research, over the course of which she discovered a whole pile of authors who published their first novel at thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen, and then kept on going at the pace of about a book a year, pretty much ever since. Even frickin' Jane Austen wrote The History of England (of which there is a copy on INTERN's shelf) when she was 15.

INTERN feeling aged and forlorn. The late eighties suddenly feel as antiquated a time to get born as the 1880's. Out brief candle!

Over the course of her stalki—er, research, INTERN noticed a few similarities among the Child Novelists published by major publishing houses (as opposed to the self-published camp, which is a whole 'nother ball game).

First, obviously, is talent. Talent, diligence, humor, and imagination...which every novelist needs, regardless of age.

Second, there is a disproportionate amount of homeschooled Child Novelists, some with very involved parents (tales of parents dropping their other work to promote the young scribe's masterpiece, as in the case of Christopher Paolini's Eragon series, pop up more than once).

Third, there is often (not always) some kind of Mentor who gives the budding Child Novelist a nudge (Atwater-Rhodes' highschool English teacher was a literary agent) and says, "yes, you are mere no pipsqueak, you are a Writer!"

Then there is sometimes that magical Inciting Incident to push the Child Novelist on their way, like Gordon Korman's grade seven teacher's assignment to write a novel over the course of the semester.

Conclusion?

It may be too late for INTERN to be a Child Novelist, but for the parental types who read this blog, it is not too late for thy cute and scampering progeny! So go forth and get little Jimmy a high-powered creative writing coach and an agent, already! Geeze!

INTERN is off to learn how to smoke cigarettes or something so that if she can't be a Child Novelist, she can at least start practicing her Bitter and Shriveled Old Woman act as of tomorrow.

Comments

  1. Can I come and smoke cigarettes too? Clearly I have missed the boat on the whole novelist thing. Fancy a Jack Daniels?

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  2. I'm so glad I'm not the only one noticing and freaking out about child novelists! Sometimes it feels so overwhelming that they seemed to have accomplished something that I am still struggling to do. Sigh, perhaps I should dress all in black so that I feel a part of the depressed writer's persona.

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  4. Would this be similar to interferring parents of childstar variety? lol.

    BTW as a YA reader (who's not a teen) what do you think of St. Martins Press New Adult?

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  5. There's always time to go the other, diametrically opposed, Emily Dickenson route. I suppose the downside is that you don't get famous until after you've gotten dead.
    www.bookliciousblog.com

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  6. I normally spell Dickinson's name correctly; apologies to the fans.

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  7. Whoa, intern. I may be one day older than you, depending on which year in the eighties you were born. I am, with you, one year older,but unlike you still without a book deal. How embarrassing...

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  8. Happy last day of not being a bitter and shriveled old woman!

    I get such weird looks in YA sections.... but then I get carded in the liquor store. I can't win.

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  9. I HATE (and love) awkwardly looking in the YA section. Glad I'm not the only one feeling like an underachiever. Maybe I should get my 3 yr old with a writing coach STAT...

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  10. You always make me smile and laugh! Happy Birthday!!!!
    I love how you did the benchmarking for us with this post. There is a terrific book I've been reading for a while, it's "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell. He talks about innate talent versus learned talent, etc and really concludes practice is essential to reaching a certain plateeau. And he also talks about two different groups of kids, and how different nurturing styles really make a difference as the children grow. Heck, let me find the book for you online and copy and paste it into the comments section...

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!
    :-)

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  11. Age is only a number.

    Until you start finding grey hairs and you find yourself asking your husband things like: "is this outfit age-appropriate?"

    If you still look great in a bikini, or at least not too old to wear one, you are a baby whipper snapper.

    Besides, the best writing is done by mature authors with life experience and a mastery of language and craft.

    Also, I wonder how much the parents are "helping" the young writers.

    Have a great week...and Happy Birthday!
    ~lola

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  12. Happy Birthday, and remember (& take heart from) Schmendric from "The Last Unicorn."

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  13. Happy Birthday, Intern!

    I am so much older than you that I have entered and left the "I shouldn't be looking in this section" phase of book browsing. Now I'm old enough that people assume I am shopping for/screening material for my kids. Plus, I don't care.

    And since half the YA market is composed of women in their thirties, recognizable on the internet by lack of tweet skills and text speak, I think YA is definitely a misnomer. This crosses over into "teen" viewing, as well. The commercial space is equally distributed between Noxema and Pampers. I get that teen pregnancy happens, but for the most part I presume the infant care commercials are meant for an older demographic.

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  14. I've been there, too! I'm a little older than you, being born in the late eighties... clearly not a teen, and clearly not old enough to have a teenage child. It's awkward to look through the YA stacks.

    For us dolts who went to regular schools, we can only be happy to get something published by the age of 40. Those homeschool kids (for the most part) seem to develop intellectually at triple speed.

    I guess all I can do is plan to homeschool my future kids and see who can get published first!

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  15. I'm not only too old to be a child novelist, I'm too old for my children to be child novelists. (Not that they'd have wanted to: one son is a computer whizz and the other is doing a physics degree.)

    Is there no hope for an aging woman who has never had anything published? Probably not. I think I've as much chance of being a published writer as my husband has of winning the Wimbledon tennis tournament. Oh well.

    My sons were born in the eighties. Maybe my being so old will make you feel less so.

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  16. I'm glad I'm not the only one a tad shocked by how many young novelists there are out there.

    I think there might be something to be said for a lot of these kids having very involved and supportive parents. I mean, how many kids (and I'm not even talking about the 17-year-olds either) say, "I want to be a writer," only to be told that they should pick a job that pays real money? I'd bet it's quite a lot. Supportive surrounds are essential when pursuing a dream, especially at a young age.

    I refuse to believe people can be 'too old' for certain books. "Professional interest" definitely counts as a reason to read just about any book.

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  17. I had that "I swear I'm not some kind of kid stalker" moment in the YA section just a few days ago :(. Now I feel *extra* old because I'm an early 80's child.

    Seriously, INTERN. Way to rub it in! ;)

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  18. Bitter and shriveled old women who graduated from college the year you were born wish you a happy birthday.

    :-)

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  19. I'm a late 80s girl and I also have the squeamish "I swear I'm not stalking your kids" expression on my face when in the YA section, too.

    In other news, I read Amelia Atwater Rhodes when I was a middle schooler, mostly because other people promised me she was a prodigy and all-around an epicly good writer. 14-year-old me was not impressed.

    I haven't read back through her book since then, but the feeling I had then was that the story was trite, the characters stiff, and at the end of the book I realized I didn't care if the main character made it or not. I name inanimate objects and get emotionally attached to everything. If your characters don't grab at me, that's a very distressing thing.

    I did read Eragon, and I did like it. Haven't read the sequels though.

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  20. thanks for all the comments and solidarity, everyone! perhaps we should start a League of Overage YA Lovers (LOYAL) and make group forays into the YA section...

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  21. megan: Interesting! INTERN has only read Gordon Korman...to her knowledge, she hasn't actually read many other Child Novelists. But she might start, if only to satisfy her curiosity...

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  22. Noah didn't really do much interesting until he turned 500. Then he built a boat and saved all mankind. Well, OK, maybe he just saved 8 people who then became all of mankind. Anyway, the point is that sometimes late achievers are pretty important. Look at Gandalf, too! He had to die before he got to do the really cool stuff.

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  23. Happy Age-day for tomorrow. Fear not, If being born in late eighties makes you shrivelled hag then clearly I have one foot in the grave....

    Yikes

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  24. Happy Birthday, Intern!

    I too missed the Teenage Novelist boat. Well, okay, not quite, but it’s not gonna happen. (Yeah, 90s kid here. All you creepy 80s people in the YA section are creepy. I assume. I don’t go there much.)

    I have to say, Childe Novelistes do not impress me. And while home-schoolers may or may not have a vast intellectual advantage over good old public (or private) school kids, they often have a social disadvantage that would seem to preclude being a good novelist. (I am not bashing homeschoolers.)
    I’ve never read Ms. Rhodes, and I intend to put it off as long as I can force myself. Eragon was not a happy experience for me. *shudders*

    I think parent-guided CN’s would make hilarious characters in a Reality TV show though.

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  25. Aren't there labor laws against publishing before the age of fifteen? If not, there should be--if only to keep the rest of us from feeling too shriveled.

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  26. Intern, you need a shot of statistics, not Jack Daniels. With 150-200,000 books being published every year (plus all the self-pubbed stuff) and authors' ages being ditributed along a poisson curve (or somesuch), there are bound to be a few youngsters in the tail at one end and a few octogenarians (though maybe not so many) at the other.

    Given there is so much sheer luck in publishing success, that's probably normally distributed, yeilding a handful of successful kids (and octogenarians) too each year. The great mass of those 200K books each year will be by people with unexceptional ages, having an unexceptional writing career.

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  27. Glad to hear I’m not alone in the “Just looking for something for my nephew” mantra when in the YA department. Heck, even when I am getting a book for him, I can’t help but feel like I’m walking through a girl’s locker room, especially with all those trashy teen girl covers leering out at you.

    fairyhedgehog: Is there no hope for an aging woman who has never had anything published?

    Ralph Keyes has a couple great books on writing, and his WRITER’S BOOK Of HOPE has a section on feeling you’re the wrong age. He tells of Jessie Foveaux, who began writing her memoir at 80 and sold it for a million bucks when 98, and Helen Hoover Santmyer, who sold her own best-seller at 84. Freddie Mae Baxter got a six-figure advance when she was 75. And then there’s Laura Ingalls Wilder, who published her first book at 65, and Norman Maclean, who wrote his first novel, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, at 75.

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  28. I loved Amelia Atwater-Rhodes in high school. I wanted to be her. I'm still jealous and feel lazy every time I read one of her books.

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  29. BORN IN THE 80s?!?! You're all a bunch of whiny whippersnappers. GET OFF MY LAWN, YOU DAMN KIDS!

    Happy Birthday, INTERN! Remember, for every Susan Eloise Hinton writing The Outsiders at age 15, there's a Frank McCourt publishing a first novel at 69.

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  30. Hey--

    I sold my first book to S&S at 17 (and I was, in fact, born the 90s). I'd like to think I had talent, but I was not homeschooled, my parents didn't know I was writing a book until I needed them to cosign my agent's contract, and I had no wise sage telling me that I Am Special. So take that for what it's worth...

    But thank you, Intern, for not being condescending towards teenage writers. Some of us are good and some of us (most of us) aren't, but I think that's pretty much the same with writers who were born a few decades earlier, too.

    Happy birthday!

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  31. My oldest son was born in the late eighties, so you're an infant as far as I'm concerned. Hmmm...am I too old to be leaving comments on blogs? Probably.

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  32. hey hannah! thanks for your note! you're right, most Child/Teen novelists fall into category 1 (just plain talented) and don't necessarily have magical sages guiding them onwards :P

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  33. Awww.... Happy Birthday INTERN! My son has a copy of LHA's CHAINS perched right near my laptop along with another book called DRAGON SLIPPERS. He's reading them both for the Battle of the Books at his school.

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  34. Hey....if we put as much money and time into writing tutors as we do sports for our kids, perhaps they could become completely burned ou, er...child prodigies in that arena too! Yay!

    I DO actually think that sometimes. My kids spend hours and hours sweating over baseball and basketball practice and I never give homework much thought. I should make them sweat it out! Now we'll see progress.

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  35. Happy Birthday INTERN! I was born quite a bit before the late 80s...and now my kids read YA...so I feel positively *ancient*. :P

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  36. Happy birthday!

    I found you the perfect job: http://newyork.craigslist.org/mnh/wri/1513153803.html

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  37. I always wanted to be a child novelist - I was so very, very jealous of Korman and Christopher Paolini when I was a freshman and writing my first book. They all make the process look so darn easy.

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  38. Hilarious as usual. Happy Birthday, Intern!

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  39. I've just happened upon your blog and it made me laugh so hard. I wish I could offer you a job but, sadly, all I could offer is another internship. Reasonable travel expenses paid. Duties include deforestation of the world via the photocopier.

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  40. "For us dolts who went to regular schools, we can only be happy to get something published by the age of 40."

    Hate to break it to you, but you (and almost everyone else--I'm not picking on just you) will be lucky to get published, ever, at any age! Most never will.

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  41. Happy Birthday (a few days late), INTERN!!

    I wrote my first novel when I was 35. It is called SPEAK. Some people go into therapy if they get to middle age and are still emotionally frozen at 15. I turned it into a career.

    Good luck!

    Laurie

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  42. Hi Laurie. INTERN read SPEAK about ten times between the ages of 14 and 18, and will likely read it again sometime soon...incredible book! thanks for commenting.

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  43. Good god am I glad no one ever published anything I wrote as a teenager.

    But if you're interested, there's 15 yr old Australian Steph Bowe who recently sold a book.
    http://heyteenager.blogspot.com/

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  44. Geez, that's sad to think of teens--a time of life when you should be out having fun with friends and learning about life--all cooped up by themselves in front of a computer for years. What losers!

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  45. I resent that, anonymous. It's not my fault I have no life. Blame the other kids who hate me :)

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  46. So these kids are living out the nerdiest, most fabulous hero's journey in the modern world?

    (Just say yes.)

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  47. heh. As the online English teacher of a student who has written a scarily-good novel (and who is working to revise it harder than most would-be adult novelists), I hope to join this trend indirectly...

    Even if being 26 myself puts me in the antiquarian end of things

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  48. Oh, and I should mention that she is homeschooled. :)

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