"[J.K.] Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good." Stephen King
Nothing is worse than reading a mediocre children’s book (from picture book to young adult/YA), believing that you have a higher quality manuscript that’s been unfairly rejected. I’ve had these types of conversations with other unpublished writers. This is more than just jealousy – I, along with these other writers have complimented accomplished authors, aspiring to write such quality books, ourselves. No matter how good we think we are, there are countless examples of works we wish we’d thought of writing.
I attended a wonderful workshop “Writing the Middle Grade Series” run by the author, Lisa Papademetriou at the NESCBWI (New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (A mouthful! Couldn’t writers come up with a better name?) Conference this past April. She was teaching us how to write and sell an idea for a series. A former editor and an author of many books, Ms. Papademetriou was an excellent speaker, as well as a wealth of information. She used many popular published series as examples. When bringing up, Harry Potter, she also feigned jealousy over J.K. Rowling’s success. All the attendees laughed appreciatively because we knew the big grain of truth in her jokes.
Most children’s book writers agree that the Harry Potter series is magical (in more ways than one). What child (or adult) wouldn’t want to inhabit the world that Ms. Rowling created? According to Ms. Papademetrious’ workshop, the series is an ideal example because there’s the protagonist Voldemort throughout, each story has its own climax (wrapping up some plots, but leaving others for the next book), and in each successive book, the stakes get higher. In my opinion, the seventh book’s final honorable message and ending was about as perfect as it gets. She deserves her success. I’m sure each writer would just be happy to at least make a living from writing, but very few do. All writers want to be recognized for their work.
When we write, we reveal a lot of ourselves. At the first conference I attended, the author Susan Cooper said that teachers often advise children to write what they know. But she didn’t think that’s what they meant. She explained that her first books were about the dichotomy of good versus evil, because of her experiences as a child living near London when it was repeatedly bombed during World War II, so wrote about dark versus light. Later, when Ms. Cooper moved to America, she wrote about yearning for something lost – looking for home. What teachers really mean is that writers should write about the feelings that our experiences generate.
I place pieces of myself in each piece of fiction that I create, though the stories are fantasy and the characters never lived through the 1970s and 80s (With frizzy hair). Sometimes it’s painful to put the inspiration of something difficult that I endured down on paper. My mother had an accident that required months of recovery and rehabilitation when I was fourteen, which I used in my manuscript, Indigo in the Know. I didn't plan to use it, but at some point, I just knew it was the right misfortune for my ten-year-old character to go through, and it was the proper consequence for her mother's behavior. Often, writing about my deepest insecurities makes me understand more about who I am. Then it’s even harder to know that I’ve bared myself, only to be rejected. When someone passes on my manuscript, it could be for a variety of reasons – some which may have little to do with the merit of my story or quality of writing. But when a published author’s picture book fails to enrapture a child or a YA book provides little substance, I can’t help but experience a pang (or two) of envy.