Everybody fails, but I just failed in a new way. Here’s the lowdown: I can’t remember when I didn’t finish something that I started. When I look back, there’s LIES . . ., STRAYS, the two SHAKESPEARE novels-in-verse, the STONER books, etc. I had trouble along the way, but I never thought I wouldn’t finish; it was just a matter of time, luck and a little help from my friends.
A few months ago, I said to my editor that I’d like to get together a collections of poems for teenagers. I’d look through all my books-of-poems and send her sixty or so of the most appropriate. Not so fast, Ronald. First of all, there weren’t as many so-called appropriate ones as I’d imagined. I’ve always been funny and crude and often inappropriate, so there’s that. Kids would probably like those poems, but parents and librarians probably wouldn’t. More interesting than those facts, though, is this one — there’s almost no market for a straight-up book of poems for older teens. If they’re reading books of poetry, they probably already have their favorites and they are, for want of a better hyphenate, grown-up poets. Everybody from Mark Strand to Denise Duhamel to Sharon Olds. To me, maybe. But they are already fans who found me on the Big Boy Poets shelf.
So I kissed that idea good-bye (just a little kiss/no tongue) and started to write something new. One page a day. Written by a teenager about his or her death. A different kid every day. Ninety days.
Lot of freakin’ dead kids. Really, what was I thinking? I looked at them after nearly three months and thought, “No way.” The “collection” (if it isn’t a mass grave) doesn’t have a narrative thread, little to no suspense, and no one to cheer for.
I remember hearing writers talk about the sixty or so pages in a drawer, sixty pages that started well and fizzled out. I probably thought, “Never happened to me, pal.” And now it has.
However (Oh, lovely transition), I’m starting to think that in those ninety weird vignettes, there are four or five characters who, like Lazarus, want to step out of the darkness. Stay tuned.
Ron Koertge is the author of more than a dozen books, most of them novels for young adults. These include Margaux With An X, Stoner & Spaz, and The Brimstone Journals as well as Shakespeare Bats Clean-Up and the sequel Shakespeare Makes the Play-Offs. Strays was awarded the Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year and chosen as a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association.
Thanks for posting this Ron – I have those tucked away false starts, too. Who was it who said that in writing nothing is wasted? I believe.
Someone has just published a book of photos that are all photos of hearts found in odd things (e.g. a puddle of melted icecream on his kitchen table). Your dead kids sound so much more interesting!