Literary Discussions with Pre-Teens

I have crossed some line, some where.  I've always prided myself on the volume and depth of the books I read. I've kept a list since 1994 of every book that has passed through my hands. And yet I've noticed for the last several months that my most engaging literary conversations come not from like-minded adults, but rather from the pre-teens in my life.

When I went to see my niece Katlin, age 11, over Christmas, she was horrified to learn I'd seen the movie Eragon without first reading the book. She pressed her copy into my hands with the words, "I've read this. You need to read this, too." I went home, read the book, and mailed it back to her with a note outlining how the book was--as she had claimed--infinitely superior to the movie.

The Eragon discussion continued Sunday during the Superbowl when I found myself seated next to my 11-year old neighbor. He was reading a book I thought was Eragon, but that turned out to be something else. "Have you read Eragon?" I asked.

"Yes!" he said. "Both of them."

"I haven't read the second one yet," I admitted.

His eyes widened. "Do you want to borrow my copy? You have to read it. I'll bring it over to you this week."

We then continued on to a discussion about the July release of Harry Potter. I'm very much looking forward to the release while my neighbor feels a disconnect with the spirit of the books, having to wait so long between volumes.

 Okay, so it's not a treatise on War & Peace. But I'm floored at the inside-out level at which these kids know these books. Both my niece and neighbor had opinions on the plot, characters, the suitableness of the actors selected to play the characters, and the pacing of the Eragon books.  I could have held the same conversation with an adult.

Which is both fun and sad. Fun, because these kids that I've always known as kids are coming into their own minds, with likes and distinctions and it's fascinating to listen to their opinions and they reasons they give for holding them. Sad because... they're coming into their own minds, with likes and distinctions.

I'm grateful to have them. Once Harry Potter comes out, I'm going to be dying to have someone to discuss it with. 

My #1 Fan

A few years back I wrote a middle-grade manuscript (writer's note: You can't call something a "book" or "novel" unless it's published... until that glorious day it must be referred to as a "manuscript") called Millicent Powers Picks A Pet. At the time, I had an editor interested in the project but they've since taken a pass on the manuscript. I've worked on it sporadically since then but haven't devoted too much attention to it. I know it needs a major overhaul and I haven't quite found the inner reserves needed to commit to such action.

But, two years ago when I was really into working on the story, I asked my friend Ed if his 9-year-old daughter Katrina, a member of my target audience, might be induced to read the book and let me know what she thought?

Let me tell you--I'd had adult writers critiquing my work for months and I was nowhere near as nervous as I was when I handed that sheaf of papers over to a 9-year-old.  

But Katrina read the book and liked it. I was thrilled! She also pointed our a few inconsistencies that interestingly, none of my adult readers had caught.  I did some more work on the book but, as mentioned, set it aside after a time.

This is a long way of getting around to what happened yesterday. Ed and I met for lunch and as we're waiting in line he snaps his fingers and says, "Oh, I've been meaning to ask you... Katrina's been asking if she could read Millicent again. Would you mind e-mailing it to me?"

Hello! I'm floating on air. What a brilliant, precocious child. Really--you couldn't have made me happier if you'd handed me a thousand dollars.  Screw the editor--I have a kid who wants to reread my book.

I am a very, very happy writer.