Wednesday, September 23, 2009

as u like it

Ready for a revelation? I just finished writing my first young adult novel. In “as u like it” the themes of a Shakespeare play echo in the teen actors’ lives. The plot and characters are original, and the story is set now in NYC. The tone is light and entertaining.

For “as u like it” I drew on my experience growing up in Manhattan. My twelve-year-old daughter helped me make the characters sound up to date. I have tons of material with a tween girl and a teenaged boy living in my house. It was so much fun being able to work on a book with my daughter.

My children introduced me to the fabulous world of young adult literature that has blossomed since Harry Potter. Even though my kids have outgrown bedtime stories, I still like to read along with them occasionally. I’ve learned more about young adult fiction from book bloggers, like The Story Siren. The quality of the writing was a pleasant surprise. Fabulous authors, such as Laurie Halse Anderson, inspired me to try my hand at this genre.

Like any big production, there is a stage crew in the wings. My friend Marika Josephson (pictured at right), an assistant editor of KidSpirit Magazine, offered to be my first reader after my husband. Her experience working with 11-15 year olds was a big help as was her keen editorial eye. 

Two of my friends in Maine are young adult authors who encouraged me. Charlotte Agell (pictured at left) was a reader for “as u like it.” I was a reader of her latest novel, Shift. On dog walks Maria Padian and I discuss our works in progress. Her teenaged daughter was interested in my story and had experience at reading manuscripts critically.  Maria’s daughter and my daughter are fans of Shakespeare.

The manuscript needed several test drives. I purposely tried the story on a neighbor’s daughter who didn’t like Shakespeare. I wanted yet another reader who didn’t know me personally so Adrian (pictured below with me), who was a high school sophomore like the protagonist, was a great addition to my critique team. My young readers were really helpful, honestly critical and enthusiastic.

Writing for young adults is different than writing for older readers. Tweens and teens look for an emotional connection with the characters and demand a fast pace. YA books tend to be a bit shorter, 60K words instead of the 90K words norm for adult fiction. The author should avoid too much descriptive detail that can make the book drag. The story must be easy to follow.

Part of the reason I chose As You Like It was because it is one of the easiest of Shakespeare’s plays to read. It is written more in prose than in verse, and the main characters are teenagers in love. A central theme is the fickleness of reputation, one that resonates with teens today too. Shakespeare’s protagonist, Rosalind, kicks back when treated unfairly. She pulls the strings of love like a puppeteer. As You Like It was the first Shakespeare play I read for fun; I was 14 and taking acting at camp.

My aim is to make Shakespeare fun and understandable to anyone. A Bowdoin College professor of Renaissance Literature, Aaron Kitch (pictured at right) checked my Shakespeare and loved how it worked in the story.  My cousin Gabrielle Savoldelli checked the acting scenes and showed me teenaged hangouts in Manhattan, where she lives and teaches school.

Blog buddies helped too: Mama Shujaa (pictured at left) filled in Kenyan expat details, and Cynthia@Oasis Writing Link and her family proofed my Spanish. My book is fiction, but I wanted it to ring true.

While my literary agent has “as u like it,” I will get back to work on my next book. Like any mom, I’m used to multi-tasking. Looking back through my blog archives, I can trace the birth of this latest novel.

Some of you may remember that I got struck by a new book idea last December during an ice storm. I tried to ignore it so I could finish another work in progress first, but the new book wouldn’t leave me alone.

Remember that beach walk in February when I pondered the new book idea? By the end of that month, I had turned my full attention to writing “as u like it.” Now, while I wait to hear feedback from my agent, I’ll get back to work on the next book. I try to have several projects going on at once to avoid downtime. Book publishing is a slow industry.

You shouldn’t see a change in my blog since I’ve always posted content suitable for all ages. My kids read my blog. I’ll continue to read and to review both fiction and young adult fiction. But maybe I won’t post another cocktail recipe!

You can click on the “as u like it” label below to follow the blog string. Photo of Aaron by Bowdoin College, of Mama Shujaa by Corey McGriff, of Marika by Wayne Kao, and photo of Adrian and me by Charlotte Agell. All other photos taken by me.

Visit my website for an as u like it jacket blurb.


Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

I wish you all the best with your new book and S.A.D. Please keep your blog readers updated on a publishing date. :)
My daughter who is in the fourth grade loves to read and there are times when she will share her thoughts with me on certain books and believe it or not, I have caught myself picking up those books and reading them--I love all book no matter what age group (we can learn so much from each level).
Tracy :)

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

Sarah: How exciting to see a work through to completion and have several on the go to turn to in its 'absence'. Congratulations! Let us know when to congratulate you on the next step - acceptance by a publisher.

A Cuban In London said...

What I loved the most was how you talked us through the creative process for this gem. And i agree with you that 'As You Like It' is not as difficult as some of his other pieces.

Wish you good luck.

Greetings from London.

Rosaria Williams said...

What a delightful idea to interpret Shakespeare for young audiences, and with modern events and characters. You are clever and talented.

Bee said...

I do remember your ice storm idea, and I'm so impressed that you have already brought it into being! Everything about this book (and series) sounds like you were STRUCK with inspiration!

It is fascinating to reading about your thought process -- and the shaping and fact-checking process, too. You will have an extensive "to thank" page in the published book. I adore your first photograph (with the texted title) . . . and I think it would make a good book cover!

LINDA from Each Little World said...

What an absolutely marvelous idea. And it gives you (and readers) the ability to follow a series without the characters being the same in every story. I can't wait to read this. And this strikes me as fast write given the dates you mention. I know rewrites may be involved but you really must have been enjoying the process.

Anonymous said...

This is such a fabulous idea, and I feel it would be very appealing on all sorts of levels.
I can see how young people can be really affected by what their parents do.
So useful to have young people in the house to check your current jargon and lickety- split up-to-date-ness.
This is excellent news.

Cid said...

Loved this post and hearing about and seeing all the people who contributed to your work. Congrats on your new book. I hope it is being published north of border as well.

Keri Mikulski said...

Congrats!! :)

Marika said...

Having read it, I can make everyone jealous and say that it IS everything that it sounds like it is, that is, topical, fun, engaging, a great wink back to Shakespeare, AND a smooth, well-written read! Can't wait until the editors get a load of this one!

Phillip Oliver said...

What a fantastic idea. Good luck with the book. How long does it take to get a book published?

☆sapphire said...


What a good news!
I hope your agent will find a good publisher as soon as possible!
Your new novel sounds very interesting. I can't wait to read it. "All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players" I'd like you to play an important role in the future YA literature!! Good Luck!

Les said...

Sounds as if you have put a ton of work into the book. I wish you all the best and hope you are rewarded (in several ways) for your efforts.

Delwyn said...

Hi Sarah

what an achievement, amongst many on the boil...

well done Sarah...for the creative concepts ...the fresh approach...and the hard work seeing it to fruition...

good luck

Happy days

Kathryn/ said...

Wow! Brave! I can't begin to imagine having "several book projects going" at once. One is all i can handle!
But I certainly agree with the Publishing is a Slow Process observation. :) Good for you, Sarah! I've actually wondered about writing for teens myself.
i adore all the CW tv shows! It's probably in me. But one at a time is my speed, slow as that would be.
Best wishes for a speedy turnaround. It can happen!

Sarah Laurence said...

Tracy, thank you! I agree: a good book is a good book. Reading along with your kids encourages reading. I’m sure your daughter loves the attention.

Bonnie, I’d love to be able to share that good news one day. Fingers crossed. Thanks!

ACIL, it was fun being able to track an idea to a MS through my blog. As You Like It deserves more attention. Rosalind is one of my favorite literary characters.

Lakeviewer, that is encouraging to hear from a former teacher. Thank you!

Bee, this story was full of inspiration from many sources. My acknowledgment page will be pages should that happy day ever come. Your encouragement helped too. The missing friend in the narrative is Bea for Beatrice (Much Ado,) but I liked the overlap with your blog tag too. You're right about the cover potential of that shot - I'll put it away for later.

Ms Wis, I did write this book faster than anything I’ve ever written. It was a story demanding to be told. I also think novel writing is a skill that improves with practice – I find each one easier. You are right- I love the process. It would be fun if this book led to a series. My novel is written for ages 12-17, but older fans of Shakespeare would enjoy it too. Thanks for your support!

ewix, thank you! I figured it was easier to open the door than to close it. To my surprise, my daughter was a big help. I started writing as an intellectual break from being a stay-at-home mom, and now I’ve come full circle. I love that my children are aiding my creative process.

Cid, thanks, but the book hasn't sold yet. My agent will be looking for a publisher when the manuscript is ready to go out. I believe North American rights include Canada. Part of the reason I love her agency (JVNLA) is that they have partner agents abroad and sell foreign rights. I think this story would have universal appeal since Shakespeare is taught globally and teens having fun in NYC fascinate young readers.

Keri, thanks!

Marika, thank you so, so much for your help and encouragement!

Phillip, it’s a long journey from ms to bookstore. Often a manuscript (ms) goes back and forth between a writer and an agent. That revision process can take weeks or months. Then an agent “shops” a ms, looking for editors who would be interested.

A ms may get several reads at a publishing house, and the decision is usually made at an editorial board meeting involving marketing too. More mss are rejected than accepted. Sometimes so many publishers want a ms, that it sells in an auction arranged by the agent. Once an offer is made, the agent negotiates a deal, which can take a month before all parties sign.

If no offer is made, the ms gets sent to a new round of editors, sometimes after the author revises in response to editorial criticism. So the sale can happen in weeks, but it usually takes months or even more than a year, especially in hard economic times.

Once the contract is signed, the author goes through rounds of revision with the editor and then the copy editor. From the final print ready galley, it will be about 6 months during which time marketing is hard at work on advance sales, reviews and publicity. For bestseller authors, the process is accelerated. A new, non-celebrity author typically waits 1 1/2 years to 2 years from the original offer to seeing his/her book in a bookstore.

Sapphire, you chose just the right line from As You Like It. I love it! Thank you.

Les, it was a lot of work, but I loved doing it. Thanks for your well wishes.

Delwyn, thank you so much.

Kathryn, I’m a juggler, but I know published authors who prefer to write one book at a time and others more like me. There isn’t one right way to do it. It sounds like you’ve found an approach that works well for you – good luck with it. You have to write for the joy of it.

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Rose said...

Congratulations, Sarah! This has to be very exciting for you. I checked out your website for the jacket blurb; it sounds very appealing to young girls. After all, what young girl can't relate to friend problems! And who knows, they might get curious and go on to read Shakespeare:)

tina said...

Congrats Sarah! And much luck with it!

Sarah Laurence said...

UR, Rose and Tina, thank you!

Barrie said...

How fun to hear the story behind the story! Fingers crossed!

Sarah Laurence said...

Barrie, toes too.

Alyson | New England Living said...

Wow! Congratulations on completely what sounds like a fabulous book! This is one I'd definitely like to have my oldest read. So, I'm keeping my fingers crossed. :)

Sarah Laurence said...

Alyson, I’m sure that Brooke would love this novel, given the teens in NYC setting. By the time it’s in a bookstore (positive, hopeful thoughts!), your younger daughter would be ready for it too. Thanks for your support!

Cheffie-Mom said...

How exciting!! Congratulations!! Love the team work!!

Sarah Laurence said...

CM, yes, the teamwork was key, and I had a great team. The first draft is written in complete isolation, but then it's time to share with a few. I hope to share with all someday.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to read your book - I have a new found appreciation for teen literature. I've been reading my son's books - the young James Bond series by Charlie Higson and the Alex Rider series (I've had trouble getting to the library lately). I have found them to be wonderful reads. Either that or the older I get, the lower my reading level becomes.

Cynthia Pittmann said...

Congratulations on completing the book! And thank you so much for letting me read a few pages before you were finished.

All of us at Oasis blog (including my husband and teen daughter, Amber) thank you for the mention.

We had a lively discussion about how a Puerto Rican teen would sound in New York.(My husband was born there but my daughter is more connected with the youthful sound of Spanish spiced with English.)

How satisfying to finish your project and begin/continue another. I look forward to seeing your book published! And soon!

You are certainly busy!

Sarah Laurence said...

Julie, welcome to my blog and thanks for the support! I think YA literature has evolved since we were kids. These authors are tackling current day issues that resonate with readers of all ages. Plus they are fun and easy reads. Isabelle Allende did a really interesting YA trilogy that is often miss-shelved in the adult section. The first is City of The Beasts. I bought it accidentally for myself and loved it, so did my son. She’s a favorite author of mine for adult fiction too. There are plenty of adults reading and enjoying YA literature. I’m looking forward to visiting your blog later today.

Cynthia, hubbie and Amber, thank you so much for your help and support! The Puerto Rican in the US character was an adult, but if she has a niece, I will go back to Amber for help. As I said to you, it’s important to get both the Spanish and the linguistic mistakes a Spanish speaker might make in English sound realistic. It was only a few pages, but they were important scenes. Life has been insanely busy – more on the post tomorrow.

Dawn Maria said...

Wow, I feel like I got a great peek into your creative process. Thank you for sharing. I love hearing what sparks ideas and inspires other writers.

My own kids are too old to be read aloud to, but I get to do it at work. Right now I'm reading THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX to the class and I love watching their faces when something funny happens. I don't care how much media children are exposed to, they enjoy being read to.

I will be thinking good thoughts for all your projects Sarah.

Sarah Laurence said...

DM, you are so right about the importance of reading to children. What a terrific job you have! Thanks for your good thoughts on my book.

All, thanks! It really helped to get such positive feedback on my new project. I'm smiling while I wait to see what happens.

Hana Njau-Okolo said...

I have stapled my fingers!

And thanks for sharing the process with me. I truly enjoyed that sneak preview. I look forward to the book!

TBM said...



I am ready to read this now! (bouncing in my seat).

You know I love YA lit, Sarah. Congratulations on completing your novel! I have a feeling Roxi will love this one too :-)

Sarah Laurence said...

MS, thank you so much for your help with the manuscript and your encouragements. And for the humor that keeps me laughing.

JAPRA, I love your enthusiasm! This book is definitely one for Roxi and you to share. I hope that day comes soon.