May 31, 2015

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT With “Peanut Butter and Jellyfish” (CAST OF WONDERS, December 2011) Guy Stewart #18

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Since then, I figured I’ve got enough publications now that I can share some of the things I did “right” and I’m busy sharing that with you.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote above will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

I have been living with the really ALIEN WheetAh in my head for nearly a decade now.

They were the subject of the first science fiction novel for adults that I have ever written; they are the subject of four or five short stories that I have been trying to sell people on for almost as long as they’ve lived in my head.

“Peanut Butter and Jellyfish” was my first attempt to write about them from the perspective of teenagers – and so, it was the first thing I did right to sell this story.

Let me back up a bit: the WheetAh are mobile plants, descended from some sort of creature that resemble volvox ( Anyway, in this “universe”, Humans and the WheetAh are the only form of intelligent life. While Humans have never had any trouble eating plants, WheetAh have never had any trouble consuming small mammal-like creatures on their home world of Wheet. This is an obvious instant set up for conflict!

I wrote the novel INVADER’S GUILT with the intent of showing the conflict between Human and WheetAh coming to a close with our invasion of their home world – a story in which we are the alien invaders. It’s not done often – I can’t think of a novel in which we’re the bad aliens – and it’s not popular. I thought it should be done.

At any rate, I wrote “Peanut Butter and Jellyfish” long after I’d invented the WheetAh, their language, cultures, races, and ecology; therefore the second thing I did right was I used a place that I’d already carefully created. (This happened because I made a promise to myself that any world I invented I would not just “throw away”. I would use each one for at LEAST two stories. So far I’ve managed to do that!)

In “PB&J”, I also did right by creating a mystery. There was someone in the crew who hated the WheetAh on board. The WheetAh “teenagers” and the Human teenagers had won the chance of spending time on a research vessel on the oceans near Hawaii. Separated from police and others who could protect them, they had to solve the mystery themselves while avoiding the traps the killer set out for them.

The fourth thing I did right? I released the science geek in me as the crew and the “kids” of both kingdoms encountered bioluminescent jellyfish that I’d stumbled across in some science article or other.

Last of all, I persisted. According to my records, it took me seven submissions over twelve months to sell the story. Some of those subs were PAPER (yeah, those of you who were born into the electronic publishing era have no idea what it was like to send out paper submissions. I’ve read many weepy-whining about how long writers have to wait to hear back from publishers “these days”…when I didn’t find it strange to wait for a response for over a year.)

So – the five things I did right to get “PB&J” into the hands of a publisher – oh, and it was my first podcast, too! – are as follows:
  1. I wrote for teenagers.
  2. I wrote it in a world I’d already carefully built.
  3. I wrote a mystery.
  4. I wrote for myself as well as an audience.
  5. I persisted in submitting it until I found a market.

What did you do right when you wrote and finally published a story for young people?


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