Friday, October 2, 2009

Responding to What's Out There--Writing Letters to the Editor


In my novel, Qualities of Light, there's a triangle of love interests. Boy likes girl, girl kind of likes boy, girl falls in love with another girl. Not so unusual these days. To make matters even more tangled (a key element of novels), the love affair begins during a family tragedy, an accident that causes the girl's young brother to fall into a coma. The accident, of course, is caused by the girl. Or so she believes. And her belief causes the main dilemma of the story.

Considering the questions exercise from last week, I was intrigued by this one, and it became the pivot for my book: Is love something you can expect, something you can delight in, when you are in deep trouble? When you have almost caused someone you love to die?

My novel has several layers of these kinds of questions. I enjoyed not knowing the answers, exploring the topics.

One topic that fascinates me is how gay or coming-out teenagers cope with their lives. So when a colleague pointed me toward an amazing article in last Sunday's New York Times magazine, I had to respond.

I decided to write a letter to the editor. My experience sparked an idea for the writing exercise this week.

Writing Your Passion
The article was called "Coming Out in Middle School" and author Benoit Denizet-Lewis interviewed some very interesting teens who did this and had various experiences. Molly, my heroine, struggles with the same issues real-life gay and straight teens face--acceptance and rejection, self-identity, the beauty of falling overwhelming in love at last. In writing the book, the struggles of my heroine and other kids like her became my passion. So I wanted to send a passionate response to this wonderful writer, Benoit Denizet-Lewis.

Letters to the editor are a chance for low-risk passion statements. They may never get published, of course, but they're a chance for you, the book writer, to get your ideas, thoughts, and words to readers who might not otherwise touch them.

My letter isn't a model of great Letters to the Editor, but here it is:

Dear Editor,
"Coming Out in Middle School" by Benoit Denizet-Lewis spoke eloquently of the challenges teens and pre-teens face when they discover they are gay. Finally our society offers support for GLBTQ youth, the necessary emotional shelter they need as they come to terms with who they are. I especially enjoyed reading the discussion of how old youth are when this awareness happens--much younger now, and thankfully much more supported.

However, the author did not cover a huge and essential aspect of teens coming out: What happens when a teen finds out they are gay because of a sudden love interest? I explore this topic in my new young-adult novel, Qualities of Light (October 2009, Spinsters Ink). Perhaps the teen has always dated boys and suddenly falls in love with a girl. What happens when the teen's friends, who are heterosexual, make fun of the new pairing? Is it safe to tell parents, who may not support the sudden change?

Unlike Denizet-Lewis's subjects, these teens may not know how to make the transition. When researching for my novel, I found few books treated this subject, few served as literary mentors for teens falling in love with their best friends, as my heroine Molly does. A vastly different experience than the gradual coming out of the profiled teens in Denizet-Lewis's excellent article.

It's timely that this article comes out at such a ground-breaking moment in our history, when states are legalizing gay marriage and accepting that love is love. What we need is more literary models for teens who experience the sudden awakening of the heart and wonder how to reorient their lives to its truth.

Sincerely,
Mary Carroll Moore

Stand Up in Print--A Way to Practice Your Book-Writing Passion
Do you feel it's important to stand up for something in print, be heard--before your book sees its readers? Find an article to praise and comment on. Editors of publications like both. They work hard to find good material and they love it when readers notice that.

Scan your local newspaper or a monthly magazine this week and find something that connects with your book topic. Craft a response. Mention your book (in progress, if that's true). Send it off. See what happens.

PS Most Letters to the Editor can be sent by email nowadays. Just follow the guidelines--they usually need your name, address, and phone, although the last two items are usually not printed.