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Why My Writing Went All Benjamin Button

Or: Why I Write Middle Grade

When I was a teen, I wanted to write adult fiction. In my mid-twenties, I realized I was all about YA. Just before I turned 30, I started my first middle grade.

So in my sixties I fully expect to be rich off my stellar touch-and-feel board books.

Why the reversal? What's the difference between young adult and middle grade anyway? Well, that's a post for another day. But I can tell you what made me go back to junior high if you're considering doing the same.

My first (forever trunked) novel was young adult, with the main characters at the nice, neat age of sixteen. I was working on a second when another, separate character introduced herself in my head. She didn't belong in that WIP, and I didn't quite get her. She was younger and goofier and more awkward than the characters I'd been writing about. Also, she liked to blog, and my WIP was set in 1912.

I wished my characters weren't arthritic. 
So I ignored her.

Then I read Savvy. Now, I could never choose a "favoritest book ever," or even "best book of 2009." Too many. But I can tell you this: I read a lot of books last year that made me say "I love this."

Savvy made me say, "I wish I'd written this."

Two very different things. I couldn't stop thinking about the voice, the innocence, the insecurities and the butterfly-dancing romance that came along with this story of a thirteen year old girl figuring out her own powers. I loved it. I wanted to write a middle grade. And the aforementioned ignored character knocked on my brain and went "He-llo?!"

And that was it. I named her Ruth, wrote the first scene and let her ramble without even plotting. Ruth's story came along eventually.


I think it's like finding "your" genre. Plenty of authors can write well in several genres, but for a lot of us there's one that feels particularly right. I remember hearing Carrie Ryan say she'd written tons of chick lit before realizing she's a bit better at darker, more horrifying, brain-nomming things. I adore YA, and may very well attempt to write another in the future. But writing middle grade is like slipping into my old, worn-out flip flops.

For now. But if you see Grammy MiSchu's Made of Awesome Finger Puppet Board Book in 4D on the shelves in forty years, you'll know the Benjamin Button curse continued.

And please, pick up a copy. Your grandkids will love it.
Michelle Schusterman

Michelle writes books for kids, screenplays for a tv/film production company, and music for anyone who'd buy a "groove matters" bumper sticker. She lives in New York City with her husband (and band mate) and their chocolate lab (who is more of a vocalist). She is the author of middle grade series I Heart Band - 2014, and The Kat Sinclair Files - 2015 (both from Grosset).

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14 comments:

  1. I'm always fascinated to hear about the little things that change our directions. I read Savvy and LOVED it as well.

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  2. Please write a touch and feel board book.
    Also this post makes me want to write MG (maybe when you've moved on to board books, I'll move to MG heheheee)

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  3. Is that a THUNDERCATS Cake? Nice. My parents didn't love me enough to get me anything other than a cookie puss cake.

    I teach middle grade but I write YA. Maybe eventaully when I'm done writing penis jokes I'll be able to write something my students will be able to read. I really think a part of writing books for a younger audience as to do with maturity.

    What ARE the values you want to teach your children?

    The younger the reader the more responsibility falls on the author to make sure the message is clear.

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  4. I felt the same way about SAVVY. LoveloveLOVE.

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  5. Board book is in the works.

    And it IS a Thundercats cake! THUNDERCATS, HO!!!!

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  6. Savvy was indeed a terrific book.

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  7. Amazing posts! You have made me determined to read Savvy :D Love the pic <3

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  8. I can't wait to read your touch and feel board book, but am even more excited to touch and feel your middle-grade book.
    sell, baby, sell!

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  9. HAAAAA....that was good, Kirsten. :D

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  10. Remember Sweet Valley Twins? That's the series I wish I wrote. I'm still half convinced Jessica Wakefield is my best friend! :)

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  11. What a fun endeavor! Glad I found you on your anniversary. :)

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  12. I'm still waiting for the right character to knock at the back of my brain. It seems like those I've created have been too cookie-cuttered, sort of like your nice, neat 16-year-old.

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  13. This is such a lovely post!
    I think 13 is a wonderful age..transitional and, well, just beautiful.
    Glad you found your 'call'.

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  14. Man, I totally get this. Right now I'm back and forth between YA and adult. And I'm really unsure about genre (other than NOT historical). I guess I just have to write til I know.

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Item Reviewed: Why My Writing Went All Benjamin Button Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Michelle Schusterman