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Saturday, July 11, 2009

What a difference 9 years make

Next week I'll participate in the Romance Writers of America National Conference in Washington D.C. If you're in the area, I hope you'll come see me at the booksigning for literacy at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel on Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Click here for a list of the staggering number of authors who will be there, with all proceeds going to a literacy charity. You can also catch me at the Pocket signing (MTV Books is a division of Pocket) on Friday from 9:45 to 11:15 a.m.

With this trip coming up, I've been thinking about my other travels to Washington. When I was 10, my family spent spring break there, mostly in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, because we are a family of nerds. While the rest of America gathered around the TV to watch The Cosby Show, we were watching Carl Sagan's Cosmos. When I was 17 and drum major of my high school marching band, we were part of the Cherry Blossom Festival parade. I still sleep in the T-shirt. Then, 9 years ago, I presented a paper at a the national conference in D.C. for the Rhetoric Society of America.

I was a PhD candidate in English with a concentration in rhetoric and composition. My specialty was genre studies. I'd tried unsuccessfully for years to get a novel published. I figured if I couldn't have my dream job of writing novels, the next best thing was a job writing about writing novels. And maybe, just maybe, in studying what constitutes a genre and how people learn to write it, I would discover how to get published myself.

I never stopped writing during that period. Nine years ago the YA market was in a slump. If you wanted to publish a YA romance, pretty much the only game in town was the Love Stories series. I read a bazillion of these and then wrote my own--a first stab at the idea that would later become Major Crush. The manuscript was rejected, but by that time I had so much knowledge about this genre that it was easy for me to write a pretty cool pop culture paper about what authors could and could not do in this series and why. The Rhetoric Society of America must have thought it was pretty cool, too, because I was accepted as a presenter.

A few weeks ago another PhD candidate in English contacted me with a few questions. He's writing his dissertation on how aggressively publishers market certain YA novels versus how well those novels end up selling, and Major Crush is one of his examples. I didn't ask him whether he's a frustrated YA novelist himself, but if he is, two words: keep writing. You never know what 9 years may bring.

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