The first thing I ever had published was a short story I wrote for my 10th grade English class called “Goodbye, Annabel,” which won a local contest and got printed in the newspaper. It was a portrait of a ten-year-old girl saying goodbye to her ragdoll before being sent to boarding school, and unless you were immune to symbolism hitting you on the forehead with a hammer, you got that she was really saying goodbye to childhood. (Nobody questioned why a ten-year-old girl would be sent to boarding school in this day and age, and they gave me fifty bucks in prize money, which I promptly blew on Duran Duran cassette tapes and Swedish fish at the White Plains Galleria.)
I wrote many more short stories throughout high school and then at college, in the undergraduate Creative Writing program at Brown. Some were pretty good. Many were pretentious and inauthentic and I cringe to even think about them now. It wasn’t until my last story in my last college fiction writing class with the renowned writer John Hawkes that I finally found something that felt like my voice.
Which is, of course, when I stopped writing them and turned instead to screenplays, and then, eventually, novels.
Recently, however, I was invited to write a short story for the new HarperTeen Impulse digital imprint, and I jumped at it. Here was an incredible opportunity to get back to the format I came from, and in a way that would let me further develop one of the supporting characters from “You Look Different in Real Life.” The problem was, I was so rusty at writing in short form, I could almost hear the joints creak as I typed. To further slow those joints and make them periodically freeze up, I had to write the story for two types of readers: those who had not yet read YLDIRL, and those who had. Yikes.
But I forged on, and it was one of the best writing experiences I’ve ever had. You know when you think something’s going to be a breeze and then you realize it’s totally not, and it’s actually a challenge, and you can’t back out now so you just take on the challenge and guess what, you rock it and feel like you got that much better at something? THAT. I’m so thrilled to announce that “Playing Keira” will be available for download from HarperTeen Impulse on May 7, 2013 (and will include a teaser for “You Look Different in Real Life”). Here, now, the deets:
The premise was simple: Five kids living their real lives, with a new movie about them every five years. But that was before Keira’s mother walked out and the cameras captured every heartbreaking detail for the world to see. Now Keira doesn’t even know what “real life” means—she only knows how to pretend to be herself. Then she meets Garrett on a bus to New York City. At first, Keira creates a fictional identity and enjoys the freedom of being someone totally different. But as their brief connection turns into something more, Keira starts to see what life could be like if she just stopped pretending and accepted the person she really is.
Learn more about HarperTeen Impulse.
I think this imprint will be a great opportunity for authors to not only explore their stories in fresh ways, but also create new ones that may not fit into the novel format. And really, anything that encourages YA readers to check out short stories and novellas is a win for literature in general.
Actually, one of the beautiful things about my experience here was that it forced me to read short stories again, and YA short stories in particular, in an effort to loosen up those old joints. I have to give a shout out to two fantastic anthologies that to me, represent the best of this under-recognized genre:
“Sixteen: Stories About That Sweet and Bitter Birthday,” edited by Megan McCafferty. This one includes standout stories by Sarah Dessen, Julianna Baggott, M.T. Anderson, and Ned Vizzini.
“Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd,” edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci. So. much. great. writing. In small bites so you can really appreciate it. My favorites here were from Cassandra Clare, David Levithan, Kelly Link, and Sara Zarr…although they are all terrific reads.
I hope YA fans will continue to mix up their reading by picking up an anthology or checking out the new crop of “digital original” short form YA fiction out there from HarperTeen and other publishers.