Wednesday, September 28, 2016

1 A Narrow-Minded Writer in a Broad World

We're excited to announce Kim Zarins, author of SOMETIMES WE TELL THE TRUTH, as our Writer on Writing guest as she talks about the importance of writing what you love. 

"As a writer, opportunities will present themselves—contests, calls for submissions, a librarian who reports there are not enough YA nonfiction texts on the Zika virus or freshwater fish. But what I’ve learned is that I’m not the person to scramble to a keyboard and write that book on fish...I learned to embrace writing only the things I’m passionate about."

Long ago I reached the low-point of my writing career. I did not sell my first novella, but I realized a novella is an unusual format. I wrote my first novel, which I loved, and failed to sell that too. 

I floundered. I’d heard about magazines being a better way to break in. I started submitting stories and poems. I didn’t sell those either. Writing contests? Also a no-go.

Ah, everyone said nonfiction was an easier way to break in—I tried that. Several fails, but one well-researched piece got a nibble and a request for revisions from a major children’s magazine. Yay, that was huge! I did the edits. Held my breath. Got back a letter from the editor apologizing because his colleagues thought that the topic I’d chosen was too similar to another article of theirs from a previous year.

Major. Slump. Around then, I found a notice for writers needed for greeting-card content. I set to work. Scribbled various happy birthday jokes on an envelope. Stared at my list. And then it dawned on me painfully…

"I actually hated greeting cards. I did not want to write them. The publishing credit wasn’t worth it to me. That’s when I realized I needed to figure out what was worth it to me."

As a writer, opportunities will present themselves—contests, calls for submissions, a librarian who reports there are not enough YA nonfiction texts on the Zika virus or freshwater fish. But what I’ve learned is that I’m not the person to scramble to a keyboard and write that book on fish. There are better-qualified people to do that, people passionate about those subjects. Those writers will joyfully respond to that call.

I learned to embrace writing only the things I’m passionate about. After my epiphany, I started writing again—but only the things I wanted to write. 

"If I never got published, I at least would have the satisfaction of following my dreams."

This might not be your philosophy, and that is fine. If you knew nothing about fish, but someone said you’d likely score a contract, and so you hit the library and the lakes to whip up a proposal, then you are a broad-minded person. You’re curious and willing to write anything, which shows an adventurous, healthy mindset. A good writer friend of mine has discovered wonderful projects through serendipity. As a random example, responding to a contest to write the best circus story for a middle grade audience can lead some writers to a fresh setting and voice…perhaps material for a future novel or a nonfiction book on the history of clowns. Contests and opportunities lead to new projects. New horizons.

But I’m not that person. I’m a narrow-minded writer. I’m using this term affectionately—and I’m making this recipe up and serving it to you to see if it tastes right—but I’ve often read that you should write everyday (a separate topic), but no one says what you should write. It’s not an issue for a broad-minded writer, but for a narrow-minded one, writing can be draining when it’s so far from the writing you actually want to do. 

"So if you are in a slump, it might not be you. It might be your project. You might need to read for a while to reorient and get back into your zone. Because narrow-minded writers needs to fill their well more often, in a more targeted way."

I finally have a debut novel just published called Sometimes We Tell the Truth. It’s a YA novel about teens telling stories on a long bus ride to pass the hours, and as the tales flow, secrets about the storytellers start getting revealed. It’s also a retelling of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In the day job I’m lucky to have, I teach Chaucer to college students. Before then, I studied Chaucer for my PhD. I’ve spent my entire adult life with Chaucer, which is wonderful, because he makes me laugh.

This novel was the perfect project, the story about storytelling that I wanted to tell above all others. I love this project so much I’m telling you about it today, just like I told the guy at the grocery store and the doctor and even my dentist in between bouts of drilling. The project is pure passion, and I’ve finally bridged my creative life with my English-major nerd, medieval side. But I would not have gotten to this point to write this novel and champion it if I hadn’t stayed on my own course, reading the things I desired to read, teaching the texts the desired to teach, writing the unpublished drafts I desired to write. This trajectory and novel could not have happened if I hadn’t been stubborn. 

"Because passion’s best ally isn’t talent or even time. It’s stubbornness."

If you’re narrow-minded like me, your creative brain needs your advocacy, not just to carve out hours, but to pursue the work your heart truly desires. Yes, contests and such might coincide with your interests, and there is a gray area here, but passions do not invite compromise, and there is something to be said for ignoring the contests and just writing the thing on your heart—if you can write that thing, that’s pretty much winning the best contest ever.

"Whether you are a broad-minded or narrow-minded writer, and both are great, I wish you all the very richest creative lives. The moral of my novel, I think, is that everyone has a story to tell. May your story bring out the depths you never knew you had."


Sometimes We Tell The Truth
by Kim Zarins
Simon Pulse
Released 9/6/2016

In this contemporary retelling of The Canterbury Tales, a group of teens on a bus ride to Washington, DC, each tell a story—some fantastical, some realistic, some downright scandalous—in pursuit of the ultimate prize: a perfect score.

Jeff boards the bus for the Civics class trip to Washington, DC, with a few things on his mind:
-Six hours trapped with his classmates sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.
-He somehow ended up sitting next to his ex-best friend, who he hasn’t spoken to in years.
-He still feels guilty for the major part he played in pranking his teacher, and the trip’s chaperone, Mr. Bailey.
-And his best friend Cannon, never one to be trusted and banned from the trip, has something “big” planned for DC.

But Mr. Bailey has an idea to keep everyone in line: each person on the bus is going to have the chance to tell a story. It can be fact or fiction, realistic or fantastical, dark or funny or sad. It doesn’t matter. Each person gets a story, and whoever tells the best one will get an automatic A in the class.

But in the middle of all the storytelling, with secrets and confessions coming out, Jeff only has one thing on his mind—can he live up to the super successful story published in the school newspaper weeks ago that convinced everyone that he was someone smart, someone special, and someone with something to say.

In her debut novel, Kim Zarins breathes new life into Chaucer’sThe Canterbury Tales in a fresh and contemporary retelling that explores the dark realities of high school, and the subtle moments that bring us all together.

Purchase Sometimes We Tell The Truth at IndieBound


I'm a medievalist at Sacramento State University, and I also teach a ton of children's literature. I'm coming out with my debut YA novel in Fall 2016, a modernized retelling of the Canterbury Tales called Sometimes We Tell the Truth. 

You don't have to know anything about Chaucer to enjoy the story, and if you know the Canterbury Tales, you'll see the novel on a whole other level. I hope you'll like it!

If you want to chat about books, it would be great to hear from you.

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