Friday, November 21, 2008

Member Carollyne Hutter: Teens on my Mind

Writer and instructor Leslie Pietrzyk recently alerted me to one of her workshop participants, WC member Carollyne Hutter, and suggested that a post that Carollyne did for her wonderful blog, Work in Progress, might make a great fit for our Writer's Center blog. I agreed. As I'm coming to discover about Leslie, she knows what she's talking about.

Carollyne has recently written a YA novel. And in this post she discusses the genesis of that project (and beyond). At the end of her post you'll find her bio.

When a baby is born, a parent usually gently rocks her or him and thinks about the road ahead—the baby’s first words, first steps, first day at kindergarten. With misty eyes, the parent will continue rocking peacefully and then freeze with dread: What to do when the baby becomes a teenager? “How will I survive living with a teenager?” the parent anguishes.

A few years ago, a teenager, Brigit, came to live with me, but she didn’t move into my house, she moved into my mind. I was looking out the window, pondering the difference between the U.S. and Germany, when I heard a teenage voice in my head complaining how difficult it was to move between the two countries. I tried to shake the voice out, like water after swimming, but Brigit’s voice kept bubbling up.

A couple of weeks later, I dropped in at the last minute at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) New York conference. When I went to register, they told me that only a few break-out sessions were available and they put me in teen writing.

Ben Schrank of Razorbill led the teen writing session, talking in a relaxed, conversational tone about writing a young-adult novel (YA). He eased some of my fears of writing a YA, such as how to deal with current teenage jargon (His advice: Don’t bother, by the time the novel comes out, the jargon will be out of date.)

Ben stressed the importance of putting humor in a YA. When he said that I knew I was hooked (I had wanted to use more humor in my writing) and that Brigit and I were going to live together for a while.

So after the conference, I let Brigit unpack and move in with me. I would like to say it all worked fine and it was wonderful having a sarcastic teenager living in my mind, but it wasn’t. Sometimes, I was so annoyed with Brigit—her fixation on clothes and appearance, her obsession with coolness, and her stubbornness were trying. I wrote quickly trying to get her out of my head.

As I wrote, I did come to understand her and feel a real sympathy for her—it’s a big move from Munich, Germany to Madison, Wisconsin. And it is tough being 14, struggling to feel grown-up and yet being dictated by her mother’s world.

When I had a good second draft of Brigit’s story, Homesick, I asked talented fiction writers I know to comment on parts or all of it (Deanna Carlyle, Bonny Becker, Rebecca Flowers, and Leslie). This led to a couple more rounds of revisions.

And then the moment came. I felt the story was ready. I humbly lay the manuscript at the feet of a delightful, but picky 14-year-old girl. I armed her with markers and asked her to comment on what worked and didn’t. Her simple words: “I love it,” when she finished reading the novel were for me the highest praise I could possible ever get.

Now Homesick is done and I am dealing with the publishing process, looking for an agent with whom I mesh. In the meantime, I’ve started on the next book. The other day two voices and two books came into my head. One was Brigit, explaining her story wasn’t done and she needed a sequel.

The other voice was talking about being a teenager and dealing with Washington politics. I wrote up the opening page for this new novel and read it to my mother. There was something strange about this voice. “It’s a boy voice,” my mother said. Oh, no! This is really going to take me into new foreign territories. Can I survive living with a teenage boy in my head?

Carollyne Hutter

About: For over a decade, Carollyne Hutter has been a freelance writer/editor in the Washington, DC area, specializing in international and environmental topics. Her website——will be up soon. Please visit the site to read Carollyne’s stories (including the opening chapters of Homesick), quirky essays, and nonfiction pieces. You can contact her at


Jean Wogaman said...

Thanks for putting up a post on writing for children.

Gottawrite Girl said...

Carollyne, we haven't met yet, but I'm in your critique group! So wonderful to see this post on your advancing career and completed ms. "I love it." Enough said. So wonderful. Can't wait to hear more!

And thanks, Kyle, for including our favorite genre... Go YA!