Monday, July 25, 2011

Will Clark and young adult writing

When I was 14 I was, shall we say, greatly enamored of a baseball player. I won't say which one. Okay, fine, it was Will Clark, who played for the San Francisco Giants from 1986-1993 and had a swing like a dream. I was not to blame for this. When I was 12, my dad took me to my first professional league baseball game--the Giants, of course, and I recall them winning against St. Louis with some outrageous score like 22-2. This kind of display made me into an instant baseball fan--how could it not? And at that game, Will Clark was on display in all his young glory. I, a pubescent tween, could hardly be helped for taking an instant liking to him. Probably, I was in between adoring actors or musicians. Will appeared at just the right time.

I did the best I could to sustain my adoration even though my mom and I moved to the east coast. I got Will's baseball cards, I had posters of him, I scoured the newspapers eagerly for reports. Because of my distance from the Bay Area, this took a certain amount of effort. (You Internet kids have all the fun nowadays.) When my mother suggested that I would grow out of this fixation, I insisted I would not--and probably spent a year or two more than necessary remaining devoted, just to prove a point. When my dad met Will and got his autograph for me, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw his real signature. I was in raptures.

I totally had this figure.

There was only one thing to be done. I had to write.

Writing, of course, is how I handled all my early emotions--pouring out hopes and dreams and fantasies and scenarios and possibilities into stories. When I was 14, I wrote stories of me and Will, and our married life together, and our eventual six children. At no point in my life have I actually wanted six children, but in these stories I was somehow unable to avoid making them with my fabulous husband Will. Will is eleven years older than me, but I never minded; in my stories I think I even mentioned how plenty of couples have such age gaps, and as age gaps go, that wasn't a bad one.

I filled reams of Mead notebooks with these stories, and, in a fit of madness, passed them to my friends to read. It was ridiculous, but my friends not only read them, but said they liked them. This was their undoing, because it only spurred me on more. At one point, a friend told her mother all about my stories and her mother asked me if I would like her to show them to her publishing friend. Cringing in horror, I said no. But perhaps I would think about it later.

Ah, were it that easy.

So there's this web site for young adults called Inkpop, run by HarperCollins. Fair disclosure: HarperCollins asked me to look at Inkpop. I did, and all I could think of was: I sure wish I had this when I was a kid. I could have uploaded my stories there, had them commented on, maybe grown as a writer. (Maybe Will would have seen them and known instantly that I was the one for him.) Instead, it took me years to see that those early stories about me and Will Clark were evidence of a writing bug that I could never shake. Maybe if I had let stories like that--if not about me and Will, but about anything else--take flight, I would have grown more as a writer earlier on. I might have learned more about the craft earlier. I could have grown my armadillo hide earlier on--you know the one that takes years to grow as a writer?

Inkpop follows in the steps of Authonomy in that every month, five of the top-voted projects are reviewed by HarperCollins editors. But while that's certainly a fantastic aim of the site, it's not what I see as the main benefit--I see the ability to read and comment on other work by young adults as a valuable learning tool. Forums for young writers also encourage a young community.

Sure, young writers can join sites like Authonomy, but as I was looking through Inkpop's bright, user-friendly interface, I found myself glad that there's a moderated site specifically for young people. And the quality is pretty dang good, jugding by the excerpts from the current top 5 fiction projects. The site also has poetry and short story sections, too. And of course, the banner ads running throughout the site are for young adult novels, so the whole thing caters to their world of reading and writing, and I have to say I love it.

So, what ever happened to my Will Clark paraphernalia and stories? I eventually destroyed the stories in a fit of embarrassment of what I'd written--and as I recall, that was quite a process considering I had to tear them out of spiral bound notebooks and then hand-shred the pages with scissors. None of those newfangled personal shredders back then, no.

Incidentally, Will left the Giants and finished his career with the evil Cardinals. He's now back with the Giants--working in their front office, which means he represents the club at various events. And, as you can see from his picture, he's...um...matured.

Yeah, these kids have it easy these days. All they need to do it hit the delete key when it comes to embarrassing material. But then again, maybe they'll upload it to Inkpop and find out that instead of people laughing, they're getting reviewed by big house editors.

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