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  • Writer's pictureLaura L. Zimmerman

What I’ve learned in the past 12 months…

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. It wasn’t until in recent conversation with a fellow writer that I was reminded it had been floating around in the back of my mind and it needed to get out. The journey of this lesson actually began more than two years ago, when I was in the midst of writing my novella series.


Many of you have asked why I’ve pulled that series from the virtual retail world, and if they will ever be available for download again in the future. The answer to the latter part of that question is, yes. The answer to the first part of the question is a bit lengthier and has taken shape over the better part of 12 months.

For those who aren’t familiar with my novella series, Now I Sleep, I refer to a work that I first began self-publishing in April 2014. Over the course of the next 6 months I released the remainder of the series, until all six novellas (that tell one single story) had been published. This series is a YA sci-fi mystery, set in present day, as well as the future.

To sum it up for you, there are two main reasons why I pulled these novellas from circulation in the late summer of 2015. First off, this was my maiden voyage into the self-publishing world. Although I had given each of the novellas a thorough revision and edit process – as well as feedback from beta readers – I did not realize at that time just how valuable professional editing is, no matter how minor the work. Throughout the early months of 2015 I felt a strong conviction that anything that bears my name should be the best possible work I can possibly provide. So until I get the process finished – with professional feedback given from an editor – they will not be available for download. The good news is, they are currently under revision as we speak! I’m excited to use the awesome services of Nadine Brandes and hope to apply her revision suggestions to the series this summer, for a fall 2016 re-release. Woo-hoo!

Now comes the second part (and more lengthy explanation) of why I pulled my novellas. See, when I first came up with the idea for this series, I wanted to portray a worldly protagonist, a young adult caught up in the superficial things in life, a shallow personality with a lesson to learn. In doing so, I placed her in a setting of the age-old Captain-of-the-cheerleader-dating-the-Captain-of-the-football-team type scenario (although, she’s not actually a cheerleader). She was most concerned with parties, shopping, skipping class to get pedi’s, etc. By the end of the novella series, she had grown exponentially, and arrived at a recognition of her true self worth and the value she adds to this world. A.K.A. No longer shallow and petty.


Therefore, in the first few novellas, there is some bad language. Nothing too over the top, mind you – I think 5 or 6 words in the first one alone? – with fewer and fewer in each subsequent novella. This was to be true to the personality of this character and her friends. I knew there was just no way a teenager who read the novella would buy the idea of the Captain of the football team declaring, “Gosh darn!” or “Shoot!” After all, some subjects are just hard and worldly and they need to be addressed as so, without the sugar coating of a faith that the character in the book might not share. (In fact, The Mid-Wife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman is a middle grade novel that won the Newberry Medal in 1996, and features a twelve-year-old girl uttering a curse word right near the beginning of the book.) It’s an ugly world and stories will reflect that ugly.

Enter the Philadelphia Writer’s ‘Write His Answer’ Conference in July/August of last year. While sitting through the MG and YA writing track I heard an interesting comment that can be summarized like this: There is plenty of ‘real world’ stuff on the market for young people already – are we to add to what’s there, or is it possible for writers to take a stand and write quality fiction for these young people without the foul language and sexualization of our society?

Epiphany moment. Yes, this. This is true, this is real. I want to write like this. I want to write books that encourage young minds and offer to tell a tale without all the junk they will surely see on TV or their iPhones anyway. I do think it’s possible to write a ‘real world’ story that will interest young people without bad language in it.

So where did this leave me with the language thing? I knew I wanted my novels to reflect reality – and sometimes that reality is filled with yuck that can’t be hidden for the story to be told. But then I wanted to be a light in the darkness for readers – to write a book where they won’t necessarily be fed the trash talk of the everyday. This actually took some work. Work and prayer. In the end, I found a way to suggest an expletive had been said or I could insert an alternate exclamation that wasn’t hokey or 1950’s sounding, to get the message across but still gave the reader the feeling that this is very much current language for teens.

There you have it. These manuscripts will be revisited to portray the same attitudes I wanted to reflect in my original work, but in a way that a parent would say they felt comfortable allowing their teenage son or daughter to read. After all, there are already enough books out there that contain language, sex and violence. Need I add one more to the pile? Nope. I’ve chosen differently. I want to provide books for MG and YA readers that won’t reinforce the crass world they are already bombarded with in social media. I’d like to provide an escape from reality.

What about you? Do you have a view on language within books for children? I’d love to hear your thoughts below! Feel free to leave a comment!

Happy reading, friends!

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