A Teenage Suicide: How I Jumped From Crime to Young Adult
Ian Truman, Montreal, June 6, 2012
I guess that in a sense, I didn’t really jump from “Crime” to “Young Adult”. Or at least the jump didn’t seem to be that far. I believe it is because I apply a few writing techniques regardless of what project I am working on. It allows me to write in a variety of styles while maintaining my own voice regardless of what I write. I have always been a fan of realism. Some of my major influences include Hemingway, Mordecai Richler and Dennis Lehane. I always try to depict life as I see it in a certain context and I try to avoid filtering it through my own judgements. That is basis of my approach to writing.
My very first novel was titled “The Factory line” and it was quite simply, a day in the life of a factory worker. Although I enjoyed writing it (and it was mostly therapeutic, I have to admit) I did not enjoy so much the years I spend on assembly lines. (But that is in the past, I have since then managed to get back into college and get out of the factories, for now at least.) That novel was HORRIBLE to write. I had no knowledge of techniques or structure. I had no work ethic which I have since developed. The novel was really more of a gathering of small, realistic snapshots about life in a factory. After writing and re-writing it several times, I considered it a failure before sitting down and trying to organize my writing. That is the moment I began to develop skills that would greatly improve my productivity as a writer: I needed a plan, a structure. Now, I know a lot of writers I’ve met over the years believe that a plan is something too restrictive to their creativity. On the contrary, I believe that your plan has to be creative as well. Take my first novel, The Factory Line. I wanted to depict life in a Canadian factory. So my plan was simply to follow this one fella through a single day in his life. So I made it a Friday night and I managed to adapt each snapshot I had into a storyline that made sense. That was the only way The Factory Line could exist and I used this kind of creative planning in order to get it done.
Still, I believe my first novel has a lot of problems, flaws and such. I wanted my second novel to be more structured. I also wanted to bash in the door of the largest market out there: Mystery novels. I figured I had nothing to lose and “if you’re going to try, go all the way.” That’s what Bukowski said anyways. I came up with a title pretty early as well: “Tales of lust, Hate and Despair.” I made a three page outline only with plot points, actions and twists. I’d say I planned 70% of the novel before writing a single line, allowing myself to have that “30%” room for creative inputs I might come up with during the bulk of the writing process. I wrote most of it during my studies in Creative Writing at Concordia University and I have to admit that I am pretty damn proud of the novel. The thing is, it was not a “formula” novel. It was not a series either. I do not write like a 24 episode or an “Alex Cross” series. When I think about it, my crime novel is still very much realistic and (I hope) perfectly believable in terms of place and violence. I used real names of streets, neighbourhoods and places in Montreal. I always do a little bit of research to make sure the types of cars I put in or the songs I mention do fit the “era” of the novel (in this case, most of the story took place in the 90’s). I have nothing against writers who like hyperboles or fantastic storylines; it is simply not my thing.
That was my second novel. I am now working on my third and I guess I was as surprised as the next guy that I ended up writing a YA novel. Now, YA is just as wide a category as anything else in the publishing world, but “A Teenage Suicide” is still very much a young adult title. As I come from the Province of Quebec, teenage suicide (and suicide in general) is an everyday reality as we have one of (or THE) highest suicide rate in the world. Having struggled with this issue myself as a teenager and a young adult, I felt compelled to address the issue. I also wanted to do it without being moralistic or wanting so save the world. Somebody else will save the world, I, for now, am just trying to write good novels. So I went to work on my third title and again, I stayed true to my style and I had developed a work ethic that had been good to me. I wanted to depict the life of young men and women as realistically as possible without judgment or restrain. I also planned out 70% of the novel ahead of time and I am surprising myself every time I sit down to write that the novel might actually grow beyond my planned “30%” room. The original structured actually allows me to expand the story without getting lost in loose strands. I know it sounds weird, or no so much if you are a writer as well, but I feel there comes this point in a story where the characters you have created react on their own terms and I often find myself surprised about the answers that I let them give me. I guess this is my approach to dialogue: keep it as realistic as possible and let your characters say everything they actually want to say. I don’t want my characters to stop talking to one another. This was true in “The Factory Line”, it was true in “Tales of lust, Hate and Despair” and it is becoming increasingly true as the pages to “A Teenage Suicide” stack up on my virtual desk.
One more thing that made this transition from crime to YA no so dire is my “writing playlist”. I am a huge music fan, and of a variety of styles and eras so vast you’d be surprised. I was a signer in a hard-core band before I began writing novels and I will always look to music for inspiration. This is why, when I come up with a new idea or a project, I try to figure out a musical mood for the project and I make myself a playlist. When I wrote The Factory Line, I was working in a factory, so the playlist kinda made itself up: whatever was on the radio. But I did look into more songs and albums from what the blue collars hear all day (the radio really fucking sucks, let me tell you that). And so I ended up with a weird mix of country, gansta rap, metal, classic rock and etc… My playlist for that project included David Allan Coe, Wu-Tang Clan, Tupac, Social Distortion, Motorhead, Guns n’ Roses, Danzig… Anything a proletarian may listen too, I listened to it too (and hell, I like the stuff as well.) My playlist for Tales of Lust, Hate and Despair was darker and grittier. It was more like Neurosis, Marilyn Manson, Sage Francis, Tom Waits, Onyx, Nirvana etc… I wanted the whole of the urban-poverty experience. (And let’s admit, I experienced it myself) so that kind of music felt right for the project. My YA novel, despite being titled “A Teenage Suicide” has more of a hopelessly romantic feel to it. I listen to a lot of softer music like Sigur Ros or Mogwai. I also have chapters that need something a bit more rough, but I find myself listening to “positive hard-core” like Rise Against, Have Heart, Champion etc… This is because I don’t want A Teenage Suicide to be melodramatic or preachy. I just want to write the story of teenagers and young adults who are growing up in a world that is not giving them a place. I wanted to address issues that I was facing myself not so long ago (I am 29 years old now). I know that how I felt only a decade ago or so, is still how a lot of young people feel today and I wanted to give them a story they could relate too. A Teenage Suicide is very much a “coming of age” story, but sometimes, coming of age hits a concrete wall.
Take care of each other out there.
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I would like to thank Aside from Writing for letting me use a bit of their space. I hope you enjoyed my 2 cents, feel free to contact me if you have any praises, insults or death threats. Contact me *I do my own follow-ups on social networks; it does take a bit of time, thank you for your patience.