When I heard an author say that it took years to complete their latest book, I assumed they were lazy. I mean, I wrote thirty-one YA novels in ten years. During that time I also got a puppy, moved across the country, had two kids, went for (and failed) my California Driver’s license, went for it again (cheated) and passed, leased cars, bought a house, decorated said house, and did all the other things adult humans do to thrive and stay out of prison.
Then, in 2011, I had an idea for a novel. An adult novel inspired by my own dirty book club. I would call it, of course, The Dirty Book Club. Thanks to my track record, an intriguing title, and some Cuervo-flavored confidence, I was able to sell it over the phone from a villa in Mexico. As for the characters, the plot, the setting, the tone, the point? They would come. They always did.
“Writing for adults is different than writing for adolescents,” my agent warned.
“Puh-lease,” I said, with the audible eye-roll of a Clique fan, “How hard can it be?”
Cut to 2016. The novel was four years late, and I knew the answer to my question. It was hard. Brutally hard. Like, write-the-first-100-pages-ten-different-ways kind of hard.
I blamed the full moon, burn out, my troubled marriage, the fact that it was sunny every single day in Laguna Beach and perfect weather does not evoke drama. Then, I dug deeper and exhumed the following four reasons for my struggle with the transition from YA to Adult:
Lisi Harrison worked at MTV Networks in New York City for twelve years. She left her position as senior director of development in 2003 to THE CLIQUE series, which has sold over eight million copies and has been on the New York Times bestseller list for more than two hundred weeks, with ten titles hitting #1 and foreign rights sold in thirty-three countries. Now, her adult novel, THE DIRTY BOOK CLUB (Gallery Books; on sale October 10th), will please previous and new readers alike.
1. Adult novels are so incredibly … adult.
Burps aren’t funny in women’s fiction. Self-worth isn’t measured by popularity, and no one is afraid of getting grounded. Puns, acronyms, snarky comebacks, aspirational settings, bone-melting first kisses, and annoying parents don’t fly. The metrics for drama and humor are completely different. I had to endure a lot of red-penned notes from my editor reminding me of this before it sank in.
2. I wrote Middle Grade and Young Adult novels because I wanted young people to know that they’re not alone.
The way they feel is the way we all feel. I also wanted to deconstruct the “mean girl” and show the tragic and ridiculous things we do to fit in. But what could I teach women that they didn’t already know? It’s the 21st century. How could I make the story of secret club that reads dirty books meaningful to the modern 25-45 year old? Sex is no longer taboo, so why would my characters hide? What was I trying to say? I thought about my own Dirty Book Club. We were hardly sex-starved or repressed. Been there, done that, posted it. So what kept us hooked month after month? After a lot of soul searching, I realized that my dirty book club wasn’t about sex after all. It was about the intimate conversations these novels inspired. It was about truth, laughter, honesty, support, and trust. It was about the power of female friendship. And it turns out I have a lot to say about that.
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3. During this time, Fifty Shades of Grey had exploded (Pun? You decide) onto the scene.
I’ve never been one to jump on a trend, but flies unzipped at the mention of my title and I felt pressured to give the people more of what they wanted. I downloaded several books on how to write erotica, rationalized that my parents would be conveniently old and blind by publication, and reluctantly began. What followed was awkward, unnatural, and cringe-y. Still, I sallied forth. Then, I typed the word, nipple and was instantly overcome with what can only be described as flu-like symptoms. Delete. Delete. Delete. I couldn’t do it. I’ve never done “intentionally sexy” well. I am, however, a master at walk-out-of-the-bathroom-with toilet-paper-stuck-to-my-wedge-bootie. So why wasn’t I owning that? In other words, I wasted a lot of time trying to be someone I’m not. Funny, that’s what my YA characters did, and I’d always been dead against it—theoretically.
4. Those damn voices in my head wouldn’t shut up!
Lisi, you’re a YA writer, stick to what you know. You’re not ready to eat at the big kid’s table. You’ve never read the classics. You can’t possibly live up to the promise of that title. Your friends are going to read this. Your kids’ teachers are going to read this. Critics are going to read this. Your parents will for sure. So will the neighbors. And what about those opinionated book club members? If they’re not finding flaws, they’re not earning their wine. But wait, what if no one reads it? Then what are you going to do? The voices were relentless and paralyzing. They bullied me into spending days on a single paragraph and scrutinizing every sentence until the words stopped sounding like English. I tried meditation, hypnotherapy, and Pinot Noir. But the voices couldn’t be silenced. Then Prince passed away. Prince! Small as he was, that man was larger than life, and yet, he was no match for death. And that got me thinking: We’re all going to die. No one is going to remember this, so mute those damn voices and have some fun. One for the textbooks? Nope, but it worked.
Fact: When we stretch ourselves we experience growing pains. We fail a lot before we succeed and we wonder why we ever bothered. We hear those damn voices. Then, when we’ve accomplished the seemingly impossibly, we know exactly why we bothered and we leap and stretch and grow again. Our willingness to endure this maddening process is why humans walk upright and have electricity and art and antibiotics and Amazon. It’s why we have stories to tell, and why all of them are about the journey, not the destination. And so I’ve learned to embrace the journey. Without it, we wouldn’t have anything to read about.
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