The author hot seat: That was nice. What was it?

My guest today is Tricia Drammeh, another indie author struggling for recognition. I have always been struck by the thoughtful nature of Tricia’s writing with her sensitive portraits of young people on the verge of adulthood but not quite sure what they are about to plunge into. They are all flawed human beings, some of them damaged, and not all of them come through the story without suffering. All of them though are believable and touching—the hallmark of a writer with her finger on the pulse of humanity.

J: Tell us what the story/your work is about, the setting, the background, and where it takes the reader.

T: I have four published novels in three different genres. My latest release is Better than Perfect, and it’s a contemporary novel with romantic elements. It’s based in a suburban of Columbus, Ohio. Here’s the blurb:
Twenty-three-year-old Karlie is in the type of rut some people never escape from. With few friends, no boyfriend, and no plans to graduate from college any time in the immediate future, Karlie is as stuck in her ways as the elderly neighbor she spends all her time with. When her world is invaded by two surly twins bound for criminal court, a too-good-to-be-true love interest, and a cute cop who keeps showing up at the most inopportune moments, Karlie can either fight against the changes in her life, or embrace them.

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J: Sounds as though you have the ingredients of a maybe-romance. What inspired the story in the first place?

T: The story began as my Camp NaNoWriMo project two years ago. I thought it would be a great idea to write a vampire novel. Needless to say, this didn’t quite pan out. There’s not a single vampire in sight, though I did try to create a love interest who resembles many of the romantic heroes we find in Young Adult and New Adult novels—he’s rich, attractive, and showers Karlie with attention. At first, Karlie thinks he’s the perfect guy, but as she gets to know him, she begins to redefine “perfect.” She realizes that having a “perfect” boyfriend is not nearly as satisfying as making her own way in the world or achieving her dreams.

J: Did you try to get agents/publishers interested? What reactions did you get? Have they been helpful in promoting/marketing your work?

T: When I wrote my first novel, I did the query/rejection circuit. Most of the rejections I received were based solely on my query letter and not on the work at all. With Better than Perfect, I chose to skip the query process and went straight to self-publishing.

J: A story with a romantic element that doesn’t follow the standard romance formula must be difficult to market. Has it been a handicap not being able to stick a handy label onto your books?

T: It has. Better than Perfect loosely skirts the romance/chick-lit genres, though I worry that if I market it as “romance,” readers will complain there isn’t enough sex. The book focuses on the evolution of the main character, and in many ways, the love-interest is more of an antagonist than a romantic hero. This is why I’m on the fence about labeling it a romance novel.
Out of all my books, the most difficult book to label has been The Fifth Circle. I ended up not really promoting it at all. Though it features two young adult characters, the subject matter is too edgy to market toward young adults. With young adult books, it can be very difficult to portray realistic characters and some of the situations they face without offending parents who like to pretend teenagers live in a land of cotton candy, rainbows, and unicorns. And, since there is no fantasy or romance, I can’t market it as genre fiction. Basically, the book has been hanging out on Amazon for over a year and I’ve sold less than fifty copies.

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J: That is exactly the problem that faces many writers—trying to shoehorn their book into category that just doesn’t describe the work adequately. Straight romance is easy enough to market, but there is a tendency for publishers to ask for more sweet sticky romance than the story needs. I had a YA dystopian novel turned down by a very reputable publisher because the romantic element wasn’t strong enough. Romance during the Apocalypse? In a new Ice Age? With packs of mutant wolfdogs and hordes of the undead? Then there are parental expectations to contend with when the protagonists are young people. The entire planet could be torn apart by total war but you’d still get parents complaining about swear words. So, if you don’t fit into the most popular size, how do you tackle promotion?

T: With my young adult paranormal books, I was able to contact reviewers and bloggers because those books neatly fit into genres and were clearly intended for the YA audience. That’s not to say promotion was easy—it wasn’t. But at least I had some idea where to begin. With Better than Perfect, it’s very newly released, so I haven’t done much promotion. I do plan to contact some romance bloggers and we’ll see how that goes.

J: If you were to direct the public towards your novels, whose fans would you solicit?

T: Fans of Marian Keyes, Jennifer Weiner, or Emily Giffin would enjoy my new book.

Anyone who’d like to learn more about my books can find me at my website: http://www.triciadrammeh.com. You can find links to all my books there.

Thank you Tricia for letting me interview you; I know self-promotion isn’t something you jump at. There are a lot of universal truths in your books that give them a depth not often found in novels about the trials and tribulations of young people juggling school and adulthood. There is nothing flippant or dewy eyed about your characters of the portrayal of their problems. For me, they exemplify exactly what I understand by the term young adults: young people on the cusp of adulthood, still dependant on the family environment however dysfunctional that may be, but already with some of the maturity, responsibilities, and outlook of adults.

Who are the New Adults?

In an earlier blog post I wrote about the difference between Middle Grade writing and Young Adult, often dumped in the same basket. Now there’s a new genre, New Adult to fit into the relatively few years that lie between childhood and adulthood. My first reaction was enthusiastic. Maybe this is the category my books should be in. Then I had a look at what was included under the New Adult heading.

Judging by what I’ve seen so far, this new category seems to be used to add sex scenes to writing otherwise aimed at younger teenagers, so it can be presented to the eighteen plus group who I would consider adult anyway. Is this not just another marketing ploy to point eighteen/nineteen-year-olds in the direction of books with sex in them but no long words? Why can’t nineteen-year-olds read adult books like the rest of us?

When I was a young adult, we didn’t exist. You were either a child or an adult for literary requirements. When you were thirteen you got an adult library card and you graduated from the children’s section, which included books by Alan Garner, Henry Treece and Rosemary Sutcliff to the fully-fledged adult section. Or you oscillated between the two depending on your capacity to ‘get’ the adult concepts. Contrary to what some parents believe, teenagers read only if they enjoy reading—thirteen-year-olds rarely pick up a book when they are after a cheap thrill, they turn on the computer.

Which begs the question: do we need this kind of censorship in reading matter at all? I am only too pleased to see my children reading anything, and would never dream of riffling through the pages to see if I could find a dirty word or a steamy sex scene. I am much quicker to pour scorn on the quality of the writing than to be shocked at the number of swear words used in it.

But then, I am maybe just a born-again hippie with utopian tendencies, who subscribes to the ideas of out of date educationalists like Piaget and Montessori, and who believes that giving children free access to pens and paper is more important than any electronic gadget you can name. l am probably an irresponsible parent, and it’s not surprising that my children are lazy, happy, under-achievers.

Part of growing up is pushing back the boundaries, testing, and experimenting. If a thirteen-year-old wants to read Anna Karenina, fair play to her/him I say. And I certainly wouldn’t plough through The Brothers Karamazov to see if the language was a bit iffy: my sixteen-year-old read it without me poking my nose over his shoulder to check, and didn’t take any harm from it.

It seems to me there is a growing tendency to keep children babies for longer, to cosset and protect them long after they should be flying with their own wings. Some of this protectiveness is laudable and understandable. We are lucky enough to live in an age when we can expect all of our children to outlive us, and it is the ultimate tragedy for a parent to bury a child. So we can give free rein to all the love we want to shower on our children without fear of losing them. That loving and cherishing shouldn’t retard their independence though. Should it?

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