Quantcast
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Netherworld of the young adult

Anyway* author Arthur Salm talks about the delights and difficulties of writing for young readers

Arthur Salm spent twenty years as the book critic at the Union-Tribune, interviewing authors and writing about the works they created. To hear him tell it, he would have been perfectly happy spending the rest of his life there, living the dream as the luckiest guy in the world. But then he got the bug to write a book and ended up with Anyway*, recently out in paperback. It’s the story of a twelve-year-old boy named Max and his coming of age during one summer, when he tries on a bad-boy attitude but doesn’t entirely like where it gets him.

Salm never set out to write a book for young readers. It just happened that way when his novel grew out of a short story he wrote for his daughter’s amusement. There was an “ah-ha” moment for him then, and the author realized his first novel would be written for younger kids. Still, he doesn’t even have a history of reading children’s lit, never mind writing it.

According to the former newsman, “When I was a book critic at the U-T, I would throw children’s books in a big box and call someone when the box was full. I had no time for it. When I found myself accidentally writing a children’s book, I had no idea about the market. You could look at it as a big disadvantage, but I felt like I had a better chance of doing something different. I think I had an advantage because I have no experience in this field. I had not read in the genre at all. Even now, my reading is literary fiction and non-fiction. I’m wandering through this territory blind.”

Arthur Salm

And it’s challenging territory. Children’s lit resists intrusions. Instructors at writing workshops warn aspiring writers against entering the fray, citing the difficulties of a market closed to newcomers.

Books for kids are also difficult because authors have to resist the temptation to “write down” to their audience. Ten-year-olds may not have the vocabulary of adult readers, but they’re equally averse to preachiness, bad narratives, and inferior prose. When he set out to write Anyway*, Salm had to walk that line from the beginning.

Salm says, “The first thing I did was say, ‘OK, I’m gonna try to just write this story. Max is a twelve-year-old boy, so I sort of have to keep an eye on my vocabulary.’

“Max is a smart kid, but he doesn’t have an adult’s vocabulary. I didn’t have to stifle myself, but I did have to use words that Max would use. I tend to use long sentences with subordinate clauses, dashes, and parentheses. These rhetorical devices work well for me in an essay, but they don’t sound right coming from a twelve-year-old. It wasn’t very long before I felt like I fell into the cadence of Max’s speech.”

The ten- to fourteen-year-olds for whom Salm originally intended the book are able to comprehend fairly advanced literature. “They read Lord of the Flies in school,” the author explains. Writing something too simplistic would be a turn-off for those readers. Interestingly, it turns out that slightly younger kids have been reading Anyway*. 9-11 is the common age range. After, say, age 13, kids won’t read about younger kids.

“The other group of readers I have is adults,” says Salm. “A lot of adults read younger fiction now...I’ve had a lot of feedback from parents who bought the books for their kids.”

Adult readership of young fiction serves as evidence that the story isn’t too simplistic.

“I certainly wanted to write something that I would want to read,” Salm says, evoking a common mantra of creative writers. “I was writing a little bit for myself. I wanted to read the book and see what was going to happen with Max.

“One of the main things I’m getting across in this book is that Max is about the age where he realizes adults start to not have the answers. That starts to dawn on you at around that age, and I think that’s a big part of what the book is about. It’s about the feeling of what it’s like to be that age. A slim netherworld between being a little kid and being a grownup. It’s almost like a timeout on maturity. Generally, he is in a pretty good spot. A magical little spot where you can pause and think about your life for a little while, more than just what you’re going to get for dessert.”

The author also describes the book as “intensely realistic.” Max and his parents get into stupid little fights, but also have a normal, otherwise healthy dialogue with each other. The young protagonist doesn’t really understand his own parents half the time, particularly his quirky father who shares off-the-cuff conspiracy theories with Max.

The book downplays much drama, which contributes to its sense of realism. Instead of raging against unreal conflicts in the service of a centralized plot (“I find strong plots inherently unrealistic,” Salm says), Max ends up learning a quiet lesson about life.

“Max actually gets out of a lot of bad stuff happening,” says Salm. “[At various parts of the book] he could have killed his dog, badly hurt another kid, or got into a bad situation at camp, but none of those things happened to him. Max becomes aware that an awful lot of life is random. Bad things can happen at anytime, so tread softly and beware.

[That moral] was a difficult part of the book for me to write. I wanted to get that part across. Just being a good person, you’ll still cause damage. You hurt enough people without even trying. Being a bad person just makes it even worse. That was tough, because I didn’t want to sound preachy. I tried hard not to make it seem like Max was getting on a soapbox.”

Propelled by the experience of Anyway*, Salm is working on another novel for young readers.

“The book I’m working on right now, which I hope to finish by the end of January, is for the same age group. It’s a different sort of book, but there’s still not much of a plot. I think it’s going to work. For me, it’s all about what’s happening right now, not what’s on the next page.”

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

One or two puffs for the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health

And so starts the procession of questions.
Next Article

Finding a different world inside Samarkand Uzbek Café

Don’t miss this overachieving tent restaurant tucked away in a City Heights parking lot

Arthur Salm spent twenty years as the book critic at the Union-Tribune, interviewing authors and writing about the works they created. To hear him tell it, he would have been perfectly happy spending the rest of his life there, living the dream as the luckiest guy in the world. But then he got the bug to write a book and ended up with Anyway*, recently out in paperback. It’s the story of a twelve-year-old boy named Max and his coming of age during one summer, when he tries on a bad-boy attitude but doesn’t entirely like where it gets him.

Salm never set out to write a book for young readers. It just happened that way when his novel grew out of a short story he wrote for his daughter’s amusement. There was an “ah-ha” moment for him then, and the author realized his first novel would be written for younger kids. Still, he doesn’t even have a history of reading children’s lit, never mind writing it.

According to the former newsman, “When I was a book critic at the U-T, I would throw children’s books in a big box and call someone when the box was full. I had no time for it. When I found myself accidentally writing a children’s book, I had no idea about the market. You could look at it as a big disadvantage, but I felt like I had a better chance of doing something different. I think I had an advantage because I have no experience in this field. I had not read in the genre at all. Even now, my reading is literary fiction and non-fiction. I’m wandering through this territory blind.”

Arthur Salm

And it’s challenging territory. Children’s lit resists intrusions. Instructors at writing workshops warn aspiring writers against entering the fray, citing the difficulties of a market closed to newcomers.

Books for kids are also difficult because authors have to resist the temptation to “write down” to their audience. Ten-year-olds may not have the vocabulary of adult readers, but they’re equally averse to preachiness, bad narratives, and inferior prose. When he set out to write Anyway*, Salm had to walk that line from the beginning.

Salm says, “The first thing I did was say, ‘OK, I’m gonna try to just write this story. Max is a twelve-year-old boy, so I sort of have to keep an eye on my vocabulary.’

“Max is a smart kid, but he doesn’t have an adult’s vocabulary. I didn’t have to stifle myself, but I did have to use words that Max would use. I tend to use long sentences with subordinate clauses, dashes, and parentheses. These rhetorical devices work well for me in an essay, but they don’t sound right coming from a twelve-year-old. It wasn’t very long before I felt like I fell into the cadence of Max’s speech.”

The ten- to fourteen-year-olds for whom Salm originally intended the book are able to comprehend fairly advanced literature. “They read Lord of the Flies in school,” the author explains. Writing something too simplistic would be a turn-off for those readers. Interestingly, it turns out that slightly younger kids have been reading Anyway*. 9-11 is the common age range. After, say, age 13, kids won’t read about younger kids.

“The other group of readers I have is adults,” says Salm. “A lot of adults read younger fiction now...I’ve had a lot of feedback from parents who bought the books for their kids.”

Adult readership of young fiction serves as evidence that the story isn’t too simplistic.

“I certainly wanted to write something that I would want to read,” Salm says, evoking a common mantra of creative writers. “I was writing a little bit for myself. I wanted to read the book and see what was going to happen with Max.

“One of the main things I’m getting across in this book is that Max is about the age where he realizes adults start to not have the answers. That starts to dawn on you at around that age, and I think that’s a big part of what the book is about. It’s about the feeling of what it’s like to be that age. A slim netherworld between being a little kid and being a grownup. It’s almost like a timeout on maturity. Generally, he is in a pretty good spot. A magical little spot where you can pause and think about your life for a little while, more than just what you’re going to get for dessert.”

The author also describes the book as “intensely realistic.” Max and his parents get into stupid little fights, but also have a normal, otherwise healthy dialogue with each other. The young protagonist doesn’t really understand his own parents half the time, particularly his quirky father who shares off-the-cuff conspiracy theories with Max.

The book downplays much drama, which contributes to its sense of realism. Instead of raging against unreal conflicts in the service of a centralized plot (“I find strong plots inherently unrealistic,” Salm says), Max ends up learning a quiet lesson about life.

“Max actually gets out of a lot of bad stuff happening,” says Salm. “[At various parts of the book] he could have killed his dog, badly hurt another kid, or got into a bad situation at camp, but none of those things happened to him. Max becomes aware that an awful lot of life is random. Bad things can happen at anytime, so tread softly and beware.

[That moral] was a difficult part of the book for me to write. I wanted to get that part across. Just being a good person, you’ll still cause damage. You hurt enough people without even trying. Being a bad person just makes it even worse. That was tough, because I didn’t want to sound preachy. I tried hard not to make it seem like Max was getting on a soapbox.”

Propelled by the experience of Anyway*, Salm is working on another novel for young readers.

“The book I’m working on right now, which I hope to finish by the end of January, is for the same age group. It’s a different sort of book, but there’s still not much of a plot. I think it’s going to work. For me, it’s all about what’s happening right now, not what’s on the next page.”

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

The Golf Bar: Bratwurst and ball whacking

“This is the first golf bar in San Diego.”
Next Article

Ellen Sturgis Hooper: cited as the most gifted of the Transcendentalist Movement

Ralph Waldo Emerson often commissioned her to write verse for The Dial
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close