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The Author-Reader Relationship: Reaching Beyond Expectations, a guest post by Halli Gomez

When I first wrote my young adult novel, List of Ten, a story about a teen living with Tourette Syndrome (TS), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety, someone told me the only people who would read the book are those with TS. I argued against that statement, insisted it wasn’t true, and kept pursing the publishing dream.

When List of Ten sold and I began going through the publishing process, I thought more about that statement. I agonized over it. And I realize now, I may have had a Field of Dreams attitude: write it and they will read it.

And why wouldn’t they? People read books for a variety of reasons, not all of which involve a personal connection. We read about magical characters, but we are not magic. Mysteries, but we’re not detectives. Dragons, and we are definitely not fire-breathing fantastical creatures. Maybe that statement was true. This book is different. It focuses on a lesser-known disorder, mental health, and suicide. Would people read this book? And more importantly, why?

The first two manuscripts I wrote didn’t sell, and thinking back, I didn’t have much thought after getting the words on paper. Sure, I had dreams of seeing my book on store shelves, but I can see now that I was missing a crucial piece. The author-reader relationship.

I’ve given a lot of thought to that relationship over the past few years. Does an author have a responsibility to their readers? What is the overall purpose? A question as big as the universe, but appropriate since books have the power to change the world.

Any writer will tell you there’s a feeling to create, a desire to tell a story that’s deep inside and won’t let go. Despite the stress, time, and rejections, we keep writing, often laughing to ourselves as we do it.

So, we are going to write, but what is the purpose? As a reader myself, I thought about what I look for in books. Entertainment, sure. At times I want to escape my life, the struggles with neurodiversity, even the sky when there are too many rainy days in a row. But is that the extent of the author-reader relationship? To entertain and chase the blahs away? Being able to make someone happy with your art is a wonderful gift, but there is much more authors can do.

Think about the books that have impacted today’s generation. Harry Potter brought out the love of reading in many reluctant and non-readers. Hunger Games embodied female empowerment. Thirteen years after the book was published and nine years since the movie was made, I still hear the well-known phrase “I volunteer as tribute.” Most will admit the books are entertaining, but many readers will say they formed a deeper connection.

It’s time to look at my own reading journey. I read everything from picture books to adult fiction and non-fiction. Mysteries, historical fiction, contemporary, ghost stories and much more. I choose stories based on the authors (I frequently refer to John Green as a literary genius) others based on the plot, and many because I want to learn about new people and places.

Books in general, but List of Ten in particular, and others like it, for example All the Bright Places, Brave Enough, Challenger Deep, The Fault in Our Stars, Turtles All the Way Down are not to be taken lightly. They deal with very tough topics and may not be for everyone. I went back to that original statement again, this time keeping the author-reader relationship in mind. Who would read a book about Tourette Syndrome and suicide?

To be honest, the answer surprised me. I hoped people with similar issues would connect and feel seen. I hoped it would bring a greater understanding of misunderstood neurodivergent individuals. What I didn’t expect was an even greater audience. I’ve heard from people who see books like List of Ten as a way to connect with their own children and family members, and others who are sharing it to promote inclusion and respect, and even others who have found themselves questioning their own behavior toward neurodivergent individuals.

To forge that author-reader relationship, stories don’t have to be as blatant and serious as List of Ten. The story a writer wants to tell, the theme they want to impart on the reader can be wrapped up in anything. It can entertain and impact.

I hope to accomplish that with my work-in-progress, a young adult thriller filled with suspense, secrets, and a dead body. But running through it all is a girl who has been talked over and disregarded her entire life. More than solving the mystery, I’m writing this for readers who need to see what can be accomplished when they find their voice, and, just as important, for those readers who need to understand what happens when you don’t allow people to have a voice. And, of course, for those readers who will discover their own connection.

Meet the author

Halli Gomez teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults. She has written several stories with neurodivergent characters including her young adult novel List of Ten (Sterling Teen) When no one is looking, she sock skates through the house and talks to dogs like they are human. When people are looking, she enjoys reading, outdoors, and breaking out of escape rooms with her family. Halli lives in North Carolina with her husband, two boys, and two dogs.

Website: https://halligomez.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Halli_Gomez

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/halli_gomez_author/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/halligomezauthor/

About List of Ten

A harrowing yet hopeful account of a teen living with Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder . . .
and contemplating his own mortality.


Ten: three little letters, one ordinary number. No big deal, right? But for Troy Hayes, a 16-year-old suffering from Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, the number ten dictates his life, forcing him to do everything by its exacting rhythm. Finally, fed up with the daily humiliation, loneliness, and physical pain he endures, Troy writes a list of ten things to do by the tenth anniversary of his diagnosis—culminating in suicide on the actual day. But the process of working his way through the list changes Troy’s life: he becomes friends with Khory, a smart, beautiful classmate who has her own troubled history. Khory unwittingly helps Troy cross off items on his list, moving him ever closer to his grand finale, even as she shows him that life may have more possibilities than he imagined. This is a dark, intense story, but it’s also realistic, hopeful, and deeply authentic.

ISBN-13: 9781454940142
Publisher: Sterling Teen
Publication date: 03/16/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Friday Finds: March 19, 2021

This Week at TLT

Resources for Discussing the Rise in Asian American Violence in the United States

The Author-Reader Relationship: Reaching Beyond Expectations, a guest post by Halli Gomez

Cindy Crushes Programming: #LibraryCrate – A Library Subscription Service, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

The Made-up Parts Have the Most For-reals in Them, a guest post by Grant Farley

Have Some April and May YA Books, By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

Sunday Reflections: Things I Don’t Know if I Can Forgive You For, Part II, a Lament for a Year in a Deadly Pandemic

Around the Web

CDC Says Schools Can Now Space Students 3 Feet Apart, Rather Than 6

Recent Rise in Anti-Asian Hate Crimes Doesn’t Mean Anti-Asian Racism Is New

NerdCon: Stories 2016

img_1492I had the good fortune to attend NerdCon: Stories 2016 October 14th and 15th in Minneapolis, just a handful of miles from my house. This year, they opened programming up to attendee-led sessions. I presented on Friday morning on Mental Health in Young Adult Literature. More on that later.

 

The convention was an absolute blast and, if there is a convention next year (you can read this piece about why NerdCon really needs to happen again), you should really go if you can. I left feeling absolutely inspired (and exhausted—for an introvert, it was a lot of extroverting). My face hurt from laughing so much. I’m going to give you a rundown of who I saw/what they were presenting on so you can see just how wide a range of great people were there. For more on what the agenda included, hop on over to their website.

 

I attended the following sessions:

Friday morning variety show

Hosted by Dessa Darling and Darin Ross
Featuring:
– A welcome video from Hank
– Poetry by Rachel Kann
– A reading by Saladin Ahmed
– A reading scored live by Daniel José Older and Kevin MacLeod
– Juvenilia read by Cindy Pon, Nalo Hopkinson, and Paul DeGeorge
– A talk by Julián Gómez
– Leslie Datsis and Patricia Wheeler in conversation
– A talk by Kate Rudd

 

Self-promotion: Getting the Word Out with John Scalzi, MariNaomi, Saladin Ahmed, Joe DeGeorge, and Zak Sally

Lightning Panels with Storm DiCostanzo, Paolo Bacigalupi, Wesley Chu, Joe DeGeorge, and Mary Robinette Kowal

Afternoon variety show

Hosted by Jenn Bane and Sandeep Parikh
Featuring:
– A talk by M.T. Anderson
– A performance by Dessa
– A reading by Cindy Pon
– A talk by John Scalzi
– Stagecraft: Tips, Tricks, & Cheats by Rives
– A talk by Saladin Ahmed
– Paul Sabourin and John Scalzi in conversation
– A talk by Katrina Ostrander
– A live comic reading by MariNaomi

 

A librarian and library enthusiast meet-up

Superfight (From the program description: Superfight is a card game that’s all about arguing your way through ridiculous fights. Players are given cards with choices of characters and attributes to use to create their fighter, then must convince everyone else why they would win in a fight against another player’s fighter. But not all of the attributes are good, and not all of the characters are strong, so imagination, persuasion, and storytelling skills will be your real weapons in most fights. Watch these masters of storytelling battle it out to see who can spin the better fighting yarn!) With Darin Ross, Karen Hallion, Sean Kelley, John Scalzi, and Mary Robinette Kowal

 

Saturday Morning Variety Show

Hosted by Liz Hara and Leslie Carrara-Rudolph

Featuring:

– A talk by Patricia Wheeler

– A performance by Rives

– A talk by Storm DiCostanzo

– A talk by Mikki Kendall

– Patrick Rothfuss and Wesley Chu in conversation

– A talk by John Darnielle

– A reading by Ben Acker

– Who Killed Hank Green? – a puppet murder mystery written by Mary Robinette Kowal, featuring Eli Mandel, Kate Rudd, Keef Cross, Liz Hara, Mikki Kendall, Saladin Ahmed, and M.T. Anderson

 

The Moral Responsibility of the Storyteller (From the program: We’re back with this panel for a second year! Books are banned and movies are rated with the understanding that information, ideas, and narratives are occasionally dangerous. What responsibility, if any, do storytellers have to their audiences? Is it hubris to assume a narrative can influence people at all? Join us for discussion, friendly disagreement, and potential descent into an ethical quagmire from which we may not emerge unscathed.) With Leslie Datsis, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, Sydney Freeland, MT Anderson, and Max Temkin

 

Storytelling in Tabletop Games (From the program: Role-playing and other tabletop games are a fantastic catalyst for collaborative storytelling. Creating narrative frameworks and game rules that allow players to have enough control over both story and interaction can be a tricky business. How do game designers do this, and what makes a game truly great?)  With Jonathan Ying, John Darnielle, Karen Hallion, Katrina Ostrander, Darin Ross, and Michael R. Underwood.

 

A Whole New World (From the program: Worlds that are not ours — how do we make them real and believable? Authors’ imaginations and skills with the written word have created some of the most incredible, scary, shocking, and fascinating worlds in literature and other mediums. Learn about the art of worldbuilding from these creators of universes.) With Paolo Bacigalupi, Ben Acker, Nalo Hopkinson, Daniel José Older, Katrina Ostrander, and MT Anderson.

 

Afternoon Variety Show

Hosted by Paul & Storm

Featuring:

– A rapid-fire Q&A with Chris Rathjen, Eileen Cook, Joe DeGeorge, Jonathan Ying, Karen Hallion, Kevin MacLeod, Nalo Hopkinson, and Paolo Bacigalupi

– Daniel José Older and Nalo Hopkinson in conversation

– Ms. Pacman vs the Patriarchy – a talk by Paul DeGeorge

– A reading by Michael R. Underwood

– A lip sync battle with Blue Delliquanti, John Scalzi, Paul Sabourin, Matt Young, Mikki Kendall, and Darin Ross

– A talk by John Green (Please, please, please go read John’s talk about mental illness and creativity)

 

Breaking Into Publishing (From the program: You’ve got a story to tell, a poem to share, an essay to change the world. But how do you get it OUT THERE? How do you break into publishing? These panelists–traditionally published and indy authors, paper and digital–will talk briefly about how they broke into publishing and will answer questions from audience members about how publishing works today.) Michele Bacon, Steve Brezenoff, Kate Gorman, H.M. Bouwman, Katie Kennedy, May Lee-Yang, Chris Santiago, and Sal Pane.

 

img_1459My presentation on Mental Health in YA Lit was well attended. My room was set up to hold 100. There were at least 150 people there by the time I started talking. Every inch of space was taken up. It was an amazing turnout. I talked about how our project originated, where to find the archives, who has contributed, and why we chose to focus 2016 on this important topic. I talked about my own experiences as an undiagnosed/untreated/unmedicated teenager. I went over the shocking statistics that drive home the point of just how important open dialogues and awareness about mental health are.

 

 

 

img_1467I spent a little time talking about my path to treatment, my teenage self, my experiences raising a child with anxiety, and how far YA literature has come in its depictions of mental health issues. I read from a few recent YA books and then spent the remainder of the hour reading excerpts from posts from our #MHYALit project. Afterwards, I had so many people come up to me to share their stories or reinforce how important this topic is—librarians, writers, mental health professionals, teenagers, and parents all waited to talk with me. It was amazing.

 

 

img_1466While I tried to make my way through my line, all of a sudden a reporter from KARE 11 was sticking a mic on me and saying, “I filmed your presentation–really cool. Talk about it, but don’t look at me! Go ahead!” Um… so, as someone with fairly debilitating anxiety who just got done doing a thing that made me fairly anxious, I wasn’t *exactly* ready to be coherent enough to be filmed. But film she did. I watched the bit last night through my fingers and, while I don’t like watching/listening to myself, I am so happy they chose to share my presentation with a wider audience. You can go here to see that bit from the news.  It helped having the smiling faces of TLTer Heather, author friend Michele Bacon, and my husband, Matthew, all in the front row. I was glad to be included in the convention and glad when my part of it was over with! For more on NerdCon, check out the hashtag #nerdconstories on Twitter and their own Twitter account. It was a blast to see so many friends and sit in on so many wonderful discussions. Hope to see everyone again in 2017!

 

Here are some details from my presentation. An awful lot of it was just me talking.

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