The wonderful author of Sea Change, S. M. Wheeler is here today to share her truly fascinating thoughts on coming of age, juggling being an undergraduate and an author and snipitts of information about her novel. A massive thank you to Tor for providing three copies of Sea Change for a giveaway!:
This post is going to be about precocity and coming of age, which will require a wander through personal history before I come around to Sea Change and the book’s heroine, Lilly. It’s also an answer to a question I haven’t gotten as often as I expected; that is, “What’s it like to be such a young author?” The simplest answer is: I don’t know. Feel free to stop reading now and interpret this as meaning I leapt fully armed and wise from the cleft forehead of my father and that my novel ends with the shocking twist of Lilly being an incarnation of Athena.
All right, then. Let me give you the long answer. It begins with reading by nightlight after bedtime, a teacher yelling at my parents for buying me age-inappropriate books, recess spent sitting on the grass with a doorstop fantasy in hand. Mine was not a childhood spent learning behavior and social custom from peers. This pattern continued into middle school and was made complete by home-schooling (and work) throughout my teenage years. Being “young” is a matter of developmental biology and culture, and the former seems to be askew in me and the latter didn’t have access. I was too busy with Stephen J. Gould, the Drizzt novels, and The Brothers Karamazov.
“Old soul” and all of that. At fifteen I was mistaken for twenty and at twenty mistaken for thirty. I have the suspicion that I have written more words than some authors twice my age. A question I have received since publishing is “How do you juggle being an undergrad and a published author?”, the answer to which is “That isn’t entirely relevant”—I wrote Sea Change before I entered college—but I will say that getting the professor’s discount from the campus café helps. Less costly coffee means more caffeine consumed and a higher wordcount at the end of the day.
Id flecks an author’s work whether they want to or not, so I’ve gone and tried to make it deliberate in Sea Change. I can mimic the standard narratives of childhood courtesy media, but Lilly’s useful bits dissected from mine. You can see the pressures—different from the ones I experienced—that translates to an unchildlike determination and lack of frivolity in Lilly. God help me, I’m about to talk about the narrative arc of my own book, down which road lay authorial pretentions and stomping on reader autonomy. I’ll try to keep it brief. The standard coming-of-age plot sees a child or teen mature into a self-aware adult with mature characteristics: responsibility, independence, sexuality. Right? Granted that sometimes authors skimp on the last.
As an aside: I don’t skimp. I am somewhat regretful that I cannot add content notes, as they would include information regarding kissing and references to intercourse and masturbation as well as one count of sexual violence.
Putting aside this aside about sexuality for the moment: what about a character who starts their quest with a sense of responsibility and independence? What if the choices that shape one’s adult personality are already made? Rather than finding these traits in the conflict of her quest, Lilly has them when she steps onto the road; the psychological resolution of the book is in coming to terms with what it means to be herself in a broader context than family and home. While an old soul will be able to confront new situations with a mature outlook, figuring out one’s own place is dependent on experience.
I believe I have said this elsewhere, but it does no harm to repeat: courtesy, diligence, and selflessness are traits of a particular Grimm heroine which Lilly owes inspiration. Those are the core of her personality, and events do not develop them: they scar their consequences into her mind and body. From my observations, youth involves not knowing what you are doing in the most zealous manner possible. Adulthood tempers the zealot and adds enough self-knowledge to grope through all the rest of life’s uncertainty. If you haven’t got many years under your belt but know yourself already, it leads to a very different sort of development, and one that I wonder if other precocious old souls in my audience will recognize.