When I was around sixteen and going by a different name, I wrote a novel. I wrote it mostly in the late-night and wee morning hours. At that time, I was attending an early-morning bible-study class, and I remember the occasional night where I’d stay up writing all night and go straight to bible study without sleeping.
I was inspired by my favorite movie, perhaps still my favorite movie, Never Been Kissed. You know, Drew Barrymore pretends to be a high schooler and slowly falls in love with her English teacher played by Michael Vartan.
I am still in love with Michael Vartan.
And I have even considered trying to write a musical version of Never Been Kissed to be on Broadway. That’s the trend right now–movies into musicals–and I think it would be hilarious. Kind of like Legally Blonde The Musical.
Inspired by the forbidden-romance of teacher and student, that’s what I centered my story around. Sixteen-year-old me thought it was romantic. Thirty-four-year-old me knows it’s gross.
That’s the first problem. And it is only exacerbated by the fact that I was a teacher for a huge chunk of my career. And I still work with kids today. My perspective is wholly shifted, and any relationship where the power dynamic is that one-sided is dangerous and unhealthy.
The Story of the Story
Brian, 26, lost his wife, Natasha, to a car accident and his writing career is not taking off, so he takes a job teaching a creative writing course at a high school, and he is not thrilled about it.
Natalie, 17, is starting her senior year and trying to change her life for the better. She has a best friend whose name I can’t remember and is in love with her other best friend, Matthew Morrison. I did not name him after the actor on GLEE. I named him “Matt” after one of my high school crushes and Morrison was just because I like alliterative names. My Matt Morrison plays soccer just like my high school crush.
A huge portion of the story was writing out Natalie’s poetry. I wrote tons of poetry as a teen (I’m an award-winning slam poet, remember?) and I used a lot of it in the story as Natalie’s assignments.
At first, Brian and Natalie butt heads. He gives her bad grades and harsh comments. She rebels. She stands up for herself in an uncharacteristic way, and he takes another look at her writing. Through this writing, he begins to fall in love with her. Yes, this is gross, but sixteen-year-old Sarah, just like seventeen-year-old Natalie didn’t know any better. An older guy can make a younger girl feel special and mature. Yes, this is grooming. But, in my story he’s kind of noble. They never have sex or do more than kiss.
Dramatically, Matt starts to realize his feelings for Natalie as well. He asks her to prom, she says yes, they kiss. Brian is chaperoning and gets jealous. They reconcile. Still no sex. All very CW-esque. Natalie graduates and years later sends Brian her published novel about their romance.
The Story of the Publishing
I finished the story when I was seventeen and titled it Creative Writing. I wish, wish, wish, I had added the subtitle “a novel,” because I’ve seen it categorized as a nonfiction or how-to. Ah, well.
I dedicated it to my high school boyfriend, “D. Michael.” He was the first person to read the whole thing. He didn’t say much about it. He wasn’t much of a talker. If I ever write about DM again, you’ll learn that.
I don’t think anyone else read it until it was published. I was actually a little embarrassed to have them read it. I’m embarrassed to even publish this blog post!
Anyway, I researched and the easiest method I found for publishing without paying to have it published was through a website called PublishAmerica. I submitted. Two years later, I got an email saying I had an “outstanding contract.” I guess their original offer to publish my book went into my spam folder.
PublishAmerica doesn’t charge authors, but it also doesn’t provide ANY marketing other than posting the book on their website. They print on-demand when a copy is ordered instead of printing copies ahead of time. This keeps their overhead costs low.
So, nineteen-year-old Sarah had a novel about to be published. They offered editing services, but it would delay the publishing. I read and re-read my book and decided it was fine–no editing, no delays.
It was not fine. I had spelled “Emily Dickinson” wrong.
Also, the teacher-student thing is so gross. Not only because of my new perspective, but also because I had a serious problem when I taught college with a student trying to pursue an inappropriate relationship with me.
I will tell the long-story-long version of that in a future post. The long-story-short version is that I was in a committed, monogamous relationship and this student began sending inappropriately romantic messages. I reported the student to the school and the the police and eventually represented myself in court against him and his lawyer and got a restraining order.
So, the teacher-student romance no longer seems exciting due to being forbidden. It actually seems scary.
I also greatly dislike this idea that for a young man (though this man was actually older than me) no woman has too much authority to be thought of as a sexual object. I will not condone talk about female teachers as sexual objects for teenage boys’ desires. Gross. Respect women more. And no matter the gender, it’s criminal if the student is underage and unhealthy even if they’re not.
The Story of–What the Heck?
You guys. I just googled my two main characters by first and last name and you will not BELIEVE what I found.
There’s a result on Google Books that has the summary of my published novel–the summary I wrote–with a different title, cover, and author! The First Phase by Vicky Chatten. What the heck? Someone stole my book? Or at least my summary? How bizarre!
So, I found The First Phase on Amazon, too, same summary! I reported misinformation. It’s also a Publish America book, so, a mistake? Vicky Chatten has other books with sci-fi summaries.
Why You Can’t Read It.
I don’t have my original manuscript, that’s like five laptops ago. I don’t have the emailed PDF proof, that’s in my old Hotmail account that got wiped years ago. I don’t even have my own copy. Against my better judgment, I sent it to my brother-in-law.
PublishAmerica’s bookstore on their website doesn’t work anymore.
Also, y’all, it’s so bad.
I did find it on Amazon. But, I guess it’s out of print now. It’s on sale for $2k.
What do I do? Do I start legal action over a book that’s technically mine, and published, but that I’m not the least bit interested in claiming?
What did you do or think as a teen that makes you cringe now?
Is anyone going to beg to see/hear my slam poems?