Revising Leah

February 2, 2009

Revised!

My finished novel arrived today. It looks good, so I’ve approved the book for sale through Lulu and elsewhere. Paperback copies may be purchased here.

I’m also making the ebook version of the novel available for free. The PDF download at Lulu will be free, of course, but I’ll also be offering downloads through my website.  Right now, I only have PDF and ePub versions of Leah available, but I’ll be adding PRC and PDB formatted versions, too, soon.

I hope everyone who stops by this page will check the book out. I’m very happy with it.

November 19, 2008

Is Leah Just Introverted, Or Is There Something More?

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 4:42 pm
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Yesterday’s short post reminded me of a concern that I have had ever since I wrote the very first draft of Leah. My concern is that I’ve created a character who is too introverted. While I’m willing to bet there are a few teenagers out there who are as extremely introverted as Leah Nells, most introverts and shy people don’t live in near total isolation as Leah does.

In the first chapter of the novel, I don’t offer any exposition for why Leah isn’t saying anything to anyone. I simply describe how she behaves when she’s in the presence of strangers, and how that behavior angers and disappoints her mother. In the second chapter, I do offer some necessary exposition of Leah’s past, including this passage:

Before she was even old enough to walk, she would enter fits of panic and tearful screams whenever a stranger came near. When she was older and her parents took her out in public, she would cling desperately to them, holding their hands and hiding behind her parents’ legs when she was introduced to another child . . . . Her parents believed that Leah would eventually grow out of her shyness, that she would make friends and lead a normal life just like any other healthy little girl. But she didn’t. By the time Leah started kindergarten, the fits of panic had stopped, but in their place came silence. Leah almost never spoke to anyone, whether children or adults, even when they spoke to her directly. . . . While other children played with one another, Leah seemed perfectly content to be by herself. When she played with dolls, she never spoke to them and never pretended that they were speaking to each other.

What I worry about is that readers will “misdiagnose” Leah’s problem at this point, that they’ll assume that she has a serious developmental condition or disease — like autism, perhaps. But that’s not what I want the reader to think. Hopefully, as the novel goes on, I make it sufficiently clear that Leah’s only “problems” are that she has an extremely introverted personality, and she is very shy (introversion and shyness are not the same thing — see my comment below). Otherwise, Leah is supposed to be a typical teenage girl. Indeed, it’s important, thematically, for the reader to believe that she is a normal girl other than those two personality quirks.

For example, despite what many of her classmates at school believe, Leah isn’t stupid. I’ve never seen her report card, but I would guess that she is a B or B-minus student — an average student academically. She does better in some classes than others (she prefers math over English), but she doesn’t warrant special attention from her teachers, and she isn’t enrolled in the special education program.

Part of Leah’s internal conflict comes from her belief that she is really, really weird, and that she is the only person in the world who is as uncomfortable and as at a loss in social situations as she is. The reader, I hope, knows the truth: that most of Leah’s fears and worries are experienced by other people, even extroverts. It is that secret knowledge that lets the reader empathize with Leah and all of her experiences in the novel.

Originally, Leah was a novel that allowed me to explore ideas about individualism (that remains a theme, but the novel has grown into something much more), and in order to create a character who was truly an individual, I needed to isolate her as much as possible. So I not only gave her an introverted personality, I gave her an extremely introverted personality — and I made her shy on top of that. Some readers may find Leah an unrealistic character, but, like I said, I’m willing to bet that there are a few people out there who are living Leah’s life.

November 18, 2008

Are Introverts Losers?

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 11:40 am
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Here’s a portion of a Google ad I saw on another website the other day:

Introvert = Loser
Being Yourself is Not the Solution It’s the Problem. Learn to Change.

Many of Leah’s classmates would probably agree. Unfortunately, many people in the real world agree, too.

August 6, 2008

Reading Assignment #3

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 12:20 pm
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Introverts and Extraverts: Can’t We Just Get Along?

July 21, 2008

Reading Assignment #2

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 9:42 am
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http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1820828,00.html?xid=rss-topstories

I’ve never liked the idea of using medicine and drugs to change one’s moods and behavior because ultimately such drugs don’t really change a person, they only mask who they really are. Give oxytocin to someone who is shy and you haven’t actually “cured” the shyness. The person is still shy; the drug simply evokes extroverted behavior. Take the drug away, and the person will revert to his or her former self — his or her true self.

Why is it so important that we all think and behave the same way? Where does this drive to homogenize human behavior come from? Humanity itself is diminished when we try to limit the scope of emotions and behaviors to only those which are socially/politically/economically acceptable.

June 20, 2008

Leah’s Genealogy

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 1:48 pm
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Working on this novel and once again spending time with its main character, Leah Nells, has gotten me thinking a lot about the genesis of that character and her story. I wrote the original draft of Leah when I was in college (which probably explains a lot about why the 1996 edition of the novel didn’t turn out so well), but the main character herself was created when I was still in high school. Back then, I was writing stories all the time, often at the cost of my schoolwork. I’m not sure when, exactly, I created Leah Nells, but it was probably when I was in the 12th grade.

Leah Nells emerged as a composite of three individuals, both real and fictional:

  1. Myself. All of my main characters are extensions of me or some aspect of my personality — and I suppose most writers would say the same thing about their own character creations. I’ve always been an introverted person. I’m not really shy — I’ll talk to people when I need to — but like Melville’s Bartleby, I would prefer not to. Perhaps one reason why I really like Leah as a character is because it is one of the few times, in all of the stories that I have written, that I have given full expression to my introverted personality, bringing it forth and personifying it in a story.
  2. There was a girl in my high school who was living Leah’s life about as much as a real person can. I barely knew her at all; in our four years of high school I think I only shared three classes with her, but she clearly made an impression. She was shy, had no friends from what I could tell, and was occasionally picked on by bullies. One of the classes that I shared with her was our 12th grade study hall. I usually sat in class and wrote stories while she sat and read books. For a couple of weeks, she even spent her time reading a big book of trivia questions.
  3. In the 11th grade, my English class studied American literature. One of our reading assignments was The Glass Menagerie, a play that I liked so much that during the summer after 11th grade I went to a bookstore and bought my own copy, which I still have. What I liked most about the play was the character of Laura, whose crippled leg caused her to retreat from the world and live in isolation. I found the character fascinating because I hadn’t encountered anyone like her in any other stories that I had read.

So Leah Nells is an amalgamation of these three sources. Her character first appeared on paper in a pair of short stories, one written during the 12th grade, and the other written . . . well, I’m not sure when, but certainly before I started the novel. In fact, I do know that the second story was as much a character sketch as it was a story. I was probably considering writing a novel about the character, and I used that second story as an opportunity to see if I really could pull it off. As I’ve mentioned before, Leah is a difficult character to write about because she interacts (or doesn’t interact) so differently from other characters that I’ve created. Her story arc is principally an internal one, and so the novel relies on prose narration a lot more than I would prefer.

As a writer, I always end up forming an emotional bond with my main characters, no matter who they are; they’re a part of me. I don’t have children so they’re the closest thing that I have to offspring. I feel obligated to them in a lot of ways, and that is a big reason why I am revising the novel. Since the first edition was published, I’ve felt guilty about not placing Leah in the best possible story I could write. Hopefully, the new edition will live up to my expectations.

June 4, 2008

Reading Assignment

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 10:26 am
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Whenever I describe Leah, I tend to use the adjective “shy”. And while that does describe one aspect of her personality, it is only part of the problem that she faces. We might just as accurately use the term “introverted”. Shyness and introversion are not the same thing, although they both manifest themselves in much the same way: in a withdrawal from people and social situations. To characterize someone as shy, but not introverted, is to suggest that they want to be a part of the social interaction that they see around them, but cannot. This is not Leah’s situation. At times, she might believe that she wants to be more sociable, but only because everyone around her — her parents, teachers, classmates, complete strangers — keep telling her that is how she should behave. In fact, Leah is most comfortable, most at ease with herself, when she is alone. Or, to put it another way (and I think I use this expression somewhere later in the novel), she is alone, but she is not lonely.

A few months ago, I came across an online article that describes the difference that I am discussing in this post. Here is a link to the article. It’s an interesting read, especially if you’ve never really thought about the difference between shyness and introversion.

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