Guest post with Sucker Literary Anthology author Aida Zilelian
‘”For sweetest things turn sourest my their deeds;
lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.
You’re a fucking bitch.”
I sent this to my ex-best friend Shari. The first two lines is a couplet from my favorite Shakespearean sonnet. I added the last line myself. Last year she got a job at Tracks, the local record shop where I’ve been for two years now. She won over all my friends from there, and then turned them against me.’
These are some of the opening lines from my short story The Festering that was published in the inaugural issue of Sucker Literary in February 2012. I had sent the story to many journals, knowing that it would be difficult to find a journal that would be receptive to publishing a young adult piece. It’s full of brattiness, insecurity and vengeance, and perhaps a touch too immature for an adult audience. Sucker Literary is a great venue for this reason.
I wrote this story based on two characters in my life that I knew fairly well: myself, and a close friend of mine who I was no longer speaking to. Although the events in “The Festering” were fictitious, the dynamic between the two girls was something I had experienced all too well. It was satisfying to write the piece, but it was unsettling when my former friend somehow came across it and read the story. It was ironic that although the main character in the story is a vengeful person, I am not. And so the repercussions of “Shari” reading a story about herself created tidal waves of turmoil, the details of which I will spare you. Unwittingly, I had also wielded my own sword, sought revenge and won.
I grew up reading the usual guilty pleasures that most teenagers did: The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paul Danzinger, The Late Great Me by Sandra Scoppettone, Blubber by Judy Blume, among others. It is what inspired me to write then and eventually become a writer. With that said, I would not categorize myself as a young adult writer. My first novel The Hollowing Moon, is about two teenagers who decide to leave town and drive across the country. The main character, Araxi, comes from a dysfunctional household, where an abusive father coupled with a chronically depressed mother makes life unbearable. To further add to matters, her parents are Armenian immigrants, who come to New York and struggle to create a firm boundary between their culture and the American lifestyle. It is not the typical scenario that most teenage girls her age grapple with, and I questioned whether or not her character was relatable in today’s American market.
The premise sounds like it could be easily categorized as young adult fiction: two girls fed up with their families run away together, similar to a teenage rendition of the movie Thelma and Louise. But I always considered my novel literary fiction because of the serious tone, and the depth of the main character. The underlying symbolism and foreshadowing were elements that I wasn’t sure a teenager would grasp easily, and although the overall subject matter had cross-over appeal, I trusted that it was more geared towards adults. All that said, I recently realized that The Hollowing Moon is young adult fiction, and that I have spent years pitching it to agents claiming it is one thing when it certainly is another.
So the question remains: what is young adult fiction? I’ve noticed recently that when stating their areas of interest, agents will say “YA fiction with adult cross-over,” which I think further blurs the boundaries. I’ve come to the conclusion that young adult fiction doesn’t always necessarily mean that it is about characters driven by pettiness and angst and debilitating self-consciousness. I may be oversimplifying, but perhaps the experiences in young adult novels are relatable to readers in that age range, regardless of how elaborately it is written. Is Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone a young adult novel? It could be. Again, the slipperiness of content and execution comes into question.
As for my novel, I have geared back up and starting querying agents again. It is difficult to swallow the fact that it may have been published had I examined it more closely – the nature of it, I mean. I hope there is still a place for it in the world. I was unsure about The Festering until Sucker Literary came along and welcomed it among a great collection of other stories. I have to believe that is the case for my novel. — Aida Zilelian
About the Author:
Aida Zilelian is a NYC writer whose stories have appeared in many journals and anthologies such as Pen Pusher (UK), Slushpile, and Niche Journal. She is the curator of the Boundless Tales reading series in Astoria, NY. In 2011 her novel THE HOLLOWING MOON was one of the four semi-finalists of the Anderbo Novel Contest. She recently completed the sequel, THE LEGACY OF LOST THINGS. www.aidazilelian.com