Oregon author Eliot Treichel adds gravity with his writing for young adults
written by Sheila G. Miller
On Eliot Treichel’s desk is a quote from Wild writer Cheryl Strayed: “Your cause is to write a great book and then to write another great book and to keep writing them for as long as you can. That is your only cause.” That’s Treichel’s mantra after his young adult novel, A Series of Small Maneuvers, won the Oregon Book Awards’ readers choice award in April. “It’s a wonderful recognition, and I feel really humbled and grateful for it. And it does help with confidence,” he said. “Writers are constantly struggling with confidence and being able to replicate what you did before.”
Did you set out to write a YA novel, or did it just sort of happen?
Eliot Treichel: It was something that I set out to do in part because when I started the book my daughter was about 13. I was bringing her from the library and buying lots of young adult novels that were receiving critical attention and being recommended, and I would check out some of them and this recurring narrative showed up—boy saves girl, and that bothered me. That got me thinking that I wanted to write a narrative that offered an alternative to that, and I began also thinking about who I was as a reader around that age. I wasn’t a strong or natural reader and I didn’t gravitate to books, except for at some point Gary Paulsen’s novels entered my life. They were stories about kids in the wilderness and the outdoors, and so those two things sort of converged to get me to start writing YA.
Do you find people take YA seriously? Or do they think it’s easier to write a kids’ book than an adult book?
Eliot Treichel: I think people do think (it’s easier to write YA). I also thought that. I had already written a short story collection, and the traditional trajectory is you go from short story collection to novel, and I was really intimidated to write an adult novel, for lack of a better term. So I thought, ‘Well, I could write a YA novel, that’s got to be easier.’ I don’t think it was easier. It was just as hard and maybe harder because to really put yourself back into the mindset of a teenager and really empathize with teens today is a really challenging thing to do, versus putting yourself in an adult mindset, which is more relatable.
What is your writing process like?
Eliot Treichel: For me it’s more solitary. I have had a few writing groups that I’ve sort of dipped in and out of and that’s been helpful, but really I’ve been doing this long enough that I know my own process and I know what a book needs. I write mostly alone. I’m a drafter—I go through lots of drafts. I’m not one who outlines my novel all the way through. It’s more of a process of discovery while I’m writing. I do have a few friends who are my readers I go to first as a sounding board—‘Am I heading in the right direction, or am I off course?’
Did your daughter enjoy the book?
She claims she liked it. My daughter is a really strong reader, much better than I am, and she has read more than I have, I think. I was a little nervous to let her read it—it’s tough for friends and families of writers because we are always mining real-world experience and mashing them up. I gave it to her and I said, ‘If you want to read it you can.’ She recognized some of her friends in the book and mashups of her friends. I stole some things from her—my descriptions of high school come from my daughter and listening to her talk about her days at high school. She told me, ‘I realize you understand me more than I thought you did,’ so that was pretty nice to hear.
What’s next for you?
Eliot Treichel: I’m writing another YA novel. It’s set in Oregon on the west side of the state, where it rains a lot. It’s about a kid, a stoner who is trying not to be a stoner anymore, who falls in love with a runaway who is pregnant, and it is about them and the rain.
I’m also going to put out a free e-book, called The River School, that’s a series of essays I wrote about becoming a whitewater kayak instructor.