I’ve always been a freak. As a kid, I sneered at the idea of playing dress-up, I hated make-up and hairbrushes, my clothes were old and torn, and I wasn’t afraid to throw a punch. Kids made fun of me on a daily basis. Teachers labeled me a ‘troublemaker’, mainly due to my incessant need to fight back. My mom was forever telling me to be less impulsive, to just ignore them.
And eventually I did. In junior high I retreated into my own world of books, music, and notebooks filled with my own stories. It might sound cheesy, but I think writing saved me. It kept me grounded. Helped me deal with the constant insanity that was my home life. My characters became my friends when I didn’t have any (no, I didn’t talk to them as if they were real people—I wasn’t THAT out there). But—through them—I lived out my dreams. The things I wished I could do, but I couldn’t for whatever reason. If I’m being completely honest, it was probably my own fear that held me back.
<---In high school, I found my band of freaks, literally and figuratively. I played drums for one band. Attempted to sing for another. My best friends were skater boys who played some kind of instrument, goths who’d drag me to nightclubs (by junior year I was a pretty hardcore goth myself), metalheads, stoners, wannabe gangsta types…y
ou name it, I probably hung out with them at one time or another. The one thing we all had in common was we didn’t fit into the so-called ‘norm’. We also had a tremendous passion for art—usually music. Many of us came from dysfunctional families and had trouble in school (be it academically or socially), etc. Stephanie Kuehnert’s post actually summed up my own high school experience quite well—riot grrls and all. Only I wasn’t nearly as ambitious or devoted to a cause. I didn’t know who I was or what I truly believed in…I just knew I wanted something more out of my life. Something I couldn’t find in high school. Most of the classes bored me. I was always questioning the curriculum, especially when it came to English class. I didn’t understand why we always had to read ancient books written by what I called ‘misogynistic middle-aged men.’
Needless to say, I kept writing what I wanted to read. Stories about kids like me. Kids like my friends. My stories became much darker in high school. I had friends who ran away and never came home, friends who got addicted to drugs and turned into monsters, friends who got arrested…or worse. And the current YA selection (this was the late 90s) had nothing but chaste stories about teen girls who got a kiss on the cheek at the end of the book. Or they’re biggest issue was being grounded or their crush taking someone else to the prom. So…I stopped reading and made a goal to become published before I was 20 (this obviously didn’t happen—and I’m very thankful for that. My writing was not meant for the public eye at that point)
But I made a promise to myself to never forget. I knew I wanted to write for teens—always. So I saved all the notes I passed back and forth with my friends, all the notebooks we filled up with stories about our dream boys and adventures, all the various knickknacks that made me remember an event (writing on napkins was popular). I even kept this ratty pair of jeans I wore almost every day. They were my canvas, covered in poems I’d written, my favorite bands, and drawings. Even my friends would draw on them or write things.
Now every time I write a book, I look through that box. It’s weird how a pair of jeans or an old note from a friend can put me right back in the moment. Almost like I’m living it all over again.
I write for the freaks. The kids who come from tough homes. The kids who feel like they don’t fit anywhere. The kids who use art to express themselves. The kids who don’t know who they are or what they want to do. The kids who just want someone to ‘get it’. It’s my hope that one of my books will inspire them to write one of their own. Because I know they have a lot to say…