It was eighth grade. I was dealing with a lot. Friendships crumbling. Mean girls. Mean boys. Crushes that taught me why they were called crushes. So, naturally, I was really into Sylvia Plath. And when we were told to write poems for English class, I mimicked her, alluding to suicide and self-injury in the poem I handed in. I'm not sure that I was truly suicidal, though that was the year I started cutting myself. I got sent to the guidance counselor for my poem. I didn't get any real guidance, but it didn't matter. I'd found what I needed: words could be the outlet for my pain. Of course it would take a while for me to give up my other unhealthy outlets.
Fast forward to junior year of high school. I was still writing my bad poetry though it had evolved to include more of a punk influence. Now I was ripping off Sylvia Plath, Courtney Love, and Kat Bjelland of the band Babes in Toyland (though clearly Courtney and Kat were pretty influenced by Sylvia, too). I was also writing short stories about kids hanging out in diners and smoking cigarettes and girls trying to fall asleep after watching their boyfriends nod out on heroin. Then there were the political rants. I was a Riot Grrrl and had a lot to say about the injustice I saw in the world. Can't you tell from the picture on the right? I'm outside the auditorium of my high school at seventeen, plotting revolution.
My high school had a literary magazine called Crest. Needless to say, they did not want to touch my writing. It was too raw. It talked about things (rape, drugs, abuse, self injury, depression) that we were supposed to pretend that fresh-faced teenagers from the suburbs did not deal with. Maybe if I channeled Ernest Hemingway (the most notable graduate of my high school, who my town always put on a pedestal even though he hated the place) and wrote about fishing. Maybe if I wrote something sweet and innocent. Maybe if I made friends with the Crest editors. Yeah, I didn't think so. I liked where I was outside of the lines. It was real out there and I was going to talk about it. So my friends and I got together and put together our own literary zine.
We called it Crust.
I put out several different zines in high school, some just of my own writing, some collaborating with others. I did it because I felt we were dealing with things that no one was talking about. I did it because I felt like if I didn't give voice to those things they would eat me alive.
That is why I write. I tell the stories that I needed to hear as a teenager, the stories that I couldn't find. I give voice to the characters that might be ignored by society at large, the characters who I think have something really important to say. If that puts me outside the lines then I am happy to be here and as you can see by the contributors to this blog, I am in very good company.
My first book, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE is about the girl I wanted to be. Emily Black is a tough and talented singer/guitarist for a punk band that she forms in high school with her best friend. But of course she has a hidden vulnerability. Emily's mom, Louisa, disappeared when Emily was an infant. Emily's father has always told her that Louisa was a free spirit who went to "follow the music," specifically punk rock which was just really heating up in America when Emily was born in the seventies. Emily pretends that she doesn't miss or want to know her mother, but in truth her music is a way of crying out to Louisa. If Louisa is following the music, won't Emily's songs lead her back home? But of course Louisa has a dark secret: the truth about why she really feels like she can't be with her family.
This book paid homage to all the female punk musicians I admired growing up, who I always thought deserved as much (and sometimes more) of the spotlight as the men. It was also an "outside the lines" book because no one could seem to decide whether it was a YA or an adult story. It took over a year to sell because of this and MTV Books, who ultimately bought it, never really seemed to settle on which way to market it. Personally it was the kind of book I always wanted to read in high school, but would have loved as an adult too. So I hope that people of all ages (or, well, ages 14+) enjoy it and I was honored when my local library asked me to be on a READ poster posing with it:
My second book BALLADS OF SUBURBIA is about the girl I was. It's not an autobiography. Unlike my main character Kara, I was not addicted to heroin. However I did struggle with self-injury, depression, and a lot of the other issues she deals with in the book. BALLADS is the story I've been trying to tell since the bad poetry and stark short stories I wrote in high school. Once again it gives voice to the things that real teenagers deal with that adults often like to pretend don't happen. However as one of my characters, Maya, says, "Secrets lead to sickness." If we hide from what is troubling us, we won't find any solutions. I learned that the hard way during my teenage years, but ultimately I wrote my way out.
So I write from the heart, I write outside the lines, but I write to tell the stories I think need to be told and to help heal the wounds that I know need to be healed.
And since this new blog makes me so happy and I want as many people as possible to read what my fellow authors are posting. I'm gonna do a little giveaway....
I'll draw one winner who will get a signed copy of Ballads of Suburbia plus the last 'zine I ever made (not Crust, it's called Do Not Go Quietly Unto Yr Grave).
All you have to do to enter is leave a comment, but you can gain a whole bunch of entries by doing the following:
+5 for becoming a follower of this blog
+5 for each time you tweet a link to this blog (YA Outside the Lines in general, not my post specifically necessarily, though posting specific links to my post or any of the other authors' posts counts too)
+5 for blogging about our lovely new blog and helping us spread the word
+1 for leaving a comment on any YA Outside the Lines post.
The contest will run for a month, I will announce the winner the next time I post here which is December 13th.
Please record your additional entries here as I won't be able to count up all the comments, tweets, etc. I will only be counting entries here. And it is probably best to leave an email address so that I can contact you if you win.