This month at YA Outside the Lines, we’re talking about home: how the place where we grew up affects our stories.
Note: this is a somewhat awkward task for someone who hasn’t grown up yet.
My first thought is that, 16 years ago, I took an online voice class with ten other writers, the purpose of which was to dig deep and figure out where we came from and, with any luck, where we were going as writers. As a direct result of that class, I wrote my first YA novel...and kept writing them.
Several of the assignments in that voice class were focused on the assigned topic of this blog, and I just pulled out my old assignments and read them ... and got mildly depressed. Jesus, I did not have the most pleasant home or growing-up years. When I was eight, I moved from Minneapolis (where I live as an adult) to the much smaller Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and I always say (accurately! hoo boy) that I grew up in a family of eight only children (we had nothing in common), and I did everything I could to avoid them. God forbid I’d have my friends come over to our house.
“I am 12 years old. We live in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, a little town an hour and a half from Minneapolis. I’m finishing 6th grade or starting 7th, and I’m just getting my first pair of glasses. Brown ugly things in the shape of octagons, and I’m at the start (because of the glasses) of the ugly years of junior high. I try to ignore the glasses, just as I try to ignore my family. My life is sports. The kids in my grade school weren’t all that friendly to me, since I wasn’t in one of the pre-established cliques that already existed when I arrived in third grade, so I don’t fit in. I have a few friends from grade school. The other kids don’t hate me; they tolerate me but don’t hang with me. But my life is sports. I play baseball all day and basketball on other days. For hours. I’m a tomboy, although I don’t call it that. I just play sports and do my own thing. I play sports as well as the boys, and they let me play with them. I often have 10 boys in my driveway shooting hoops with me. Maybe I can’t compete with the other girls on some levels, but I’m the one with 10 boys in my driveway, and they’re not, and that’s okay. I’ve just started playing tennis, and I kinda like Chris Evert but I’d rather play like Jimmy Connors. My serve is just like his, even though I’m just beginning and am just supposed to throw the ball in the air and hit it, not swoosh my racquet around behind me the way I do. I hit with Jimmy’s 2-handed backhand, hard and fierce, even though I’m still at a point where I get blown away on a court by the girls who’ve been playing a while.”
Now you know where my YA novels come from.
Growing up, I also acquired an extremely dark sense of humor to cope with the reality of my life. But my dark sense of humor doesn’t show up in my books and only very rarely shows up at all, and only with people I trust. My writing is light all the way, and I have no interest in writing another Great Expectations or Bleak House. Already been there, thanks!
But my YA novels really do channel a version of my actual self from my teen years. My heroines almost always play sports ... and when they don’t, they’re much harder to write. My novels tend to be set in and around Minneapolis and other parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin, but they tend not to have anyone resembling my family in them, or anything else I’d still rather ignore all these years later. So, in many ways, they’re not at all a reflection of my “home.”
But me? Oh, yeah. I’m right there in the pages of my novels, but if you try to guess which character is closest to me, you might just guess wrong.
Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.