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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why do I write for teens?

The reason I write for teens is sorta selfish because I do it for the teenage me. To explain: when I was in high school, I had a very hard time finding characters in books that I identified with. As a kid and tween, I identified with Ramona, Laura Ingalls Wilder, all the Judy Blue characters. But once I got older I had a really hard time finding books that reflected the life of that girl there on the right.

That's me right around my sixteenth birthday. I'm almost at my pinnacle of punk rockdom. Soon the hair will be bleached all blond and cut short. My hair will never be that curly again because I will kill it first with bleach and then with black dye. I will never see that natural color again. I will wear makeup more regularly: black eyeliner and red lipstick. I will swap the Sid Vicious shirt for one with a more obscure band on it, preferably one fronted by a woman like The Gits or 7 Year Bitch. I will continue to wear that studded collar even though my ex boyfriend will tell me it makes me look like a dog.

I apologize in advance for being a bad role model (but I was no one's role model at the time and I didnt have very many good role models for myself), but I can tell by my eyes that I'm probably stoned in this picture. At the very least, my hair smells like cigarette smoke, but I will tell my parents it smells that way because my friends smoke, which is true but not the whole truth, and they will pretend to believe me.

The shirt I'm wearing is an extra-large even though I weigh around a hundred pounds, maybe less. Because I hate myself and I hid in my clothes. I've just gotten out of a controlling, emotionally abusive relationship and I'm dealing with it by starving myself and cutting. My t-shirt hides all of this.

If you look at the wall behind me you can sort of tell that my parents are remodeling the kitchen. They will announce they are separating in a little over a year.

I'm smiling even though there is all of this misery inside of me because my best friend is taking the picture and I want her to have a smiling picture of me because she is being sent to boarding school in Iowa. She'd told her parents that she wanted to get away, she did not say it was because their home life was so awful, but that was unspoken. This boarding school is the best they could come up with and she decided she didn't want to go but they decided she was going anyway. She will be brought back six weeks later after I visit and report back to her mom that everyone there is smoking crystal meth and I am afraid my friend will get sucked into it. (It's the truth.)

That is the girl I was and I wanted to see that there were other girls like me, maybe even worse off than me, in books. I wanted to see them survive so I could be assured that I would survive. The only books I could find that were for teens that I related to were by Francesca Lia Block. Other than that I read Sylvia Plath poetry and related to the deep depression behind her words, I read Hamlet and related to Ophelia, I read the Scarlet Letter and related to Hester Prynne feeling like an outcast, I read Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh because even though his characters were older and living in Scotland, they reminded me of some of my friends. I read lots and lots of nonfiction. And I wrote.

Ballads of Suburbia, which comes out in exactly three weeks, is the book I'd been searching for back then. Something that would shatter the silence about issues like cutting and addiction and maybe give me the courage to talk about them with friends, perhaps even parents or teachers. It's the book I've been trying to write since I was sixteen.

But I'm not sixteen anymore, so I guess it's not entirely selfish because now I wrote this book for today's teenagers. And I will always continue to write for teenagers--whether my books are shelved in YA or Adult or wherever else--because I write to give teenagers (and grown ups) who are unsure where they fit (or did fit) someone to relate to.

PS. Sorry if this blog was a little depressing, but I wrote it be as honest and real as possible. Another reason I write for teens is because I know they are searching for what is honest and real and I love that.

On a happier note, what are/were some of the characters you really related to as a teen?


little miss gnomide said...

This is not depressing, Steph. This is important. This is positive. When I was in high school, the only female characters I could find were in comic books. I, too, write for my teen self. I write for the girl that hid in baggy clothes and wore her bangs long to hide her eyes and wished that she was cool.

Good for you! I'm so excited about your new book. I'm going to be one of the first to read it.

Anonymous said...

I didn't read a lot as a pre-teen or teen, mostly because of what you wrote about here-- there weren't many characters I could relate to. I think that why, as an adult, I read so many YA novels.

Today's YA audience is given a bigger selection of characters and topics to choose from. I see myself as a teenager in a lot of the stories that are out now, and it comforts me to know that I wasn't so weird in junior high and high school after all.

Thanks for sharing your story. It makes me appreciate your writing even more.

Rob said...

Hi :)
Thank you for sharing yourself.
I am awaiting your new book with eagerness.
I never really related to any characters in the books I read, for I read mostly fantasy, science fiction and horror and just lost myself in the worlds therein.
Love From Canada

Jazz said...

Witch Baby from the Weetzie Bat Books. She didn't know where she really came from, which was a bit like me, and she was a negative angry girl, which was a lot like me. But she found beauty in strange things, and I learned how to do the same. She taught me that I can take care of myself, I can get over a broken heart, and I can love myself.

I've done all of those things since meeting her. The only thing I haven't done is find the perfect globe lamp!

I can't wait to read Ballads of Suburbia. Thank you for this wonderful entry.

simmone said...

hey stephanie - I love this post - your reason for writing for teens is the same as mine - sometimes I feel like I'm trying to rewrite things. Here, the ideal teenager is sporty and numb - I visit a lot of schools so I know that this stuff doesn't change. There are always outsiders and they need to know they are not alone... they ... we ... Anyway, Keep writing your great books because they're vital... and I for one am hanging out for your AUstralian tour ... xsimmone

robby said...

this was so moving.
i cannot wait to read this book.

there are so many characters i relate to, and those are definately the books i search for.
not fantasy books or horror books.
books about love and hate and everything in between.


Anonymous said...

This was totally not depressing. It was down to earth, and real. That's my favourite thing about your writing.
Right now, I'm about where you are in that picture. (Only with hair that is straight to the extreme, lol.) I'm working on my way out of that though, albeit slowly, but at my own pace.

I'm pretty resourceful when it comes to finding things to read that have characters that I relate to. I find comics online, blogs, short stories, and the such. They may not all be like me at all, but I can realate to them non-the-less.
I guess the characters I can realte most to would have to be Kara from Ballads first of all. When I was reading it through the first time I felt like I was reading something written about my life. I related to Emily in IWBYJR, Katy from Beige, Caro Fink from Red (Real life person, I know, but still.), and various characters from the japanese comics that I am obsessed with, lol. (Hence the nickname Ritsuka, the first character from a comic I related too. >>)
Totally sorry for the extremely long comment, but when I am given a topic that I have an opinion on I must say everything that is on my mind. XD
Can't wait for the release of Ballads! (I'm still gonna get a copy even though I have an ARC, lol.)

Summer said...

Thanks for writing this. I'm really looking forward to your latest!

Celeste said...

You are brave and very wonderful for sharing that. More people should be so honest, and strive to understand and embrace the fact that kids everywhere are dealing with adult crap they aren't quite ready for!! That's what YA is all about, and you are doing a fab job of bringing it out, sister.

Danielle Joseph said...

Steph, thanks for sharing. You are keeping it real and I love that! And I probably would've been friends with you if we were in high school together:).

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thanks for all the lovely comments guys. I really can't help myself with the whole honesty thing, so I'm glad you guys all find it helpful and refreshing rather than too intense.

And Jazz I totally related to Witch Baby and Ritsuka, even though I read Beige at 29, I still completely related to Katy. I would have adored that book at 14!

And thank you to everyone who is excited for the new one!

Jill Sorenson said...

Oh, this is a lovely post! Not depressing at all. I was that girl in high school, too. A stoner nerd, if there is such a thing.

Thanks for this and I'll check out your book.