Welcome to My LAST Daily Meltdown: where I’ve been counting down the days until the release of Melt with insights and explanations which I hope you’ve found illuminating.
I decided to give you something of myself today. Why I specifically, so deeply connect to writing a young adult “bildungsroman.”
Being human, we are all made up of many emotions and facets. Problems come when certain ones take over, due to our experiences and learned environment. At least, that’s what happened to me. I don’t claim to have universal answers, but I share myself with the thought that we have a commonality we can all draw comfort from. In fact, we are not alone.
My novels are all, in essence, my attempt to reach out to you. To connect. Because what else do we have, but each other?
It bothers me when people write books claiming to have the answers for others, because it’s up to each of us to find our own. Literature is a torch, which we may carry as we head down our paths. But we must find the path for ourselves.
If we are teens, YA literature is an essential torch as we head down that path. If we are older, YA literature is the torch to carry while walk back, to reflect and understand. It’s never too late to do this. I’ve used my own writing to do this – involuntarily. Hell, I was kicking and screaming. And crying.
I’ve never understood “fantasy” writing. As Richard Peck said at a talk a few years ago, “The real world is dystopian enough.” I guess some people want to escape – to “forget.” I don’t think that’s possible – the deeper you bury something the more internal injuries it causes. That’s what happened in my case.
There is something of me and my struggle to understand my experiences in all my novels. But Saved by the Music, my first novel, is the one that directly confronted my issues.
Growing up, I felt like an outsider. Like I was separated by a glass pane, looking in.
“I was like a stray dog with her face pushed against a restaurant window, begging for scraps.”
-From Saved by the Music
I lived my life as a beggar for many years past my youth, not knowing that the answers to happiness were inside me all alone. You see: here is where The Wizard of Oz fits in. I guess sometimes fantasy isn’t so bad.
I have no idea why Dorothy’s story, out of many which carry the “searching for home” theme, resounded and continues to resound so much with me. Maybe because I saw it as a child, and these spontaneous, unexpected moments mean so much to us. Maybe it was the first story I encountered that had this theme. We all know the impact of “firsts.” Maybe it was a glimmer of light in the darkness I lived in (sorry for the melodrama, but it’s true.) My mom had pretty big, undiagnosed personality issues and my dad was a heroin addict. I was an only child. I think that’s enough said. (If you want to know more, Saved by the Music addresses some of this.)
There were two things inside me which were eating me alive:
1. My empathy for others had no boundaries. I felt everyone’s pain as though it were mine.
2. I was allowing desperation to rule me. For love. For belonging. For some kind of home.
There are so many things I did to work on myself. But sitting down to write a young adult novel about my experiences was a biggie. The book was my thesis at The New School. I told my advisor that I was scared to let everything out because doing so might kill me. She responded, “Keeping it inside is killing you. It’s poisoning you.” My old pain was an emotional cancer, eating away at my mind and soul. It affected my decisions, big and small. It ruled me. All I had to do was see that, and release it. So I did.
It wasn’t that easy of course. Writing that book was my first step, and it didn’t actually heal me. It was like exploratory surgery, to identify the problem.
But I did it, and I continued to write about teens. Because everyone goes through something in their adolescence which defines them. And if I want to find out why people hurt each other – or at least pose the question to my audience – the place to explore is the teen years.
Which brings us to my personal connection with Melt. I think (and I just realized this a moment ago, as I took a break from writing to pet my cat) that although Melt is based on the experiences of my boxing coach Joe, there is a lot of me to be found in it as well: inside the passages from The Wizard of Oz.
Yes, now I see this well.
My torch is blazing.
I’m grateful for the recognition you’ve given me – and the connection. I love you.
God bless us all. (In whatever way that means to each of us.)
Bye for now.
“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”