Dealing with Abuse in Young Adult Fantasy

Pull2b webFrom Home is Where the Monsters Are:

“David started asking if I could come over. My dad didn’t care what happened to me at that point, so he would take me over there, drop me off and then leave for the afternoon – probably to get wasted in a bar somewhere. The first time I came over, David acted really nice at first, but not a good kind of nice. David was nice like a snake. He gave me ice cream, and I think there was something in it. It made me sleepy. Still awake, but kind of…out of it, and then he slipped a black bag over my head and carried me downstairs.”

Stacy put a hand over her mouth. None of them were sure if they wanted to hear any more but knew that, for Melissa’s sake, they had to.

Abuse of any kind, particularly child abuse, is among the hardest topics to deal with in literature. Making that topic fair game in Young Adult literature has been a controversial but increasingly common development in the literary world. When most people – particularly non-YA readers who are mostly familiar with the Harry Potter movies – picture the Young Adult Fantasy genre they picture happy child wizards on flying broomsticks, facing down the occasional troll the heroes always seem to get away from.

The truth, however, is that children aren’t always smiling. Kids aren’t always loved the way they should be. Sometimes abuse happens and keeping that topic OUT of the books we read is being disingenuous to the true experiences of childhood.  

Mary Elizabeth Williams writes in her Salon Article: “Has Young Adult Fiction Become Too Dark?”:

“That ‘adult’ aspect of reading is scary for many of us. It’s our job as parents to protect our kids, even as they slowly move out into the world and further away from our dictates. But there’s something almost comical about raising them with tales of big bad wolves and poisoned apples, and then deciding at a certain point that literature is too ‘dark’ for them to handle. Kids are smarter than that. And a kid who is lucky enough to give a damn about the value of reading knows the transformative power of books.”

As a fantasy author who writes for teens as well as adults, I understand that I will likely face some backlash for including the topics of abuse in Home is Where the Monsters Are and The Pull. I cringe a little inside when I tell a parent that the book is suitable for ages 14 and up because I’m afraid they’ll go home, read the book and then start a campaign to get my book banned from their local library. It’s happened to some of the best books in literature, but for an up-and-coming author, the prospect of backlash is a scary thing.

But I think of the very first person I wrote these books for: myself as a 14 year old. I was dealing with a different kind of abuse then: bullying, but it put me in the kind of place where I could relate to children who were victimized. Hearing their stories and how they overcame being a victim and started being a survivor gave me hope that I could do that too.  

The character of Melissa in Home and The Pull dealt with her personal tragedies by becoming a stronger person. So strong, in fact, that she became feared, herself. Not all of us can become warriors. Some who have faced abuse will become poets and painters, doctors and teachers, but to become aware of not only our own demons but the demons our children face can make us that much more equipped to deal with them. 

Home is Where the Monsters Are

The Pull

Has Young Adult Fiction Become Too Dark?

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Sneak Peek: The Pull Book 2: Home is Where the Monsters Are

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Below is a sneak peek at the upcoming second entry in The Pull series, Home is Where the Monsters Are. The book is due in the fall. The first book, The Pull is currently available on all major digital platforms as well as in Athens bookstores.

Prologue  

This world we live in is a strange one. The last year of my life was the strangest yet but I somehow know it only scratched the surface. Metal demons, a boy with no memory, a handful of young upstarts successfully standing against the most powerful man in America – perhaps the world.

Amazing things have happened to me since I met that masked boy with the green eyes and the pull inside of him. Amazing things have happened and I know without a doubt that amazing things are yet to come. Beautiful things. Terrible things. I know this because I dream about them.

Sometimes I wake up and remember. Other times I don’t, and carry with me the vague sense that something rich and powerful and ageless is stirring and we are all a part of it. That ageless power is what we call fate. It is more aware than we think, however. It calls to us. It directs us. It pulls us.

I don’t yet know where it is pulling him. I know that question haunts him every day as The Pull grows stronger and louder and more insistent. It pulled him to Atlanta, and there he found other heroes and stood with them against monsters both real and figurative. The monsters without and the monsters within. Some were defeated. Others still attempt to claw their way out from within each of them. I feel that one of them in particular will soon come to face the monster within herself, and the others may suffer for it.

They are my friends and yet they feel like strangers to me. They feel like pictures in a book or words from a poem. I feel that way about myself sometimes too. There are things down that road coming for me as well. Will I become a hero like them? Or will I succumb to my own monsters, and fall before my own purple fire?

I’ve played a part in this story and I have parts yet to play but for now these chapters belong to them. Four heroes, each with a pull of their own. Each has a destiny and a monster to overcome. Each has a weapon they hold close and a dream of a future they will fight for. Without each other, I have no doubt that each of them would fall, broken and alone. Yet together they stand strong. Together they will change the world. In fact they’ve already begun to do so.

My name is Patricia. Like my brother, I sleep now. Like him, when I sleep I see the world for what it really is. I see the story of humanity. There will be loss in this tale; but there will also be triumph. I close my eyes…and turn the page.

Look for Home is Where the Monsters Are, Fall 2013.

How Pain Can Lead to Wonder

ImageI’ve insinuated during this blog that my high school experience wasn’t easy. That’s putting it lightly. In fact it was the hardest four years of my life. Social anxiety prevented me from talking to anyone for fear of making them not like me. That fact, in turn made them not like me. By the time my junior and senior years came around I was simply known as the silent kid and any attempt I made to make friends was laughed down or looked at with mistrust because I was trying to step outside of my prescribed role, and in high school roles are everything.

Because I couldn’t have friends in the real world (or at least told myself I couldn’t), I resorted to creating friends in my head. First and foremost was a big sister character who was tough, funny, protective and a wise-ass who could love me even though I was quiet. She needed a face, so I looked around at my classmates and saw a tall striking blonde who looked like she was always ready to kick someone’s butt. That became Melissa Moonbeam.

Next I needed a brother character who would be the thinker of the group. He was intelligent and philosophical but also kind and with a dry sense of humor. That became Jason Dredd. There was no one around me who was quite like Jason at the time, so I composited a middle school friend named Damien (my first African American friend) and my real life brother Andy.

I realized then that I was missing an important element to this group: a love interest. I needed someone who would react to my character (more on that in a bit) with kindness, understanding, encouragement and warmth. It just so happened I had an enormous crush on a girl I barely knew at the time. That crush developed because of one instance of kindness showed to me after I had embarrassingly goofed up during a mandatory school play. Because she had shown that element of kindness I needed I took her face and her name and combined it with the warmth and understanding I wanted in a character it would always give me butterflies to be around. In that way, Stacy Cross was born.

Now there was one thing developing during all of this that I’ve neglected to mention. I was assembling that “ideal” circle of friends around me, but during the course of it I was also creating a fictional character for myself. It wasn’t the ideal me, for this version of me had flaws as well, but it was a me I could respect during a time I found it very difficult to respect the real thing. When I looked into my mind’s eye I stopped seeing myself and began to see Nick.

I mistrusted my own identity, so Nick was a character with no identity and no last name. I was skinny and weak, so Nick was skinny but could still kick ass. I didn’t care for my face, so Nick wore a mask. I was uncertain about what I was meant to do with my life, so Nick followed a Pull towards a destiny he neither knew nor trusted. In ways Nick was stronger; in ways Nick was more broken; but he was always quintessentially me even when I didn’t want to admit it.

There were other elements that sprung up around these characters. I wanted a constant companion so a dog named Blitz was born. I felt that teenage life presented an ever-present adversary for me and always whispered in my ear that I would never be strong enough, so an unstoppable monster named The Whisper came to life to unceasingly torment Nick.

These characters were born to give me comfort. When I sat in the back of a classroom struggling with my schoolwork, Melissa, Jason and the others comforted me and made me laugh. When I felt bullied or threatened, a scene would play out in my mind where Nick battled The Whisper and always held his own – or his friends joined him and battled the threat along side him.

These characters soon grew beyond mere comforting mechanisms and began to have lives of their own. In bed at night dreading what the next day would bring, I’d suddenly find a scene playing out in my mind. I’d see Nick and Melissa arguing over something. At first I wouldn’t be sure what, but like wiping the fog away from a window soon I knew. I knew what they argued about and what caused it and what that fight led to and how Stacy and Jason felt about it and that The Whisper was watching the whole time and that Blitz the dog was curled up on the couch oblivious to it all.

My subconscious took these characters from my grasp – maybe borrowed is a better word – and brought them to life. As if glimpsing a movie or a TV show, I watched the entire story of their lives, from Nick waking up alone in the woods with a sword in his hand to the fateful battle atop the *omitted for spoilers*. I gasped when Jason defeated Raven atop a factory in New Orleans. I grinned in triumph when Melissa took to her motorcycle and decided to face her past for the sake of her friends. I wept tears of loss when characters died and screamed in frustration when The Whisper showed up at the wrong time and just couldn’t be beaten.

My conscious mind created fantastical versions of the friends I truly wanted, and my subconscious mind pulled a life – a story for them to live through – from the ether. I didn’t intend to create the story of The Pull, and yet it happened. What I did decide to do, though, was grab a notepad in my parents’ basement in 1994 and begin writing those scenes down.

The story of the process of shaping The Pull into a novel is best left for another time, but I wanted to share that because I think its important for us to realize that even the worst times in our life can give birth to something beautiful. I’ll never call The Pull “the greatest story ever told” but it is my greatest story because it is the one my heart gave me when I needed it most. I share it in hopes that it may be able to give a bit of comfort to those in pain in the same way it did to me. It’s an adventure story. It’s a popcorn tale, but it just so happens to be one about finding your true value in a time when nothing is certain.

That value is always there to be found. Sometimes we need monsters to fight, journeys to take and friends to take it with us, but I truly believe that at the end of our own Pull, something beautiful is always waiting.

Just…Can’t…Get…MOTIVATED!!!

It’s Tuesday. Tuesdays are usually high-energy, super productive days for me. It just so happens that this particular Tuesday is the day after Memorial Day, and therefore feels like a Monday. What should be a productive day for me is turning into an aimless slog because I am generally useless on the first day of the work week. Whine whine, cry me a river, I know. So what does one do on a day like this when demand is high and energy is so low you can barely feel it? Hell if I know, but I thought I’d throw out some possibly valid solutions.

1. Caffeine: Obvious answer is obvious

2. Meditation: Now we’re getting somewhere. Sit still, preferably but not necessarily in a quiet space, close your eyes and focus on your breath for ten minutes. See if calming your mind and slowing the traffic of unorganized thought can bring about a new burst of motivation. Sometimes its easier for me to get into that space than others, but frequently the simple act of internal stillness can work wonders and point me in a productive direction.

3. Talk to someone you love: Get encouragement. Call your mother or your spouse or your child and simply embrace the joy of hearing their voice. Share how you’re feeling and accept any support or compliment they have to give you. Remember that no matter how down you feel, there’s always someone on your team cheering you on.

4. Exercise: This can be as simple as doing 100 jumping jacks or as intense as running two miles. Just get your blood pumping, kickstart your metabolism and see if that doesn’t drive some energy into your brain and senses.

5. Have sex: Get that feeling called sexual healing. If only it was that easy for most of us to do this in the office or workplace. Okay, maybe it shouldn’t be THAT easy or we’d all be in trouble.

6. Just do it: Forge ahead even if you don’t feel the energy to do so. Sometimes you’ll tap into a momentum you can carry forward into the rest of your week. Don’t allow yourself to say no and you might be surprised at what you can do.

So that’s about all I’ve got. For me, the simple act of writing can conjure up some energy. Maybe embracing our passion can drag us out of the doldrums.

Leave a suggestion or two in the comments. What do you do to motivate yourself on a Monday (or Tuesday after a holiday)?

Indie Authors You Should Know

ImageToday marks the launch of Follow The Pull’s “Indie Authors You Should Know” feature. Every so often I’ll be showcasing a self-published or indie-press published author I admire.

Indie authors are the unsung heroes of the publishing industry, and many of them can craft worlds and stories to rival or even surpass your favorite literary superstars.

My first showcased author is Rachel Hunter, a fantasy author with an imagination and world-building skill to rival Tolkien himself.

Come check Rachel out, and meet another indie author you should know!

https://followthepull.com/indie-authors-you-should-know/

Self-Published Author – Not a License to Be a Jerk

Okay, lords and ladies, I want to throw my two cents into your hat or ring or shoe or whatever other metaphorical container you prefer I throw metaphorical change in. Just because you’re a published or self-published author does not mean you get to suddenly be an elitist butthole who can dictate what does or does not make a writer, what genres are and are not “real writing”, and what style is or isn’t “art”.

Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have standards for things like grammar (except for lovable scamps like Cormac McCarthy) and making things clean and readable for our audience, HOWEVER, what we do not have the license to do, as authors, is tell someone whether or not they’re a real writer.

Example: Yesterday I noticed a tweet from a self-published author that read as follow: “YouKnowYouAreAWriterWhen (it was a hashtag, pardon the unusual caps) you are constantly saying ‘I should write that down’.”  My quote-unquote clever response to her was, “YouKnowYouAreAWriterWhen you have a dream that intelligent ducks enslave society, wake up and say, ‘I should write that down’.”  Her response to my response was as follows: “Hah.  Or maybe not….”

Now maybe I’m just reading too much into this, but that, ladies and gents, sure felt like I just got bitch slapped.

It just so happens that I actually AM working on a short story involving hyper intelligent ducks and class warfare (it’s less funny than it sounds), and it also so happens that I take offense to someone telling me what does or does not make me a writer.  So what if I decide to write about ducks?  Does that mean I can’t make an intelligent, thought provoking, entertaining piece about duck-human warfare?  “Maybe not”, at least according to one author.

Come on, people.  We get it, you’re talented and driven and successful, at least in your own eyes.  So let others enjoy their own talent, drive and success, even if it isn’t in a medium or presented within a theme that you enjoy or consider “art”.  Let me love what I love and I’ll do the same for you.

Who knows?  Maybe Urban Duck Fantasy is the next big thing.