Thursday, October 2, 2014

Awkward, Inappropriate, and On the Fringe

This weekend I attended a YA conference with 45 other authors. It's one of my favorite conferences because it's in Chicago and hosted by one of my favorite book stores. Conferences are some of the best parts of being a writer, particularly if you're an extrovert like I am. They are about connection and community and feeling part of a bigger thing as opposed to just typing away in my kitchen every morning.

But conferences are sometimes difficult for me because within about seven minutes of opening my mouth, I've usually said something awkward or inappropriate. Add to this the fact that my books frequently contain "edgy" material that push boundaries and I'm left with this doomed feeling of "other". Like no matter how hard I try, I don't quite fit in. (Nowhere was this more obvious than when faced with a room full of 12 and 13yo's who I had to pitch my book to in 60 seconds. For those interested, the pitch went something like this: "You probably need to wait a few years to read this book, but it's about a hot mess of a girl and a hot mess of a guy who fall in deep, intense love and that love makes them 1000 times worse off until it all goes to hell.").

Then I started to look around the room at the other authors and wonder if they felt the same way as me. If they felt awkward or like they didn't quite fit. If they worried that they would say something or do something that would impact their sales or make librarians/teachers stay away from their books. (The fact that who we are and what we do/say as authors is important now is a blog topic for another day. Bottom line: it does matter.)

And then I started thinking about Heidi Cullinan's CARRY THE OCEAN which I was lucky enough to read early. It's a beautiful gay romance between an autistic guy and a guy with major depressive disorder. I can't say enough great things about this book. Emmett, the autistic guy, has this whole way of explaining how no one is really normal, but he also understands that people have relative expectations of normalcy. People who function every day within a pretty standard life without having to make several modifications are "on the mean".

On the mean. I love this way of looking at things. Because it also makes me realize that no one is "on the mean" about everything. There will always be some part of this world where you will be on the fringe. Just like there will be part of this world where you fit in. It's not a binary insider or outsider existence for most of us. We are rich and varied and flawed and perfect.

And if you start to really look around, you will see that everyone is like this. Good at some things, terrible at others. I include sex in my books. This frequently makes me feel like I don't have a lot in common with most other YA writers. But then I was talking to a friend at the conference, and she told me she feels awkward because her books are so "clean". See? We're always so convinced we're on the outside when it turns out it has more to do with your perspective than anything else.

The great thing about so many books in the world is that you can find what you're looking for. So even though at first I sort of cringed when my book was pitched as "a story for non-CW teens", I now realize that there are a lot of non-CW teens out in the world and I want to write for them. And really, I don't mind being the author on the panel who says, "I wish there were more female masturbation scenes in YA books" because while it may be awkward, it's the truth. And it is something I wish that more girls would talk about in high school in the way it's been normalized for guys.

So maybe the best thing for me is to stop worrying so much about fitting in and start seeing the bubble as big enough for all of us. Start realizing that there is no taking the me out of me. And maybe the truth of that means something to other people as well.


Jolene Perry said...

This has been on my mind SO much lately. SO MUCH. And what's funny is that I look at you, and I'm like - Christa is SO much better at this whole conferencing-meeting people thing than I am...

I could ramble, but really I just wanna say that I love this post. And please don't EVER change. EVER.

Matthew MacNish said...

OMG that first pic is from SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL!

Oh, and I hope to make Chicago next spring. I really hope to meet you so we can be awkward together.

Unknown said...

It was awesome meeting you at the conference and getting to chat with you briefly. I think that there is space for your books (just like there is space for the clean books) and that you should keep writing what you write. As for not feeling like you fit in, I think all of us writers feel that way, and that's why we write. Writing guarantees that what we need to say will come out.