My editor suggested I write about a class election. At first, I didn’t want to because class elections, at least at my school, are kinda boring. Only a few people run and there’s never really much drama. So, I submitted a different novel to my editor and she hated it and that’s when I had an epiphany: I should write about a class election! The trick, I found, was to make the teens as competitive and immoral as some of our politicians. Once I did that, the writing got way more interesting. I had a lot of fun satirizing all the dirty tricks people play to get elected and worked through a lot of my anger about our last presidential election.
Spending a lot of time around teens is a blessing, both as a human being and as a writer. Teens fill me with so much hope about our future that it’s almost impossible to be cynical. They also help me write more authentically about the teen experience. As a teen librarian, I read a lot of YA and I think, “No teenager ever thought or said that. Ever. Ever. Ever.” (At this point, I usually have to do a self awareness check to make sure my reaction isn’t spurred by jealousy that the writer is way more insightful and eloquent than I am.)
I also get a lot of details from my day job that I put into my books. I don’t hide the fact that the school in Your Own Worst Enemy is very similar to the school where I teach. Given that, I have to be very careful no one sees themselves portrayed in my stories, especially people who have the power to fire me.
I guess the only downside is that it’s always a little awkward checking my books out to students. They’re curious but it’s also a little weird checking out a book from the author. Usually when they return it, they quietly slip it into the book return bin and hurry off. I interpret this to mean they loved the book so much they can’t talk to me about it without collapsing into tears of gratitude. That’s what that means, right?
Here’s what I thought would happen when I published The Boomerang Effect: First, there would universal acclaim for my writing and storytelling abilities. Then there would be Black Friday stampedes at bookstores to get a copy. This would be followed by a movie deal and a lot of awards. Eventually, it would be adopted by every school in the nation and made required reading. (Basically, everything that happened to Angie Thomas.)
When that didn’t happen, I had to sit down and really reflect on what is wrong with people. I reached some stark conclusions about human nature that I won’t go into here. Suffice it to say, I realized I am so far ahead of my time that there’s nothing I can do but wait for my book to be discovered by the more enlightened people of the future. You know, the kind with shaved heads who wear plain, cotton robes and smile beatifically at plants.
This is obviously a joke (sorta) but it gets at my overall philosophy that a book will find its readers with or without Twitter. I just have to write books that matter to me and hope they matter to people outside my immediate family.
Two of the three candidates in my book are passionate about improving the lives of their fellow students. The third candidate just wants power so he can make his own life better (Sound familiar?). Most of the teens I know want to get involved because they feel strongly about something and want to make a change. Sometimes student government is a great avenue to do that. But sometimes, government gets so bogged down in bureaucracy and cheerleading that it can feel like you’re wading in a sea of partially chewed bubble gum. Government has to do a lot of things, which is why it’s not the best vehicle for my characters to accomplish their specific goals. By the end of the book, they have found a better way to make their voice heard. I’ve seen students accomplish great things through clubs, community activism, volunteer work, and class projects. One librarian I know tried to raise awareness of the flaws in our electoral process by writing a satirical book about it, so, you know, there’s always that too.
Seriously? Wasn’t this enough? I was feeling pretty good about myself until I got to this last question. I work full time as a high school librarian. I’m raising a 15-year-old son with my wife. I take the dog for a walk every day. I’m cutting down on sugar and carbs, with the exception of donuts, because, obviously. So, no. I’m a total loser and don’t have anything else coming up except sleeping. Lots and lots of sleeping.