Some People Fall In Love and End Up With a Baby, Whereas I Fell In Love and Ended Up With A Book
As someone who may never get married and has no intention of ever having babies, it’s definitely something I’ve thought about: the fact that any books I go on to publish will become like my children. I do feel that the things I have written are that sacred to me, like gifts from God (or from the universe, depending on what you believe). They’ve sprung from my head, kind of like Athena sprung from Zeus’ head. The latter is an appropriate analogy. Athena was always one of those goddesses I was able to relate to. She never got married or had a kid either.
This theme of not marrying and not having kids is important. I will get back to it.
I have been writing about the same character for going on fifteen years. He’s gone through so many changes that it seems weird to say that, but I do think of him as one character who is helping me explore different facets of my own personality in ways that are sometimes literal and sometimes more allegorical.
And I can’t help but wonder if there are other writers out there like that, who have fallen in love with their characters as though they were their lovers or their own children. Maybe it’s just my way of justifying the way I choose to live my life and to find deeper meaning in it.
How appropriate that I should be writing YA fiction then, considering the fact that I feel responsible for these lives that I’ve created as though they were actual children. It’s my job to mold them and help guide them on the path that is right for them. And I can only do so much guiding. Eventually, they have to develop their own voices and tell their own stories.
A subject I’ve been exploring a lot in my own work is asexuality (presumably the sexual orientation where someone chooses not to get married or have kids, but as I’ve come to realize over the past few years, that is not always the case). Asexuality is not something that I’ve encountered too often in the media but something that fascinates me. There are books and movies out there that deal with the asexual character — like Dexter, and The Big Bang Theory, and Sherlock — but almost in a cursory sort of way. And often times, these characters don’t stay asexual for long because sex sells.
However, people are becoming more and more aware of alternative lifestyles and orientations. This is something that young people are grappling with especially — their own sexual identities — and is, therefore, a very relevant topic if you’re inclined to write young adult fiction.
I remember reading one quote in particular from The Perks of Being a Wallflower in 2012: “I just need to know that someone out there listens and understands and doesn’t try to sleep with people even if they could have. I need to know that these people exist.” And that quote has stuck with me for the past three years because I’ve realized that if I could pick a thesis statement for what my own writing is trying to say, that is it. I feel that there is a need for stories like that, and the main character of The Perks of Being a Wallflower only confirmed what I already believed. There is a need to feel that connection with other human beings that transcends the physical; a form of human connection that doesn’t come with rules and conditions and societal expectations that weigh you down at times and make you feel that you are unworthy of love, or simply pursuing the wrong things. I want to get to the heart of the matter — that connection that can occur between any two people regardless of age, sex, race, genetics, etc. And to get back to what I was saying earlier about asexuality, just because a character never ends up finding a sexual partner in the end, it doesn’t mean that they don’t long for the same things that your typical, often heterosexual, characters do. They may still want to experience companionship, or parenthood, or even romantic love. I am fascinated by the many different ways there are to feel connected to others and the many different kinds of relationships there are out there.
My critical thesis in grad school was on connection and disconnection in literature. A woman named Claudia Johnson came up with this theory that what makes a story so rich is not just the conflict and the drama, but also the connections, or disconnections, between the key players that serve as the driving force for the different messages on what it means to be human. She discusses this in her article “The Power And Importance of Human Connection To A Great Screenplay,” which I strongly recommend reading. And if there is one kind of fiction that excels at digging deep into what it means to be a passionate individual who is all about the connections and disconnections in life, it would have to be YA. Teens understand more acutely than most what it means to fit in, or not fit in, as the case may be, and the importance of feeling loved and accepted. Sure, sex, drugs and high school drama are all well and good, but the connection and disconnection is really what it all comes down to. Teens know all about peer pressure. About first love. And especially unrequited love. What is unrequited love anyway? If you care for someone and they teach you things about yourself and make you grow as an individual, is that not just love? Love for them, perhaps, and maybe even love for yourself. A connection with another person can be a powerful, life-changing thing, even if it is not reciprocated. Kind of like how you can really love a book and be moved by the message you got from it even though you may never find out what the author was really trying to say. One of the things I mentioned in my critical thesis in grad school was that connection and disconnection occurs between author and reader as well, not just between characters.
We don’t necessarily lose that desire to fit in as we grow older, though we may get sidetracked by all the grown up things in our lives. And maybe this is one of the reasons why so many adults love to read YA fiction. They still have these feelings, but they’re just maybe not as pronounced as they’ve gotten older. They’ve learned to control them better. Perhaps they’ve learned to hide them. And it’s the one thing that I feel connects almost every single person, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. Most everyone has that desire to be loved and accepted. Most everyone has that desire to create great things that impact the world around them.
And to get back to what I was saying in the beginning, sometimes those great things don’t come in the form of the traditional milestones such as a job, a marriage or a flesh and blood, screaming, crying infant. Sometimes they come in the form of writing a really satisfying book.
Christina Irace is a graduate of the Solstice MFA program at Pine Manor College. She recently published a piece of flash fiction, entitled “Your Best Friend’s Sister,” in Cantilever: Solstice MFA Anthology 2015. She is currently working on a YA novel that started out as a love triangle story involving two stepsisters and the boy they both like, but it may end up being about something completely different when all is said and done. She lives in South Portland, Maine with her cat Stella, who was named after the Tennessee Williams character. Maggie the Cat lives across the street with Christina’s grandmother. To read more of Christina’s posts, visit her blog: https://chmirasblog.wordpress.com.