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This little excerpt is from a bit further into The Hornbeam Door, after Oona has a nervous breakdown, courtesy of the voices in her head.  Rumor has it that she really had a bad acid trip, and on her first day back at school, she discovers that none of her friends are talking to her.  In this scene, she’s sitting down to lunch by herself, aware of the other kids staring at her.

***

Goth how-to

Goth how-to

When I was almost finished with my sandwich, Jessica Walker sat down across from me. She was in my Spanish class freshman year, but I didn’t know her enough to say hello if I saw her on the street. Since then I’d changed from a nerd to a half-way normal person to a crazy person. Jessica had changed from a half-way normal person to a Goth sophomore year. She had her hair dyed black and her fingernails painted black, and all her clothes were black.

“Hi!” she said.

“Hi, Jessica.”

“Actually, I go by Raven now. So how are you doing? You know, the first day back and all?”

“I’m fine.”

“So, what was it like?”

I guess that’s what it feels like to be in a car wreck and have people drive by staring, while you sit on the curb and bleed. I opened my bag of chips and didn’t answer her.

“I heard that you were, like hearing voices. Was that pretty freaky, hearing voices?”

She wouldn’t give up. She sat there with her elbows on the table, leaning toward me, staring at me. Like she thought I was honestly going to tell her.

“Did you really try to kill yourself? I think about it sometimes, like what it would be like to cut my wrists or something.” She pushed her black sleeve up and showed me these little red scratches on her wrist. The kind of scratches you’d get from a kitten.

Probably I was supposed to be shocked or concerned. Maybe I was supposed to be impressed. I wanted to say, “You need to use a sharper knife,” but I went on eating my potato chips. It wasn’t that I hated her or wanted her to kill herself. I just didn’t care. No matter how much she wanted to be in a car wreck, I didn’t want to be the car wreck she was staring at.

“So, what kinds of things were the voices saying to you? Like were they telling you to do stuff?”

I didn’t say what I wanted to say: “They were telling me to kill girls with black fingernail polish.” I didn’t say it, but I should have.  That would have been better than what I did say. Just like with my parents, I opened my mouth and started repeating what the voice was saying right then.

“And when the Interloper rent them from their souls, they were as toys in his hands. Dumb as beasts in the field and docile. They no longer looked back to the Doors with longing, but neither did they look to the river. He ate up their souls, as tender as the flesh of children, and turned them away from the easing waters. He had no need for whip or halter then, for the hooks in their spiritual bodies bound them to him fast.”

That was all new stuff, stuff I’d been trying to ignore, but it came out of me just as easily as any of the Doors would have. Like I already knew it, because the voice was inside me. It was part of me, whether I understood it or not. Whether I liked it or not.

“Any more questions, Raven?”

Jessica blinked and after a minute, she closed her mouth and sat back in her chair. I crumpled up my chip bag, picked up my tray, and walked away.

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Today’s teaser is from a young adult book I’m working on called The Hornbeam Door.  It feels a little weird to write something intended for teenagers, but I’m clearly tapping into the desolate weirdness of my own adolescence.

***

As soon as Mom got home from work, I said, “Reese asked me to the movie tonight.”

I thought she’d be excited. That she’d want to be there when Katelyn came over to help me get ready. I thought maybe she’d loan me some of her jewelry. She always did that when Lola had a special date. Ironed stuff for her, bought her new lipstick or nail polish.

“It’s awfully short notice,” Mom said.

Tea

Tea

That wasn’t like the third or fourth thing she said after: “That’s great!” or “Congratulations!” Because she didn’t say any of those things. The first thing she said was, “It’s awfully short notice.” She didn’t even look at me when she said it. She was fishing the tea bag out of her mug.

“The movie doesn’t start until 9:00. I know curfew is midnight, but I can be home by then.”

“That doesn’t seem a little rude to you?”

“What?” I said.

“That he only asked you today to go to the movie tonight?”

“Katelyn and I make last minute plans all the time.”

“She’s your best friend. I think if a boy wants to ask you out, he should give you more notice.”

“Mom–.”

“More importantly, I think you should consider what kind of message it sends that you’re willing to let him ask you out like that. Do you want to be the kind of girl he can treat very casually?”

“It’s not like that anymore.”

“It’s not like what? Men don’t need to respect women? Has that all changed?” Mom said. I hated it when she got like that. Like every little thing in life was part of some big picture. Some universal injustice or nationwide discrimination.

“Mom, it’s not like it was when you were dating. People don’t plan that far ahead. He only asked today because that’s when he decided to go.”

“It was like that last year when Lola was dating. She expected to be treated with more consideration.” Mom didn’t move. Didn’t do anything except blow on her tea and look at her recipe book.

“Well, how nice for Lola that she’s so wonderful she can plan her social calendar months in advance.”

“You know that’s not what I mean,” Mom said.

“What do you mean?”

“Are you content to be an after-thought? To be something he just decided to do at the last minute?”

“Dad!”

I hated playing that game, but sometimes it was the only way to get through to Mom. The worst part was I knew it was over. By getting Dad involved, Mom was never going to be part of my dating life. She was never going to care about it the way she did about Lola dating. Maybe she wouldn’t have anyway, but it was over once I yelled for Dad.

When he came in, I said, “Can I go to the movies with Reese tonight?”

“Is this the boy you like? From your chemistry class?”

“Yes.”

“That’s great, honey. I hope you have fun. Do you need some money?”

Mom closed her recipe book and left the room while Dad was getting out his wallet. It wasn’t that she didn’t mean well. She did. She just always meant well in the shittiest way possible.

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Arriving home from the library, I came to this realization: of the twelve books I’d picked out, ten of them were written around themes of Otherness.  Not surprisingly, nine of those ten were young adult books.  I don’t typically read that much YA, but I’ve come to the conclusion that my new writing project is likely to develop into a YA story.  To prevent its being written in a vacuum of glorious ignorance, I went browsing for some recent YA books.

The heros and heroines…they’re all Outsiders.  Either they’re losers, or oddballs, or they’re aliens, or supernatural creatures.  However they’ve arrived there, all these YA protagonists are standing on the outside looking in.

The question that has been nagging me since I made that realization is: who writes for the Insiders?  You know, the normal kids, the regular kids, the popular kids.  The kids who don’t sit alone at lunch.  The kids who always have a date to homecoming.  The kids who do well at sports and listen to Top 40 music.  Who writes books for them?  And what are those books?  Seriously, I want suggestions.  I have a burning curiosity to read these books and learn something about their authors.

I don’t want to make sweeping generalities about writers, but I have to admit that almost every writer I know is…a little odd.  Or off.  Or downright strange.  Many of us are introverts, which has turned us into observers.  Others of us see the world from such a skewed angle that we’re always writing in an attempt to document the discrepancies between our world and the world.

The problem is that because I was always an Outsider, perhaps I simply never noticed the books on the library shelves that were intended for the Insiders.  They were invisible to me.

capt_awesome1Trying to think of possible examples of Insider novels, all I can think of is television.  Star Trek in particular, which despite its massive geek following is all about Insidership.  Think of it–the Federation is this massive, wonderful, just, lawful, all-inclusive entity.  The pinnacle of happiness on The Enterprise is to belong.  So many story lines are devoted to that idea that I can’t cite them all.  Consider that in the original series, most of the episodes were about triumphing over some evil alien, or triumphing over a crew member who had “gone wrong,” and at the heart of the episodes was this familial bond that everyone had to embrace.  Or look at The Next Generation: Data trying to become human to belong.  Repeated on Voyager, with Seven of Nine.  The goal of the stories always seems to be to bring everyone together, to make everyone part of this big, inclusive club.  Yet they hated the Borg…

So tell me, in the YA field, who writes for the Insiders?

PS: And I have to add…what the hell gives with the Holodeck?  If my microwave malfunctioned, took over my house, and endangered my life, I would unplug it an throw it away.  And I was never as big a fan of Star Trek as I was of the brief-lived Firefly, something of a mirror image of Star Trek, where the Federation is an evil fascist entity and the scrappy but criminal crew of Serenity are the heroes.  An Outsider tale at its finest.

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