As I struggle to finish the first draft of my new novel before my April 1 deadline, I can’t stop thinking about hope and suffering and how it relates to children’s novels and us as writers.
Because, seriously, as writers how do we determine how much suffering children can bear to see. Do we want them to see it?
This is me back when I was a little kid. I hadn’t read THE LORD OF THE RINGS yet. I think you can tell. Please ignore the vest. *cringe* Also, please ignore the uneven bangs. We couldn’t afford hairdressers.
A mother I know had three teens. She thought her youngest, a high school freshman, didn’t know that rape exists. She asked me for books to recommend to her daughter but wanted them to be pure and good. Only pure and good.
I know this kid. Believe me, she knew that rape existed when she was eleven. She knew that sex (in lots of forms) existed. She’d talked about it when she slept over my house and hung out with my daughter.
But her mom wanted to protect her, keep her from suffering, keep her innocent.
T his is the Emster. At this point in her life, she has read LORD OF THE RINGS and ANIMAL FARM here, but she hasn’t read SPEAK yet. Can you tell?
Sometimes a parent will tell me that there are no hate crimes in high schools; yet in a 2007 GLSEN survey 86.2 % of LGBT students reported they were verbally harrassed, 44.1% said they were physically harassed and 22.1 % said they were assaulted.
This was at school.
This was because of their sexual orientation.
This is Joe, my high school boyfriend and me after the prom. We dated for three years. Everyone thought we would get married. It was that kind of thing. Joe was gay. He is gay. He never told anyone until college. He couldn’t tell and survive. Not then. Even now it’s hard. But back then there were no books for him or for me (the girlfriend of a gay guy). There were no stories of our suffering, no written words that paralleled our lives and would help make us strong.
And those statistics I quoted up there? That’s just suffering kids endure because of sexual orientation. I’m not talking about gender or race or religion or disabilities or even political views.
And my question is; As writers, how do we give kids hope?
And my question is: As writers, how do we show the hellmouth of the world, what Nietzsche called the “innumerable shouts of pleasure and woe” without pushing teens and children into despair?
And my question is: How can our characters’ suffering give readers hope?
And my question is: How can we make sure that kids like Joe or me or Em’s friend have the stories that they need to survive?
Because our books are the books they read first; the books that inform them; the books that show through story how they will survive the next 70–80–90 (hopefully) years of the joy and suffering we call life.
Is it our responsibility as purveyors of craft to think about these things? Or is it just about writing a story? Hopefully, getting said story published and then hopefully seeing that story get five-star reviews and lots of face-out shelf time at the book store.
E.B. White said, “All writing is communication; creative writing is communication through revelation — it is the Self escaping into the open.”
So, what is it we want to reveal to the kids who read our books? What is it that we want to reveal to ourselves?
Man, is it any wonder I’m having a hard time getting this draft done? Sigh.
Originally published at https://carriejonesbooks.blog on March 9, 2020.