Today I have YA author A.M. Vrettos, who is going to talk about her debut novel, Skin.
WRITING SKIN (MONSTERS IN THE BUSHES)
My first book, SKIN, was supposed to be about a kid named Donnie, who was lonely and depressed and felt like he was going to disappear. It was going to be about how he found a light out of his darkness.
And it was about all of that. Sort of.
What I didn’t count on was Donnie’s older sister, Karen, marching across the very first sentence of the book, smirking at me over her shoulder, and flopping down on the living room rug to die of anorexia.
I remember staring at what I’d just written and thinking, “Get the heck out of my book!”
And I swear she lifted her head just long enough to cross her eyes at me, stick out her tongue, and say, “Deal with it.”
Oh, I dealt with it all right. I wrote her out of the book. Easy as anything: highlight, delete, and she was gone.
This was Donnie’s story after all, I told myself. She has no right!
Karen had other ideas, and she kept shoving her way back into the story. And I kept writing her right back out.
We took turns throwing tantrums.
Me: I don’t want to write an anorexia book!
Karen: Suck it up, dude! I’m not going anywhere!
Me: You’re turning this into a problem novel! Like a stupid after-school special!
Karen: First, the only problem with this novel is you. Second, don’t try to lie about your love for after-school specials! They’re probably the reason you write YA in the first place!
Me: No, Robert Cormier and Cynthia Voight are the reasons I write YA in the first place! But you may have small point about after-school specials.
Karen: I’m not leaving, you know.
Me: [garbled obscenity]
You see what I was dealing with?
There was a reason I was so indignant.
I wrote SKIN thinking it would never get published, and for that reason I told a lot of my own truths through Donnie. I was brutally honest because that’s the way school felt sometimes: brutal. SKIN was my chance to write down all of the hurt and the loneliness and all of the stuff that made me want to scream.
Donnie was me. We had a whole my character/myself sort of thing going on.
And then Karen comes in with her big old shiny disease and Donnie and I both disappear into her shadow and she just won’t go away
and it’s so inconvenient
and it’s so messy
and it’s so familiar
and it’s so…
Karen: Anorexia. You said it’s familiar.
Me: I did?
Karen: Yup. Donnie’s not the only one telling your story, is he?
Me: Oh, that.
Karen: Yeah. That.
Stupid characters. They’re always right.
Because the truth of it, the whole ugly truth, was that Karen’s anorexia cast Donnie into darkness just like my own disordered eating had done to me in college.
So Donnie was me. But so was Karen. She was the terrifying truth that I didn’t like to think about. She was the road I was on but turned back. She was the me I thought I’d left behind.
And she wasn’t going anywhere.
Your past comes with you. We all know that. You can ignore it. Make so much noise you drown it out. But eventually it’s going to come crashing into your present, demanding to be acknowledged, insisting that you look it in the eye.
What you realize is that monsters are most scary when you can’t see their full shape. When they’re hidden in the bushes, leaving you to guess at the sharpness of their claws and the number of their teeth. But when you shake them out, hold them up by the scruff of their neck in the clear light of day, you see that even though they’re sure as sh*t ugly and smelly and snarly … maybe they’re not quite as big as you thought. Not so many teeth, either. And those claws, they’re really not so sharp.
So I acted like I had a choice and ‘let’ Karen stay.
I wrote down all the monsters. What her disease did to her. What it did to Donnie. And what it could have done to me. And in the end, Donnie and I walked out of our shared darkness, and into the light.
Thank you, A.M. Vrettos, for such a brilliant guest post, and for being so open. I don't know about you, but I'm really looking forward to reading Skin! Be sure to check out A.M. Vrettos' website.