Yesterday I went to a picnic and entered a pie-eating contest. It was your typical “Stand By Me” movie scene, complete with the hands behind our backs, eating with our faces, winner blowing chunks across the table kind of stuff. I had berries up my nose, in my eyeballs and probably aspirated a few into my lungs. Needless to say, it was awesome! But the funny part was that afterward people kept coming up to me saying, “I can't believe you did that!” “I'm shocked.” “But you're so girly!” Then I realized that I was, in fact, the only girl participating among big, burly dudes.
Recently I attended a writer's conference where an acquaintance said to me, “I bet you write chick-lit. You MUST write chick-lit. I mean, look at you!” Now, I have nothing against chick-lit. It has its place and is wildly entertaining. It's just that I don't write it…I couldn't if I tried.
At a BBQ last week, a friend's wife couldn't stop talking about how surprised she was at the content of my middle grade book. She felt it “impossible” that I could write about violence among inner city kids and gang culture. She refused to believe that “someone like me” could write that stuff.
When I realized that these seemingly insignificant incidents actually bothered me, I had to psychoanalyze why. For some reason, people have always looked at me and thought “dumb”, “superficial”, “soft” and “girly”. Okay, so I'm a little girly. I love strappy sandals and lacy stuff and the color pink. (Okay, a lot girly.) Believe it or not, as a teen I always hated when people judged others by their looks or where they come from. And, though they seem to conform to dress code and behavior “rules” of their cliques, I think teens sincerely want to be valued as individuals. So, maybe I haven't grown up much since age fourteen. But I've also found a way to use these feelings left over from my teen years when writing, which is probably why my stories generally incorporate themes of prejudice.
I'm always sucked into books where the main characters shun stereotypes and reveal unexpected depth that we never saw coming. And I think kids appreciate that too. I mean, if the girl in the pink lacy dress and strappy sandals just sat there reading her chick-lit book and refused to enter the pie-eating contest…that'd be a really boring story, right??