First thing’s first — I’m up at Surviving Myself today so head on over there for some funny.
Next, I wanted to share a little writerly moment with you. I need to tell you a story. The story starts about six years ago.
It was summer and I was living in San Diego, getting a divorce from my husband (for many reasons, but one of the big ones was that I wanted to spend the rest of my life in Portland, Oregon and he wanted to be warm) and working on the final revisions of my novel, Upstream. (Oooh, I never say that do I? My nooooooooooooovelllllllllll Upstream.)
I was working on revisions late, late, late into the night and I wrote four full revisions over the course of a month. And I was planning my move back up to San Francisco and living at my parents’ house while my divorce went through.
That summer, Steve went BEA in LA and he brought back books for me. He brought me Life of Pi, Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians, and an odd book with a blue cover and cheerleaders on the front. It was called, Please Don’t Kill the Freshman.
As I was going through the divorce, moving, living with the ‘rents, I couldn’t focus on a single book. I chucked Life of Pi; I’ve never been able to read a single thing Sherman Alexie has written, and I tried What Was She Thinking by Zoe Heller, which would go on to be shortlisted for the Booker, Reefer Madness by one of my favorite authors, Eric Schlosser and I couldn’t read a single one.
So I picked up that blue book.
The one with the cheerleaders. I don’t know why I opened it, especially because I have a policy against reading YA lit when I’m working on my own, but I opened it up. And I was immediately intimidated, inspired, and in love.
Here was a book that did for me what only two YA novels have done in the past: cracked open the genre. First, there was Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, and then Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat series.
Both of which made me think, if you want to actually write a book, a real book, YA is the genre for you. Here’s why — YA books don’t make a lot of money.
They aren’t given much attention at the publisher, at the bookstore, by readers. So those writing it and publishing it can get away with some really crazy-ass shit.
I mean, if you want to write a book for teenagers where the main character lives with her boyfriend, her gay best friend and his boy friend and then they all have an orgy and she gets pregnant and they raise the kid together and live in Shangra LA, then well, go for it.
Please Don’t Kill The Freshman took full advantage of the inattention YA lit is shown and blew that motherfucker up.
The book is remarkable. It’s totally voice-driven, with some nonsensical moments. Characters are given made up names, and the author even writes under a pseudonym, because, and prepare to have your head blown clear off your shoulders, the author was 15 when she wrote it.
The book is an exploration, in real time, of the teenage mind. It is not just what we all thought in those days, but how we thought it.
Now, imagine this, I’m 26 (I think) and working on my final drafts of my second book and I sort of think my books are pretty genuine and not condescending to teens, and then I read this.
An actual book by an actual teen that is exactly the teenage experience. It was a little much. I might have cried a bit and needed to be talked off the edge by my editor.
Fast forward about six months and I’m working at bookstore in Oakland and Please Don’t Kill The Freshman comes out and this is the story I tell to any and every single customer who will listen. “There’s a book you need to take home and read. It’s by a fifteen year old.
And she wrote it as a chapbook for Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon, and it was a bestseller at Powell’s so Harper Collins bought it for a lot of money and now, here it is in this bookstore and you must read it because it is like living in the brain of a teenager and how often do you get to actually hear another person’s thoughts?
Like never. SO BUY IT.”
And I meet the author at a reading in San Francisco. And she is 17. And I am shaking. And I hand her a copy of my book, but she is an author and 17 and maybe blows me off a bit. Which I totally would have done in her shoes.
And then about five years later, I move to Portland, Oregon. And I meet Kevin Sampsell, who is a bookseller too. And he asks me what my five favorite books are and I tell him: Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Feast of Love, anything by Michael Connelly, Come to Me by Amy Bloom and Please Don’t Kill the Freshman by Zoe Trope.
And Kevin says, “I published that book.” And I say, “excuse me, I’ve just shit myself.”
Because Kevin published the chapbook that Harper would go on to buy. He published the first version of that book.
In these moments, my facilities leave me and I start talking and I don’t know what comes out but it’s words and Kevin being Kevin just let me sit there and blabber and then he answered all of my questions in a reasonable fashion. And he told me, well she’s coming back to Portland and when she does, I’ll introduce you.
And I said, “Uh. No.”
Because, right? How often do you want to meet your heroes. And sort of your competition.
So, one night, Kevin and I go and see Miss Frayn’s sketch comedy performance and we walk in and Kevin says, “Oh, there’s Zoe, let’s go sit with her.”
And I think, “holy shit, perhaps, if there is a god, I will disappear in the next ten seconds” because I don’t do well meeting writing heroes and I tend to act like a jackass. And she wrote a better book than I did, and because I am self-centered and vain I need her to acknowledge that I write YA novels too and what if she doesn’t?
So we sit. And Zoe is a normal person. And she and Kevin catch up. And she says a few things to me but doesn’t fall at my feet and worship me, and I manage to not do that to her. I think I said, “I love your book” and not “how dare you write a better book than I did, and can I come and live with you and you can help me be a better author?”
And after the performance, I go home and tell Steve that I MET ZOE TROPE! And he’s impressed because he loved the book too.
Back Fence PDX rolls around and Zoe is there. And I’m like, “Oh my god Zoe Trope came to my show! ZOE TROPE!” But I act all cool and say hello again. And she says hello and again, she’s a normal person.
And then Booty Call happens and Zoe shows up to that too. And I’m like, oh my god, it’s Zoe Trope. But I act all cool again.
And I say, “would you like to sit with us?” And she says, totally sincerely, “I’d love to sit with the cool kids.” And I think, “Dear god, she can’t mean me? I mean, Kiala sure and Alison, totally, but me? Not me.”
So she sits next to me all night long and she’s funny and wonderful and so fucking normal and not like the rock star I’ve built up in my head. But wow, just like so many people I’ve met here, totally easy to be around, rolling with the jokes, being just such a natural part of the evening.
And then she started commenting on my blog. And I sent her an email saying we need to grab a drink. And she agreed. And now, I don’t know, I think I’m friends with an author who I admire and whose work I’m intimidated as hell by, and yet, we’re just sort of pals.
And when I have a little time with her, I’m going to have a real heart-to-heart about what it’s like to have written a book (or two) and now think, I don’t know if I want to or can write another. It’ll be a first for me.
It’ll be the first time I’ll know someone who can address that exact thing. That thing that’s such a huge part of my life, but a total mystery to me and every single person I know. But I can have that conversation with her. I look forward to it. I look forward to it a lot.
So, if she comments again, you all know what goes on for me when I see her name on my blog. You know that it’s a trip.
It gives me pause and I might stare at her comment for a few minutes and try and re-read it because that cannot be Zoe Trope writing in my comments and I feel like we are friends already, but I also hope I’m always intimidated by her writing. It gives me something to aim for.