Monday, November 18, 2013

Lindsey's Story & the Subject of Diversity

Lindsey's Story (tentatively titled) is the third manuscript I'm working on in Mekayla & Company. But instead of being from Mekayla's POV, it's told from one of her BFFs, Lindsey. It is probably the only book in the series that will be told from a POV other than Mekayla's. Reason: this book goes into the sensitive and tricky territory of same sex marriage. Lindsey is the product of a same sex household, and the book focuses on the upcoming wedding of her two moms. Being in such a small town, Lindsey is often the target in school for bullying as a result of her home life. To Lindsey and her friends, they just are. It's probably what makes them outcasts.

When I began researching just how to go about writing a series, the one thing I kept running into was this: kids like to read about people like them. Reading and writing is really all about pretend and make believe, so immersing yourself into the situation and adventure and pretending you're one of the gang is what it's all about. Reading can be a gateway into a different life, an alternate personality for kids and even adults. I used to want to be part of the Baby Sitters Club, and be the heroine who defeated whatever evil was put forth in a Goosebumps or Fear Street book. But without having a cast of characters you can relate to, the plot falls apart, no matter how strong, relatable, or exciting.

My characters are nine. The first scene in the book involves a confrontation at school between Lindsey, her friends, and their nemesis's. One of the issues I ran into was dialog. My critique group told me that I needed to do more showing, less telling, as the scene was told more in flashback form. Kids don't always have a filter, which makes it both exciting and scary when writing certain words coming out of their mouths. They know words hurt, but do they really know why? And the target of their wrath knows they're being picked on, but do they really register just how horrible the words are that are being spewed at them? Kids that age often pick up beliefs and words at home. They may not have a good home life so being mean makes them feel better. Then there's the kids who feel that they're above it all, the ones that everyone wants to be friends with just because she has the designer clothes and can vacation in Maui for Christmas every year. That's who Mekayla, Lindsey, Caden, and Emia are up against. Kids who just feel that they're better than, because their parents bank account is bigger, and the kids who are just rough by nature. I know what words can get thrown at someone who has gay or lesbian parents, or a child who is of a multi-racial background. And without actually coming out and writing them, it's probably obvious what drove Lindsey to tears and two of her best friends into the principal's office for trying to stand up for her. The big question I have is how to portray all this, without being offensive, stereotypical, preachy, and still sounding realistic.

When it came to writing my series and crafting my characters, I wanted to have a cast of that was diverse. Looking on the list of the most contested books in the US (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most_commonly_challenged_books_in_the_United_States), many of them were challenged simply because the main character(s) or their family dynamic wasn't considered "traditional". Whatever that means anymore. A conference I attended this past weekend involved a meeting with an editor who gave me some feedback on a previous story I had written. I asked her what is the best way to show my diverse world to the reader without actually spelling it out for them. She gave me some helpful advice. Basically, the lives of Mekayla and her friends just is. What I'm hoping to accomplish in writing Lindsey's Story is simply that her family is her family-and it's very special to her, even if it's strange to her peers, or involves awkward questions or hurtful comments. She doesn't see herself as different, nor does she see her friends as different. They just are. I've done my own research reading stories about same sex families and those that veer off course from what's considered traditional. Most of those were picture books, and I believe all are on the banned/most contested list because they promote a different lifestyle. I want the many kids who fit the mold of Mekayla, Lindsey, Caden, and Emia-transplants from another country, having a black mark against you because of your last name, or having a multi racial or same sex household-to see themselves represented, just as they are.

Lindsey learns a lot of things in the lead up to her Mama Shawna and Mama Rainy's wedding. She and her friends try and do good by attempting to reconcile her Mama Rainy with her estranged family, not realizing the reasons for the estrangement. Even though she doesn't know any other family type, she sometimes wishes she could have the normal family that she is often teased about for not having. But Lindsey learns some own secrets that involve her past, and it ends up making her realize some important things. Mainly, everyone is different from each other, there is no traditional mold. And she wouldn't want her life any other way.

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