Interviewers have asked me about themes and what’s my message for teen readers. My tendency is to listen to my character and figure this out later, more of a self-awareness thing that reflects on what’s important to me. I want to experience my characters and their world organically—and not force any underlying “message.”
My character, Brenna Nash, is a piece of work. I often felt like I wasn’t writing about her as much as she was telling me her story and I was only her scribe. I loved being inside her head. Below are a few lines that stood out in my mind, but there are so many others that readers have sent me—lines that touched them. And wow, do I love hearing from readers. Reach me on my website CONTACT page.
Excerpts from “In the Arms of Stone Angels”
• Derek got in my face, close enough for me to smell his bad breath and get a zoom on his zits. One on his chin was ripe. The dude seriously needed to harvest.
• Why is it that the people who love us most can hurt us so bad? I had a terrible feeling about coming here. It didn’t feel right. I really wanted my mother to see that. I wanted her to realize she’d been wrong and to stop me before I went inside. I wanted her to foresee the future and warn me. But that didn’t happen.
• Apparently, honesty was now a real showstopper in Chloe’s world. She clammed up and wrung her hands like I’d asked her to scoop cat shit with her bare fingers.
• I wanted to say that I was sorry, but not for the obvious. I was sorry that I had turned out to be such a big disappointment. Sorry that I couldn’t make things better. Sorry that everything I touched turned to crap. Seeing Mom cry had torn me up until she finally said, “What happened to your hair? Did you do that?” At that moment, I hated Britney Spears.
• I didn’t care what someone like Jade DeLuca thought. She was a total waste of perfectly good skin. And three pounds of brain matter was about two pounds too much for what she used it for. I didn’t respect her, so why would I care what she thought of me?
People sometimes ask me what advice I would give to my teen readers. I never had kids so I’ve never been accused of being a “good example” for anyone. That’s actually a very scary thought. In my adult books as well as my teen books, I tend to write about themes that are important to me—things I want to explore for myself—sometimes I’m not even aware I’m doing this. But if there is any advice from me, it’s up to the reader to find it in my words and my characters’ voices. I never want to be preachy about anything. Teen readers are smart enough to get their own meaning out of books.
For Brenna, she has experienced something horrific that no kid should have to see in a lifetime. It changed her forever. To make matters worse, she faces it alone, confronting practically the whole town. The bigotry portrayed in my book was meant to be ugly because it is. Being part Hispanic myself, I was like White Bird, straddling a line between cultures that wasn’t always easy. I didn’t always know where I fit in. And I’ve seen and heard things that slice like a knife. But being different doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.
The beauty in Brenna was her willingness to accept herself eventually for who she is—embracing her weirdness as being unique and special—and realizing that those who are most critical of her are people she doesn’t respect anyway. Any advice I would give would come from Brenna. She’s who I still hope to become.