In my novels the recurrent theme is always being true to yourself. For my characters, doing such may be the main focus, or something they must work to identify and then fight for. Regardless, the fact remains, I believe in the narrative of knowing who you are and forging ahead, regardless of the obstacles.
The same applies to my own life, personally and professionally. There is an enormous amount of pressure for me to be someone else, to write other ways, to conform. And I’m not going to lie, much like my characters, I feel doubt sometimes. I feel the urge to cave, to play it safe, to not push limits. Because my work pisses off a lot of people. My characters say and do things some don’t want to hear or see. And they call me out on it. And it hurts.
The easy route would be for me to tuck my proverbial tail and play it safe and write characters that make you say “Aww” when you close the book, but that’s not the truth I understand. And that’s not the art I want to create.
This contradiction of realism and escapism came up in one of my classes recently (my students are sharp). It was intriguing to hear students talk about the importance of both sides of the coin, in books and movies, because like us, there are times when they want to dive deeper and try to learn and understand, and then there are times they want to forget it all and believe that there’s a bit more shine to the world.
Invariably, though, they have to come back to the present reality. And as teens, that means an ungodly amount of pressure. I see it every day, and I remember my own, and I write stories that address what I see and what we, collectively, have felt and still feel.
Yet, haters gonna hate. And with all my work, and now, specifically, Press Play, people don’t like the cursing, the violence, the darkness. To them I can only say, “Then help create a world where this doesn’t exist and I’ll write about nothing but sunshine.” Until then I can only suggest: go visit a high school, go speak with teens (not at), sit down and think back to not just your lived high school experience, but that of the kids who you knew, or barely knew. Yup, the shadows will start to creep in.
This isn’t to say embrace the dark and the lack of hope. That’s crazy. Even in my bleakest of stories there is hope. It may not strut on stage and sing a song, but it’s there, often elusive, just like in life.
And just like in life, we are fundamentally responsible for ourselves. We cannot control what others think, only how we do and how we react. I have to remind myself of this all the time. Because, to quote Sartre, at times, “Hell is other people.”
Of course this is not universally applicable. There will always be people, real or fictional, who will strive to make it better, even if that’s by dredging up the muck and digging in the dark. In fact, you’ll find them in my work. But be warned, they’re as real as you and me.