Fiction When It Matters Most
When I was very young, I used writing to create a place where grown-ups couldn’t go. Life at home was tumultuous, often violent, and always seemingly one step away from financial disaster. Into my stories I put my fears, shame, and hopes for what life could be. Those stories – and nearly all of what I wrote until Cloud Dancer was published in 1994 by Scribner’s’ Sons – remained a secret.
In high school and college I met other young people who wrote fiction, and I shared some of my stories – but never the ones that reflected the life I knew and the lingering challenge of sorting it all out. It wasn’t until I was an adult, with two children of my own, that I began to share those stories with other writers and submit them for publication. Since then my fiction has appeared in many literary journals, and I’ve discovered that my stories often touch the hiding places in people – even those who’ve grown up under very different, more fortunate circumstances.
As adults we can look back on events in our lives and come to terms with them. Kids don’t have that luxury. That’s why so much of my fiction is about teens trying to make sense of the chaos grown-ups create. The mayhem appears in many forms: families who can’t pay their rent, fathers who drink and terrorize their wives and children, adults who hate anyone who’s not white, parents who keep dark secrets. That was the world I grew up in. Today many young people are coping with turmoil just as bad – or worse. For them, the consequences of poverty, addiction, and violence are not make-believe. Those are the kids I write for, the ones in hiding – even if they’re not so young anymore.
The characters in my novels are afraid to reveal their secret selves and risk rejection. They have good reason to be wary. People can hurt and betray us. But secrets have a cost. The scariest risk for me came when I chose to stop hiding – even under the cover of fiction – who I was and how I’d grown up. I suppose my fiction is my way of trying to keep at least one young person from waiting as long as I did.