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Why I Write For Teens:
At 13 years old, I was too nerdy to be a tomboy and too tomboyish to be a nerd. As a middle child, I was too young to be a big girl and too old to be a baby. In school, I did well enough to be called smart, but was too boisterous to be considered good.
I hated it—not knowing who I was and where I fit in. I was stuck in the in-between, and it felt awkward, frustrating, and terribly lonely.
I write for adolescents in the hope that I can help at least one young reader feel less lonely.
Lonely? Today’s teenagers who run in packs and share every thought via smart phone?
Frankly, I suspect all that connectivity has only intensified the dilemma of who to trust, respect, or love, and who to avoid, ignore, or fear. With the social terrain shifting so publicly and so quickly, the risk of making a humiliating mistake must be worse than ever.
Look at your children’s on-line social media pages. They are portraying themselves as characters, not flesh-and-blood people. They are trying on different masks. Behind those masks, there is vulnerability. Nothing is more lonely than vulnerability.
Since I was a teenager, I have always written, whether it was journals, plays, short stories or novels. A few years ago, I took a step back from my writing to see if my work contained any recurring themes. It was easy to see. I came back to it over and over again. My characters were almost always in the process of figuring who they were and what role they played, or were expected to play, within a family. Would they live their lives hidden behind the masks they created or which were handed to them? Or would they find a sense of self other than that mask? Although we face these questions all our lives, they are most palpable during adolescence.
I wasn’t aware of this pattern when I started writing COYOTE WINDS, but I certainly see it now.
COYOTE WINDS tells the story of two boys living seventy years apart, yet facing similar issues. Growing up on the southern prairie in the 1930s, thirteen-year old Myles tells corny jokes and doesn’t take life seriously. Yet, he wonders if he will ever be a man like his father who “could build barns, string fences, tune a tractor, and plow the straightest furrows,” instead of a boy who “bent nails, splintered boards, and once nearly sawed off his thumb.” He rescues a coyote pup injured in a dust storm, hoping to tame something wild just like his father is taming the land. But as the seasons pass and dust begins to blow, Myles comes to regret following in his father’s footsteps.
Compared to Myles’s boyhood, his 21st century grandson Andy feels like he lives in a bunker. He can’t ride a bike without a helmet, play soccer without pads, or ride in a car with a driver under thirty. His mother checks his homework, charts his grades, and warns him that his mistakes will count for the rest of his life. When Andy listens to Grandfather’s Myles’s stories about the prairie, he wishes he too had a unfenced boyhood of hunting rabbits and snaring rattlesnakes. Taking a chance for the first time in his life, he sets out to discover what’s left of the wild prairie.
By the end of the novel, both Myles and Andy come to question their parents’ choices and start to make their own. They are moving past the in-between phase.
This in-between time of life is awkward, frustrating, and lonely. But also fresh, challenging and exhilarating. By writing for teens I get to feel all of that over and over again.