Thursday, June 9, 2011

Guest Post: Patricia McCormick on being 15

We're extremely lucky to be part of the blog tour celebrating the 10th anniversary of Patricia McCormick's CUT. We gave you a description of the book yesterday, but for more information, check out the This is Teen Facebook page and Patricia's own website.

As I mentioned yesterday, this is one of the foundational contemporary ya titles, so we're thrilled to have Patricia stop by and talk a bit about herself . . . at age 15. What she hits upon here really nails why contemporary ya matters and why kids want to and need to read these books. Without further ado:


Thinking of myself at fifteen makes me cringe.

I was on the debate team. I plastered my hair with Dippity-Do, then rolled it in empty juice cartons. I made my own clothes—including a pair of yellow culottes that I wore with yellow sneakers and a homemade perfume of lemon juice and baby oil.

I also wrote stories, truly awful stories, featuring a crime-fighting girl with a horse named Ginger. And I carried these stories in a huge leather briefcase my father had thrown away.

I was a walking, talking lemon. With helmet hair. And a briefcase. Not exactly prom queen material.

But I did have something of a taste for adventure. Many nights I would climb out my bedroom window onto the garage roof and smoke cigars—cherry-flavored Swisher Sweets. I would lean back on the slanted roof for hours, listening to the neighborhood garage band practice the few songs they knew and yelling out requests from my hidden perch. It was pure magic to me when the opening chords of “Secret Agent Man” came floating up to me after I’d made my request; it didn’t matter that song died abruptly after the first chorus since that’s all they knew.

Other times, I would sneak out of the house after my family was asleep and wander several blocks away to the country club. Our family didn’t belong to the club, so it was thrilling to tiptoe across the damp, finely trimmed grass and sneak across the fairway to the privet hedge that guarded the club house. I lay on my stomach, peeking out from the bushes at elegantly dressed couples dancing around the pool, which glowed like a UFO. I’d heard of untold riches there, of kids who could order hot dogs or ice cream sandwiches for free!

And once I walked down to our small-town 24-hour Dunkin’ Donuts in the middle of the night. I had to walk along the highway to get there—and was nearly blown off my feet when the first trucker blew his horn at me—but the mile-or-so walk past familiar stores and churches took on otherworldly quality in the dead of night. Even the traffic light was different at night, blinking yellow instead of progressing from red to green, suggesting that midnight travelers were a breed apart from car-pooling moms and commuting dads; these were adventurers who could glide right through the intersection under cloak of night. Even the water tower at the Purina Chow plant at the far end of town was transformed into a citadel on stilts, its blinking lights a beacon to all wayfarers, an Emerald City at the end of the highway.

So what do these random—mortifying—anecdotes say about me at fifteen? That I was a dork, obviously.

But on reflection, I think they also suggest that I was on some kind of quest. That in my own blind and awkward way I was trying to connect with the world beyond our bland suburban development. And that I tried to transcend it by dressing it up in the gloss of my imagination.

I also think that precisely because I wasn’t prom queen material I was in the position of observer. Which is the perfect vantage spot for the aspiring writer.

To this day, I don’t know who the boys were in that fledgling rock band. They were probably just as shy and awkward as I was. But under cover of darkness we were signaling to each other, tapping out a kind of rock ’n’ roll Morse code—intoxicated with music that hinted at exciting lives beyond those of our accountant fathers and school-teacher mothers. Even if it was just the first verse of “Secret Agent Man.”

It was a magical time, when all things seemed possible. It was also an excruciating time, when nothing about me seemed right. It’s a time of life that stokes and feeds my fiction. As soon as I conjure up that time—I blush at the image of me smoking a cherry-flavored cheroot in my hip huggers thinking I was the height of cool—I also dive into all the torment, all the possibility of being fifteen.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, thank you so much for this. I was (and possibly still am) a giant dork all through middle and high school. That I escaped with any friends or dignity intact is nothing short of a miracle...;O)

    ReplyDelete

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