"So...what's your book about?"
Monday, April 13, 2015
You'd think that after many months of getting asked this question I would have a quick answer. I do have what's called my "elevator pitch" but even that doesn't really do the trick. If you haven't noticed, I'm a fan of details. I'm verbose. One-liners are hardly my specialty.
The Best Kept Secret began as a short story. I submitted it to Creative Loafing's fiction contest back in January of 2012. Obviously, it has come a long way since then. And I wrote it because my younger sister, who is now 18, was starting high school then and within just a few short years had lost two of her schoolmates to suicide. One of them, a young man who was only 16, had been ruthlessly bullied because of his sexual orientation. It was devastating for the people in my hometown - a place often jokingly referred to as "Mayberry" - and I imagine that no one knew what to do with themselves. How did this happen? Why hadn't someone stepped in? Most importantly, how did his bullies get away with treating their peer with such contempt? And why did they do it?
Tragedies like teen suicide aren't commonplace in a town where the kid who sits next to you in geometry was probably also in your Pre-K class at the First Baptist Church. It has its share of drama and gossip - which is par for the course in a small, Southern town - but bullying? Teen suicide? It's unthinkable. Or at least it should be.
The reality, however, is that it isn't. And it's big fucking problem these days.
Turn on the news even just once a week and you'll probably see a story about bullying. It's not a new issue, but the intensity of it - thanks to the anonymity of the internet and rapid-fire sharing on social media - has increased exponentially. Which means that the bullying - and the impact of it - not only lasts longer, it also has a far wider reach.
As I sat down to write that first short story, I couldn't keep from wondering what led those students in my hometown to target that young man. His sexual orientation seemed to have been the most likely reason. But people who hurt others are often hurt, too. There's always an antecedent. Go back far enough in any person's story and you'll discover a reason for their behavior. It doesn't make it right, but it does help us make sense of our world. And when we can make some sense of the tragedies around us, perhaps we can do something to prevent them from happening again.
The Best Kept Secret is the story of a young girl named Emma Fraser. She's fifteen and she lives in the fictional town of Cley, Georgia. She is best friends with a boy named Andy and, for years, they've been inseparable. But, like we all do, Emma soon discovers that being in high school means every person has choices to make, choices that go beyond what to wear to school or what to have for dinner. And those choices have repercussions.
At the beginning of the book, Andy confesses to Emma that he's had sex. Suddenly, there's a huge disconnect between the two of them. And since Emma is the narrator of the story, we are seeing everything through her eyes. She's trying to navigate a world she doesn't really understand, and she feels a little lost. But then Andy's older brother, Jesse, enters the picture and Emma learns that they have something in common. In that moment, she finds a friend in someone she has spent years paying zero attention. Later, Emma is asked to the prom by a senior named Deegan. And while this turn of events is incredibly exciting for her, it also brings new questions. And new secrets.
Emma is a strong character, and in many ways she's telling more than just her own story; she's telling us every character's story and - along the way - their secrets, too. She's fighting to make sense of her world and find a place where she belongs. This isn't a struggle that ends in high school. In fact, it's the place where the struggle often begins. And Emma, who starts out believing she has the answers to all the questions, eventually realizes that she has a lot to learn.
The point I am hoping to make with this book is this: every single one of us has secrets and no matter what category they fall into - whether innocent or not so much - keeping them to ourselves will always, always, always have a result. We don't live in a vacuum. And we need to remember that everything we do - or don't do - impacts the people around us.
So...does that answer your question?