I’m reading Punkzilla again. I think it’s been less than a year since I read it last, but I can’t stay away. It’s that good. I’m studying it for inspiration for my current WIP, but I have to admit that I often forget I’m supposed to be “studying.” I’ll find myself totally lost inside it, then realize “Oh crap, I’m supposed to be paying attention to how Adam Rapp crafts the story, how he uses the epistolary form, the techniques he uses to create such a unique and memorable narrator, blah blah blah.” But it’s hard to focus on stuff like that when the book is just so damn good. I’m a softy for anything about misfits, stories that honor the lives of people society prefers to ignore. Here’s a boy who’s been written off by everyone as a lost cause, but the author believes he’s worthy of our love; he puts us inside him, and we get to feel all his intelligence and kindness and vulnerability, and it’s so frickin’ awesome it makes my heart burst. Sigh. Hopefully someday I can write something this good.
Seems like I’ve been reading a lot of books about boys lately. I recently finished The Highest Tide, by Jim Lynch, which I highly recommend, especially if you’re a lover of the sea. It takes place in the Puget Sound where I grew up, and I felt homesick the whole time I was reading it. I remember being a kid and wandering around on the rocky beach down the road from my house, looking under rocks for crabs and other hidden life, sticking my fingers in sea anemones to make them squirt. Rather than take an AP science class in high school like I was “supposed to,” I chose to take two semesters of Marine Biology, learning all the science behind the sea life I loved, learning all the Latin names for the creatures I grew up with. Whenever I come across a tide pool, I still turn into a huge nerd and start reciting the scientific names of invertebrates.
Before I took a detour with Punkzilla, I was working on The Lacuna, by Barabara Kingslover. God, I love her. Not YA, but she writes great kids. I love alternating between reading YA and adult fiction. It’s kind of like exercise, like lifting weights. YA uses certain muscles, the ones that focus primarily on the “I” of the teenager, where the world is as big as what the main character can sense, and it’s bright and intense and immediate. But then I’ll read an author like Kingslover, something in the 3rd person, something slower and layered, where the world spreads away from the main character and the path becomes windy and intricate, and it’s like a whole different set of muscles are being used. And as I read these different types of books, as I challenge myself to approach story from as many angles as possible, I can feel myself becoming a better writer. Because what is writing but stealing from authors who are better than you? This is perhaps the best thing I learned in my MFA program: steal wisely.