Romance, Trauma Porn, and Brazil Dates!

June 10th, 2009

So many people have sent me this article (or the link to the original one it refers to)!

Books about “dark” subject matters (like “13 Reasons Why,” about a girl who commits suicide, and “If I Stay,” about a girl in a coma) are hot in YA right now!

There’s even a name for this kind of fiction in the “industry”—it’s called “trauma porn.”

Hey, don’t blame me! I didn’t make up the name. I agree, the name “trauma porn” is a bit rude.

But so is the name “chick lit,” the genre in which I write (and “dick lit,” in which Nick Hornby et al write…although I understand that’s been changed to “lad lit” because “dick lit” is way too rude).

(FYI, the queen of trauma porn is Lurlene McDaniel. Love her.)

But guess what? Trauma porn isn’t new. Certain teenagers have always been drawn to books about kids who have bigger problems than they do.

I didn’t want to read trauma porn when I was a teen, but in my hometown library, that’s all they had in the YA section (or at least, if they had anything else, it was always checked out).

My best friend in high school was obsessed with Flowers in the Attic (trauma porn). Every day on the bus to school she would regale me with what had happened to the unfortunate Dollanganger kids, who were locked in the attic by their evil grandma.

What had usually happened was that the Dollanganger kids had had incestuous sex.

EW! I did not want to hear about it! My best friend had a little brother with whom I knew perfectly well she did not want to have sex (we used to torture him mercilessly), so why was she reading these books?

I’ll tell you why: Her parents were going through a divorce, and those Dollanganger kids problems were way worse than hers, so they made her feel better.

My problem was, my home life was way worse than my best friend’s, and worse even (in my opinion) than those Dollanganger kids! So what was I supposed to read?

Well, I wasn’t locked in an attic, but I sort of was, emotionally. My dad was an alcoholic, and he spent most of his time passed out on the living room floor in his underwear, so we could never have friends over (I spent most of my time at my best friend’s house, where even with her parents fighting, it was nicer than at my house). My house was sad. There were bottles of vodka hidden all over the place (under sofa cushions, in the toilet tank, but mostly under the front seat of the car, because my dad’s favorite place to drink was in the car. And yeah, this means what you think it means. But on the plus side, Dad drove so slowly that everyone passing us would scream, “Speed it up, old man!” so it was unlikely he would ever hit anyone).

What kind of books was I supposed to read? Books about girls whose dad was an alcoholic? Um, no thank you.

So trauma porn did me no good. What I needed were books to help me ESCAPE my problems.

So I haunted the library looking for fun, light reads for teens, of which there seemed to be none, mainly because I think if there were any, they were so popular, they were always being checked out by other teens in my same situation. All I could find was trauma porn.

So I read….

Romance novels! YES! Romance novels saved me!

True, my best friend made fun of me for reading “brainless fluff.” But she only called them that because she’d never tried them! At least the heroines I read about weren’t having sex with their brother.

And if anyone locked the heroines I was reading about into an attic, they busted out! Using swords!

Plus, they always got a boyfriend out of it. And lived happily ever after at the end.

So now people are asking, with my background, why I don’t write trauma porn, since it’s “so stylish” (even though it’s been around forever). After all, I have enough experience to draw on…I had an alcoholic father (who died when I was only 26), I worked in a freshman dormitory where four students killed themselves in one year (true story): I was the one who had to supervise hosing off the bodily fluids they left behind (the NYFD wouldn’t do it), packed up their belongings, handed the boxes to their sobbing parents, and yes, in one instance, colluded with the police to hide the note the student left, because we mutually decided it had been written under the influence and was too disturbing to give to his loved ones.

Here’s why:

I can’t stop thinking about the kind of teenager I was, and the books I so desperately wanted to read, but couldn’t find. I think teens like my best friend have always been able to find plenty to read.

But what about the teens like me? Who is looking out for them? That’s what got me started on the path where I am today.

When I began writing, one of the reasons I chose the genre of romantic fiction was because romances were what saved me from being so incredibly depressed (even suicidal) about my life as a teen (that, and eventually our mother getting us all into Al-Anon, of course).

I just can’t imagine writing (or reading) a book that wasn’t romantic fiction, or at least was funny. Romantic fiction was the only thing that helped me escape when my life was the worst it ever was (and the worst I hope it ever will be).

And I vowed then that if I ever became a professional writer, I’d write books that I hoped would give readers like me a fun escape from whatever awful thing they were going through.

Yes, there are “lessons” in my books (you have to hunt for them because I hate books with heavy-handed “messages.” I try to make my “lessons” subtle, but believe me, they’re there).

But mostly, my books are written to make people feel better about their lives while not reminding them of their own horrible problems.

So that’s what I write. Books that I hope make people laugh or daydream or just give them a little break from their real life.

What I think is great now is that there are so many different books available for so many different kinds of readers, and that teens (and kids, and adults) have so many choices. No one has to feel left out.

And certainly no one should make fun of anyone for what they choose to read (or write), be it light OR dark!

So with all that in mind, may I recommend, for your reading pleasure:

Gorgeous by Rachel Vail!

I haven’t had a chance to read this yet, but I love everything Rachel writes—including her blog—because I feel like she provides the perfect mix of escapism with real world problems while still being funny. I love her writing style, and I really loved Lucky, which this book is the sequel to (but you don’t have to have read Lucky to understand this, I’m pretty sure).

Here’s a great review of Gorgeous from YA New York. Who wouldn’t want to read a book with a great first line like that, indeed? And yes, I agree, we do need more books about the devil.

Anyway, thanks for all the funny links you guys sent to supplement the links I provided for you last week! And yes, you’re right, Michele F. and Elisa. How could I forget:

The Sound of Music Flash Mob (this is one of my mom’s favorites, deservedly so. If people concentrated on doing more things like this, how much better would the world be?)

And the Star Wars Dance Off (Princess Leia and Queen Amidala dance to Girls Just Wanna Have Fun! And there’s a special guest appearance by the Emperor! Hilarious!)

But to get down to business, I promised to tell you the list of cities I’m going to in Brazil in September! This is tentative, and the bookshops haven’t been decided yet, so I can’t give you those.

I’m quite nervous (but also excited!) about my trip, since I speak no Portuguese, and with all the books I have due, I’m going to have to be working quite hard all summer, so I won’t have time to learn much, either before I go.

But I can’t wait! “Gossip Girl” author Cecily von Zeisegar went to the Rio de Janeiro Book Fair one year and when we were in Sweden together, she told me what a great time she had, and how incredible all the people were. So I can’t wait!

Anyway, like I said, this is a tentative list of the cities where I’ll be attending signings from September 10 to the 19th. Nothing is written in stone but since so many of you are writing to ask, I thought I’d give you a head’s up. Remember, these could still change, since it’s early yet:

Rio de Janeiro Book Fair (9/10-9-13)
Curitiba (9/15)
Sao Paulo (9/16-9/17)
Salvador (9/18)

Please note: these dates/locations may change. I will let you know the exact dates as I know.

OK? So I hope I’ll see some of you at some of these events (more details to come as I get them)! You can also check here (my Brazilian publisher’s site).

That’s it for now….thanks for reading!

More later.

Much love,

Meg