“My life was going, going, gone, and I hadn’t been laid yet. I couldn’t go into the slammer before that happened.” Hutch McQueen.
Sixteen-year-old Hutchinson McQueen is trapped between an abusive mother and an absentee father. Shackled by poor vision and poor reading skills, he squeaks through classes with his talent for eavesdropping and memorizing what he hears. After another suspension from school and suffering through one of his mother’s violent attacks, he escapes to a friend’s house that turns out to be a meth lab. The lab is raided and Hutch lands in juvenile detention.
When the court sentences him to six months in a new juvenile program, he meets a teacher with Alzheimer’s who will change his life and hers.
What is Realistic Fiction?
The simple answer is it’s an oxymoron.
All the while I’m creating characters and stories that are supposed to reveal or be “real” life, I’m really working to disguise what I’m doing.
Sounds strange, doesn’t it? But as a writer of realistic fiction, I have to use language to generate the idea in readers’ minds that what I’ve created is indeed real. But it’s not. Not in the least.
Actually, writing stories about fairies, zombies, witches and angels is more straight forward. No one thinks for a minute these are anything except artifice. These are worlds that don’t exist, but serve to enchant, entertain and give another perspective on real life.
So what are some of the ways I use to disguise what I do as a realistic writer? One has been the First Person point of view. I can give direct access to my characters’ thoughts, feelings and motivations using this convention. Readers feel an immediate connection with my characters. They enter with me into what I guess Spock would call a “Mind Meld,” and they are more likely to say, “ Yes. This is how it really is. I know. I’ve been there. I’ve felt that.” Because we have a shared history of this convention, they forget they’re inside a fiction. Sometimes I forget as well.
I use “real” or “near-real” everyday items. One problem I’ve had is technology. I no sooner write this fantastic realistic scene with a character flipping his phone closed than the flip phone is the dinosaur of cells. Okay. I change all those scenes to iPhones 3, the iPhones 4 enter and the only teen caught dead with an iPhone 3 is a kid who can’t afford a new phone. I make a note that maybe using outdated equipment is a great way to reveal who my character is.
I build my worlds as carefully as sci-fi and fantasy writers do. These worlds must, after all, appear real. That doesn’t mean I describe real cities or towns. No, it means that once again I go to that commonly shared code about what is real—the code that says, towns have districts—rich and poor, cluttered and spacious. Cities have garbage trucks that rumble through the streets in dim daylight on a specific day of the week. Those are my kind of details. Those are what I use to create the illusion of reality.
I love realistic fiction, but that’s evident because it’s mostly what I write. I think it’s important for kids to read about characters who deal with real life problems. I believe it helps them if they see how those characters handle problems and how they feel while they do. The more I can trick readers into believing the story is real, the better the result.
In my other life--the one before I began writing for teens and younger readers--I was a teacher and administrator at California State University, San Jose. My field of Linguistics and Inter-cultural Communication has carried me to a lot of places in the world to explore different cultures and languages. I can say, “Where’s the toilet?” and “I’m lost!” in at least five languages and two dialects. Go ahead. Pat me on the back.
My idea of a perfect day is one or all of the following: starting a new novel, finishing writing a blockbuster novel, hiking on a misty morning trail in the Santa Cruz Mountains, saying Namaste after a great yoga practice, sipping a cappuccino topped at a bustling café, reading in front of a fire with snow outside, swimming in an ocean someplace.
I've just set out my perfect life. Day after day after day.