You Write What’s Real: The Secret Lives of Young Adults

Last December I visited an English class at a continuation high school. The students had read and discussed  my YA novel HOW TO BE MANLY  (Giant Squid Books) and the plan was for me to give a talk and answer their questions. I came bearing a big pink box of donuts (if you read the book you’ll know why).

As I put a donut on every desk, one girl jumped from her seat, unable to wait for my presentation to begin to share her thoughts.

“I like you,” she said. “Because you write what’s real.”  Her classmates nodded in agreement, glad that she broke the ice. Over the course of that hour, a couple of the students told me that mine was the first book they ever read all the way to the end because Matty was a character they felt they knew. He was so much like their friends, so much like themselves.

I’m fascinated by the secret lives of children. There is a gap between adult perception of the lives of children and the actual experience that young people are living. It’s a liminal gap, terrifyingly lawless, but also one where tremendous grace is possible. The kids aren’t alright, in other words, but sometimes they are righteous.

This is all to announce that on Friday June 26 my favorite literary event in my city will be featuring a story of mine to be read aloud and performed by fabulous local actress Elizabeth Holzman Phillips. Sacramento Stories on Stage has drawn such brilliant lights as Tobias Wolff, Karen Bender, Ann Packer and Kathryn Ma. It’s a literary fangirl’s dream to be included.

The story that Elizabeth will read is “The Flat Earth” which appeared in the print edition of Night Train Journal last March.  It’s not YA, but it is about a young girl trying to navigate the often hateful waters of junior high. What’s going on in her life is nothing that her mother could ever suspect. There are secrets within secrets. Young girls are like that especially, I think. They become matryoshka dolls of secrets as a way to survive. I know I did.

Writing honest fiction is a paradox that can be difficult to get right. The girl in the English class I visited gave me the biggest compliment of my writing life. I’ll never forget her. I’ll honor her gift by always seeking to write what’s real.

HOW TO BE MANLY is available for the reading.

manly cover

NIGHT TRAIN JOURNAL is a good one if you like short stories.


Remember how awesome it used to be when somebody cool read to you? Everybody should come out to Sacramento Stories on Stage, June 26, at Avid Reader at Tower (1600 Broadway in Sacramento). Doors open at 7 p.m. Great event, great stories, donations welcome.

I’ll also have copies of THE ARROW for sale at the event because maybe it isn’t about the real exactly, but nothing says summer reading like rock star gods, half demon surfer bodyguards, and the divine feminine saving the world from corporate pharmaceutical corruption.


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