Friday, November 04, 2011

Defending Realism

First off, I have to give a shoutout to the awesome kids at New Trier High School, especially my old students, who came to see me during their writers' week. I had an amazing time and felt such love. Sniff. Made me question quitting my job. Just a little.
There were more people, but I only took this one lame picture. See how nice they look?

But now, I would like to address the issue of realism in realistic fiction. Again, I am talking to the doubters, those who like to write reviews where they say stupid things like THAT COULD NEVER HAPPEN. For fuck's sake: anything can happen! What kind of lame-ass existence do you live in where things can't happen? Sick bastards blow themselves up in the name of religion! Conversely, two week old babies are pulled from rubble alive! The world is a crazy place, good and bad. Just because your lives are uneventful in the kook department, doesn't mean everyone else's are. It certainly doesn't mean mine is. Here are some examples from my works of FICTION that actually happened TO ME:

Get Well Soon:
- I was in a mental hospital very similar to the one in the book, and, yes, the staff acted very similarly to the lazy, unhelpful characters.
-There was a Satanist, a girl who had seizures and spoke in tongues, and a roommate who had to carry around a fake baby.
-Parents can be that oblivious

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder:
This isn't so much about real vs. fake, but it pisses me off that this book was so lauded for the wonderful family represented, and when I wrote a book with parents who were absent (Don't Stop Now) people complained about that. Why? Because (I'm so sure) all parents and families are perfect? When I wrote it, I actually wondered if my Nerd family were so saccharine sweet, people would complain they were unrealistic! Diversity in characters is important, for both the readers AND the writers. It makes books more REALISTIC.

Don't Stop Now:
- I had a friend who faked her own kidnapping. At age 18. And I was the only person she told.
-I lied to the FBI about said friend faking her own kidnapping.
-My parents trusted me to make lots of decisions at age 18. They never visited me at college. I slept on people's couches in New York for a summer. Maybe you had over-protective, busy-body parents who were all up in your grills, but mine let me figure out things for myself. As, I'm certain, many others do. I don't understand AT ALL the complaints of reviewers that the parents in this book are too relaxed about letting two eighteen year-olds go on a road trip together.

And, lastly, it's just boring to think that people would really want everything in every book to feel 100% realistic. "I have to brush my teeth." "I had a graham cracker for a snack." "I have to poo." It would be like the world's worst Twitter conversation. Realistic Fiction is just what it claims to be: FICTION (i.e. stuff that is made up) but done realistically. And in my world, my books are very realistic. The fiction part comes because I have no interest in writing memoirs. Although, if I did, I think today's title would be: Grumpy Author Needs to Stop Reading Reviews.


Jenny said...

Very well said. Thanks for sharing. I am in the same boat as you - why would you want to close your mind to stories that are different than those in your life?

Thanks for taking the time to distill some of your own experiences into these books. I was one of those kids with the overprotective parent; it's always nice to hear about people with different experiences. :D

Julie H said...

Thanks, Jenny! While my parents weren't overprotective, I think they didn't have much to worry about-- I never drank, smoked, or went on dates until the very end of high school. Or maybe even after :) I see nothing wrong with being overprotective (my daughter may learn this when she's older), but I think a lot of parents also let go earlier rather than later. Thanks for your comment!

carey farrell said...

i think too often people equate realism with their own experience--"[xyz] never happened to me; therefore, it can't be realistic." as if one's personal experience of the world is the only one can be real. part of the fun of reading is finding out about all the other people who live outside your head.

Michelle said...

Love your post. I think it's very strange that while you hear complaints about the lack of 'realism' in YA fiction, urban and contemporary paranormal & fantasy has exploded all over the place... But it's all FICTION! And all of it should be welcomed.

I love reading about other people's experiences- strange, hysterical, amazing, odd, or frightening as they may be. Thank you for being awesome in sharing yours in your books.

Julie H said...

Carey and Michelle, I agree it's interesting to read about realistic things that happen to other people. I also think realistic fiction has a lot to do with the realism in the characters and feelings, although it could be argued that that should be part of any good book. Thanks for writing!

Emily said...

I love this post. I've only read DON'T STOP NOW, and while something like that never happened to me. I didn't, for one minute, think it unrealistic. I loved it.

Also, like you said. You can't please everyone. Looks like I'll have to read your other books now.

Julie H said...

Awesome, Emily! And if you're in the market for my other books, they're on bargain prices on Amazon right now (I think because of the closing of Borders? Maybe they're getting rid of stock?) Although, of course, buying through your local independent and checking out at your library are great options, too :) Thanks for commenting!