Ithaca NY author Shawn Goodman, shown here with his daughter Ella, is the Winner of the prestigious 28th Annual Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel. His blue-ribbon novel, SOMETHING LIKE HOPE will see publication Spring 2011.
You can find out more about Shawn by clicking: SHAWN GOODMAN.
In SOMETHING LIKE HOPE, 17-year-old Shavonne finds herself in a juvenile lockup hundreds of miles from home. She wants to turn her life around before her eighteenth birthday, but her problems seem too big, and time is running out.
As both a talented author of a book about troubled teens and as a real-life psychologist in a girls’ juvenile justice facility, Shawn contributes a unique and intriguing take on Writing Teen Voice.
Losing Your Amnesia
By Shawn Goodman
There's the usual advice about writing teen voice: spend a lot of time around kids, listen to how they talk, etc. Although this sounds sensible enough, there are risks: stilted language, corny dialogue, outdated slang, cliches that don't fit or make sense. Mimicry gone bad.
Of course, you can always write about teen issues like drugs, or pregnancy, or whatever, provided that you have the skill and self-awareness to avoid moralizing or teaching.
It’s best to just tell a good story or capture a strong or unique voice.
How? I think it has something to do with anamnesis, P.K.D.'s word for "the loss of amnesia."
Applied to YA fiction it means that, as adults, we've forgotten what it's like to be an adolescent. Sure, we remember the snapshot moments or the intensely emotional ones. But the truth or magic is really in the small things, like Holden Caulfield's concern over the fate of the ducks. Or the kid in MILKWEED who hunts through the dead city to find a pickled egg for his sad mute friend (in the end he finds just a pickle and an egg - but it's good enough).
Or Vern Tessio's declaration that cherry Pez is the perfect food.
Or the cigarette burns in the vinyl bucket seats of Jeff Riscioli's '73 Camaro (as a dedicated member of the punk scene, Jeff dotted the glowing end of a Marlboro in the shape of an anarchy symbol, then crashed into a dumpster in the Twin Fair parking lot).
The point is that we all have these images and stories; we've just become cut off from them.
In the process of growing up and assuming jobs, and kids, and minivans with fold-down seats, and thirty-year mortgages on split-level three-bedroom ranches, we forget. But it doesn't have to be tragic; we can simply lose our amnesia. How? I don't know. Listen to a song from when you were in high school, like Just One Kiss, by the Violent Femmes.
Say out loud the name of your partner in Biology lab (Jennifer Renkens, a pretty blonde who fainted at the sight of her own blood during the blood-typing unit).
Recall your first car ('59 VW Microbus, bought at Angelo Bomasuto's' father's hot dog stand for $700). Remember the knock-down fist-fight in which you got your ass kicked by Rob Radloff, pummeled, really, on the Washington Avenue train tracks. Remember how he was later hit and killed by a train on those very tracks in your senior year.
Picture your prom date (the same Jennifer who fainted in Biology lab).
In truth, remember whatever you want, whatever you can. What matters is that you get better at this thing of remembering the small things, the details, the half-feelings.
Close your eyes and hear the music. Feel the rhythm of how you and your friends talked. Because that rhythm - the flow, the cadence, the back and forth of whispers in class, and insults in the cafeteria, the laughing and shouting - is what it's all about.
That's how you lose your amnesia.