Since I've already said so much about how much I love Steph's books, I'm going to hop aside and let her do the talking instead of hogging up the bandwidth like I usually do.
Halloween, Homecoming, Ballads of Suburbia & Me
My book Ballads of Suburbia could be like a Halloween costume for my own teenage years. It’s not autobiographical, but it is set in the town I grew up in during the time I grew up and in a way I took my own feelings and struggles and blew them up into a story. Jeri asked me a bunch of different questions about Halloween and Homecoming and the experiences that I had and the characters from Ballads of Suburbia had. One of the most poignant ones she asked was “For some, Halloween is an opportunity to safely tame their fears, using imagination to turn the dark side of life into something manageable and maybe even fun. Does writing fiction serve that same purpose for you? What monsters has BALLADS OF SUBURBIA allowed you to tame?”
And the short answer is yes. Fiction is catharsis. Fiction is dressing up and exploring some of the issues I faced and seeing how things would have been different if I’d made different decisions or done different things. I was an angry, lonely, and depressed teenage girl. I went through a lot to try to figure myself out. But I don’t know if I really did until ten years later, when I started to tell Kara’s story. In getting to know Kara, I came to understand myself. So in honor of Jeri’s fabulous Blogtoberfest (and thank you, Jeri, for inviting me to take part and share your blog with all these fabulous writers!), here’s a reflection about Homecoming and Halloween that should tell you a little bit about the teenager I was and my character Kara and her story, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA.
I never went to homecoming. I wasn’t that kind of girl. Freshman year, I thought about it a little bit. There was still a tug of war inside of me between “be the girl that fits” and “be the girl I am.” There was a pep rally during the last period of school the day before homecoming. It was required. I was still being good so I went. And the next day, my best friend at the time convinced me we should walk by the big game just, you know, in case people we knew were there. In case it was, like, a place to be seen. I didn’t like football, never have, so I didn’t want to stay and watch. Most of the girls we knew weren’t there because they were getting ready for the dance. We didn’t have dates. We still had crushes on the guys we liked in junior high. We’d been too shy to ask them to the 8th grade dance and we were still too shy. And the guy I liked, now he was dating a new friend of mine. She was on drill team, which means basically she was a cheerleader. But she was a cheerleader who wore Doc Martens and introduced me to PJ Harvey and she was the girl I smoked pot with for the first time. And I never told her that I’d been totally in love with her boyfriend for like a year. I just let her have him. They went to homecoming together. I stayed home and probably watched MTV. Yeah, Kara does a lot of that her freshman year of high school too.
The only high school dance I went to was a Morp. Yeah, that’s prom spelled backwards. Real creative folks at my alma mater, huh? *rolls eyes* We had morps a couple times per semester. They were supposed to be casual proms. Again my best friend and I went because we thought we were supposed to in order to fit in or something. We went to the first one of the year our freshman year. It got so rowdy that the school cancelled the next one. It seemed like everyone was high or drunk. It was the nineties, grunge had suddenly broken. So instead of like our eighth grade dance where it was all slow jams, Boys II Men and that sort of thing, there was Nirvana and people were moshing. It was kind of cool except that music was ours and there were the jocks and the bitchy girls that made fun of us moshing, stealing our scene. And the whole thing was so crazed and crowded.
But there was a moment which I stole for Ballads of Suburbia where my friend and I were hiding out in a corner, kind of overwhelmed by the insanity and this strange boy came up to us and grabbed my friend’s crystal necklace. He held it up between their faces and shouted, “Penial Augmentation!” Then he ran off and we were left laughing, going what the hell was that?
That was the highlight of my night, but mostly I just felt sick to my stomach, hating the crowd at the Morp, hating the feeling that I didn’t fit anywhere. Much like Kara.
And like Kara, my life changed sophomore year when I finally found my place: Scoville Park and I slowly became more confortable with who I was and I didn’t try to force myself to fit into some sort of high school mold. I ditched the pep assemblies and smoked cigarettes or pot in the park or someone’s garage. I didn’t even think about dances because none of my friends were going so it didn’t matter.
Senior year, instead of prom or morp or homecoming or king of hearts, we decided to have our own dance right in Scoville Park. My guy friends got all dressed up in thrift store tuxs or leather jackets with tuxedo tees and the girls wore their favorite dresses. We brought a boombox and blasted ska and punk songs, we slamdanced and skanked. We laughed and smoked cigarettes and swigged booze out of paper bags and hidden flasks. Eventually the cops came and kicked us out of the park, so we went to Jedi’s Garden, one of our favorite diners. We almost blended in with our post-homecoming peers except we had much better outfits.
That’s the only kind of homecoming I could see Kara attending, one right there in Scoville Park wearing a vintage dress, fishnets, and combat boots like I did. I kind of wish I’d thought of this memory earlier because I would have stolen it for the book.
But there is a Halloween scene in Ballads of Suburbia. There are Halloween scenes in both of my books because Halloween is definitely my thing, big time. I think I dress up my teenage characters because I neglected Halloween myself as a teen. As much as I loved it, I only remember dressing up for it my junior year because a couple of my friend had French foreign exchange students staying with them and they’d never been trick or treating. So we all came up with last minute costumes and took them. (And we found out that the people of Oak Park were not very keen on teenagers trick or treating.) I went as Sid Vicious’s infamous girlfriend Nancy Spungen, partially because all I needed was a blond wig, I already had plenty of clothes like Nancy’s and partially because everyone had me pegged as her. I was the crazy, self-destructive punk girl. There were rumors that my ex boyfriend and I were junkies. So that night I played the part I’d been assigned. It’s hard to explain it, but it was a release in a way, being this extreme version of me.
In Ballads, Kara dresses up as a punk rock Cinderella and I think that reflected who she wanted to be in a lot of ways. She wanted to be herself with her blue hair and crazy thrift store dresses, but she also wanted to find her Prince Charming. And who would it be, Christian or Adrian? Both of whom were too cool to dress up of course. But like a lot of teenagers both of them are hiding their true selves behind a tough facade. It’s like every day is Halloween in high school. Playing dress up, playing cool, trying to figure out what’s real, what’s fake, and who the hell you really are. That is basically what Ballads is about.
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Thanks so much to Stephanie for sharing her always insightful and inspiring thoughts!