The Odd Truth About Growing Up, by Rita ArensI was above the age of thirty-five when I started working on my debut young adult novel, THE OBVIOUS GAME, and I'd just turned thirty-nine when it was published. A lot of people have asked me how I can write in a teen voice since I'm so, well, not teenaged. So here's the thing: My inner self still is.
When I was a kid, I thought I'd never be forty, and here I am knocking on its door. I have a nine-year-old daughter. I was in fourth grade in 1984. I remember the launch of MTV. I didn't use email in college, and I didn't get a cell phone until I was twenty-four. I have never read Harry Potter. I am so old. And I was a precocious teen, so I got very comfortable being the youngest person in the room at all manner of occasions. It's a shock to not be the kid anymore. It hurts a little sometimes, but it's happened despite my best intentions. I can't imagine being taken seriously by the average thirteen-year-old on most subjects, and even my flip-flops have arches in them. But here's something I didn't realize when I was sitting around as a teen watching my parents and grandparents suck down lemonade and eat pie on the back deck on summer evenings: They probably felt about seventeen, too.
It's not that I haven't benefitted from the twenty-two years of life experience between then and now. I'm a better driver. I understand I am in fact capable of surviving on three hours of sleep a night for months on end (thanks, daughter) without actually dying. I'm not afraid of things like mortgages and marriage and career paths. But I remember the wonder and the fear and the awesome that was doing things -- adult things -- for the first time. I remember my first paycheck, my first day driving a car alone (I wrecked), waking up on the morning after high school graduation. The teen years are sublime in that they're awesome and horrible at all once, and doing new things -- like writing a novel and trying to get it published -- feels like that, too. Meeting a new group of people can feel like high school all over again: exhilerating, intimidating, thought-provoking or boring, depending. Your parents are always your parents, and if you're anything like me, their disapproval stings just as hard at thirty-nine as it did at nineteen. Sure, you can avoid them a lot easier, but your parents are always and forever your parents.
THE OBVIOUS GAME takes a lot of plot points from my own life. Diana, the protagonist, has a mom with cancer and an eating disorder, and I did, too, only not at the same time like poor Diana. The events in the book are different from the events in my life, but I remember, oh, I remember what all of that felt like, and I tried to let that echo throughout the book. My goal in writing THE OBVIOUS GAME was to help people understand what that feels like, all of it, because I couldn't have explained it at seventeen because I was too deep in the living it. One benefit of getting older is the pain of certain things softens and gives me the ability to examine what happened without freaking out, turn them over and look for meaning in a way I just wasn't ready to do when I was in high school. Some things never change, though -- I got so into re-living a mother/daughter relationship from the daughter's point of view that at one point during revisions I woke up every day for a week really mad at my mother, who is now sixty-nine and has not told me which shoes to wear since 1992. I'm instead, insisting my daughter put on socks. How did that happen?
I told a bunch of my friends in their thirties, forties and fifties about my perspective, and almost everyone said the same thing: You think it'll feel different to be older, but it really doesn't. Your body gets older. You get tired earlier. Your vision changes. But inside? You're still the same person you were when you were a teenager, maybe more certain of which parts of yourself you like the best or want to work on, but the same person. I think those of us who write YA are more comfortable feeling the old feelings, but I'm convinced everyone has them. What do you think?
More About THE OBVIOUS GAME
I'm seeking beta readers for my next novel. Beta readers read a draft and give feedback re: pacing, characters, plot and overall flow. If you're interested in being a beta reader (I list in acknowledgments), please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE OBVIOUS GAME (InkSpell Publishing, 2013)
"Your shirt is yellow."
"Your eyes are blue."
"You have to stop running away from your problems."
"You're too skinny."
Fifteen-year-old Diana Keller accidentally begins teaching The Obvious Game to new kid Jesse on his sixteenth birthday. As she buries her shock about her mother's fresh cancer diagnosis in cookbooks, peach schnapps and Buns of Steel workouts, Diana both seduces athlete Jesse and shoves him away under the guise of her carefully constructed sentences. As their relationship deepens, Diana avoids Jesse's past with her own secrets -- which she'll protect at any cost. Will Diana and Jesse's love survive his wrestling obsession and the Keller family's chaos, or will all their important details stay buried beneath a game?
Praise for The Obvious Game:
"Lovely, evocative, painful and joyful all in one ... much like high school." -- Jenny Lawson, author of LET'S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED
“I couldn’t put down THE OBVIOUS GAME. Arens perfectly captures the hunger, pain and uncertainty of adolescence.” -- Ann Napolitano, author of A GOOD HARD LOOK and WITHIN ARM'S REACH
"THE OBVIOUS GAME is a fearless, honest, and intense look into the psychology of anorexia. The characters—especially Diana--are so natural and emotionally authentic that you’ll find yourself yelling at the page even as you’re compelled to turn it." -- Coert Voorhees, author of LUCKY FOOLS and THE BROTHERS TORRES
"Let’s be clear about one thing: there’s nothing obvious about THE OBVIOUS GAME. Arens has written a moving, sometimes heart-breaking story about one girl’s attempt to control the uncontrollable. You can’t help but relate to Diana and her struggles as you delve into this gem of a novel." -- Risa Green, author of THE SECRET SOCIETY OF THE PINK CRYSTAL BALL
"THE OBVIOUS GAME explores the chasms between conformity and independence, faith and fear, discoveries and secrets, first times and last chances, hunger and satisfaction. The tortured teenage experience is captured triumphantly within the pages of this unflinching, yet utterly relatable, novel. - Erica Rivera, author of INSATIABLE: A YOUNG MOTHER’S STRUGGLE WITH ANOREXIA
Publisher: Inkspell Publishing
Release Date: Feb 7th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-9856562-7-0 (ebook), 978-0-9856562-8-7 (Paperback)
Paperback Price: $13.99
http://www.surrenderdorothyblog.com or http://www.ritaarens.com
And here's a short excerpt!
1987When we were in seventh grade, Amanda and I snuck out of her house one foggy Saturday night to meet her boyfriend, Matt. We spent more time planning our escape than we did actually conducting it.
We’d made a list while pretending to do our homework:
Wrap flashlights with black electrical tape. (check)
Make fake bodies out of pillows to hide in our sleeping bags. (check)
Booby-trap her bedroom door with string across the threshold so we could see if her mom had tried to check on us. (check)
Assemble all-black outfits, complete with stocking caps, so we would blend in with the shadows as we walked. (check)
Arrange the rendezvous point ahead of time with Matt: the third-grade playground at the elementary school. (check)
It wasn’t until we’d successfully shimmied down the fence, jogged the four blocks up the street, and seen Matt sitting there alone on the seesaw that I realized I had nothing at all to do while they giggled and kissed. I’d been so caught up in the planning portion of our escape that I didn’t notice how pathetic my part in it seemed.
I twirled on the swings across the playground and out of view, once again pretending to be totally cool with it. The thing was, though, I wasn’t cool with it. I felt about as important as the guy who wrote the cooking instructions for Pop-Tarts.
We probably would’ve stayed there for hours if I hadn’t finally strode over to the jungle gym, coughing and kicking rocks as I went. Amanda poked her head out.
“What’s up, Diana?”
“Can we go soon? I forgot to bring a book.”
Her expectant smile turned sour. “Okay,” she finally said, disappearing in the darkness. “Just five more minutes.”
I wandered to the edge of the playground, thought about turning back on my own, letting her get caught out there by herself. But I wouldn’t. That’s what friends are for. She knew it. I knew it.
Everyone trusted me. Good old dependable Diana. Which was why most people didn’t notice at first that I was in trouble.
The Obvious Game Playlist
Chapter 1: Pride by White Lion (1987) – When the Children Cry
Chapter 2: Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses (1987) – Welcome to the Jungle
Chapter 3: Scarecrow by John Mellencamp (1985) – Small Town
Chapter 4: True Colors by Cyndi Lauper (1986) – True Colors
Chapter 5: Can’t Hold Back by Eddie Money (1986) – Take Me Home Tonight
Chapter 6: Hysteria by Def Leppard (1987) – Hysteria
Chapter 7: Nothing’s Shocking by Jane’s Addiction (1988) – Jane Says
Chapter 8: Just Like the First Time by Freddie Jackson (1986) – Have You Ever Loved Somebody
Chapter 9: Use Your Illusion by Guns N’Roses (1991) – November Rain
Chapter 10: Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf (1977) – Bat Out of Hell
Chapter 11: Head Games by Foreigner (1979) – Dirty White Boy
Chapter 12: Faith by George Michael (1987) – Monkey
Chapter 13: Cuts Like a Knife by Bryan Adams (1983) – Straight From the Heart
Chapter 14: Double Vision by Foreigner (1978) – Hot Blooded
Chapter 15: Disintegration by The Cure (1989) – Fascination Street
Chapter 16: Poison by Bell Biv DeVoe (1990) – Poison
Chapter 17: Achtung Baby by U2 (1991) -- Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?
Chapter 18: Nevermind by Nirvana (1991) – Smells Like Teen Spirit
Chapter 19: Listen Without Prejudice by George Michael (1990) – Something to Save
Chapter 20: Out of Time by R.E.M. (1991) – Losing My Religion
Chapter 21: The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby (1986) – Mandolin Rain
Chapter 22: Infected by The The (1986) – Out of the Blue (Into the Fire)
Chapter 23: Strange Fire by Indigo Girls (1989) – Strange Fire
Chapter 24: Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos (1992) -- China
Eating Disorder Resources
- AED Academy for Eating Disorders.
- ANAD-National Association of Anorexia Nervosa & Associated Disorders
- The Body Positive
- EDA Eating Disorders Anonymous
- Eating Disorder Coalition for Research, Policy and Action
- Eating Disorder Foundation
- Eating Disorder Hope
- Eating Disorders Information Network
- EDReferral-Eating Disorder Referral
- The Elisa Project