YA Open Mic is a monthly series in which YA authors share personal stories on topics of their choice. The aim of the series is to peel away the formality of bios and offer authors a platform to talk about something readers won’t necessarily find on their websites.
This month, 18 authors discuss everything from piercings to parental relationships. All have YA books that either release this month or released in recent months. Check out previous YA Open Mic posts here.
Note: Content warning for use of a slur and discussion of suicide that may be triggering.
Nnedi Okorafor, author of Akata Warrior
In my fourth grade class, I liked to imagine I was Zula from the film Conan the Destroyer. Zula was an African warrior who becomes one of Conan’s loyal allies. Conan initially encounters Zula as she’s fighting back a mob of men. She was played by the vibrant singer/model/actress Grace Jones. Yeah, I was Zula, except I was nine-years-old and instead of fighting with a stick, I used my bare hands, and instead of fighting a bunch of barbarians during some ancient time, I was fighting a bunch of white boys of suburbia in the early ’80s for calling me a “n*gger” and other racial slurs.
At my Catholic school, I was one of two people of color in the fourth grade. To top it off, to say that my school had a bit of a racial problem was an understatement. Nevertheless, though my parents were strong believers in peace and tolerance, I was not raised to take bullshit. I refused to “turn the other cheek.”
I still wonder what was really going on with these fights. These battles seemed to take place in a vacuum. No other kids or adults came to stop us and none of us reported the fights. There were never injuries worse than scratches, bruises, grass stains and sore muscles. And I always won. Was this some sort of playing out of racial aggression? Guilt? Part of a story that began long before any of us were born? Long before my Nigerian immigrant parents even came to this country? Maybe.
The fights always ended when the bell rang. Then we would scramble into our lines of boys and girls. The girls in my group were glad to merely be audience to all the action. One once told me she’d rather be pretty than powerful. I had no choice because in our fourth grade world, I could not be pretty. I was too black, my hair was too coarse, my lips were too big. But I think even if I had a choice, I’d have chosen to be powerful…powerful and beautiful like Zula.
Nic Stone, author of Dear Martin
On September 5th, 2017, I paid $50 to have a guy with wooden circles the size of coasters in his stretched-out earlobes shove a needle through my right nostril. I’d always wanted to get my nose pierced—been talking about it for years—but what moved me from chatter to action that day that day was (probably) anxiety.
If someone had told me how emotionally taxing the publishing process can be, I probably wouldn’t have listened because I’m stubborn, but it still would’ve been nice to know? I dunno. Maybe knowing wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference. Maybe it’s “different for everyone” or whatever other cliché people are using these days. (It feels really good to ramble, by the way. Been a while since I just blah-blah typed without thinking about whether or not what I’m writing serves the plot or the character arc or lends itself to the assertion I’m making or whatever. Moving on….) Bottom line: waiting for one’s book to come out has been excruciating. There’s so little I have any control over. Not a whole lot I can do at this point in the game, you know?
So I went and got my nose pierced. A week before the book comes out, I’m getting my hair cut and colored. I’m about to buy a sequined skirt that looks like a mermaid tail and will probably wear it with a Guardians of the Galaxy t-shirt because I’m #nerdychic like that. (Don’t @ me.)
I can’t make time go faster or control how many people buy my book or how “well” it does or if people will like it.
But I can control how I look.
(This is probably how people wind up addicted to plastic surgery.)
(Also probably made no sense.)
(They said I could write whatever I wanted.)
Anna-Marie McLemore, author of Wild Beauty
This is a story about a sweatshirt.
This is a story about a girl who saved up her money to rush a sorority. A girl who dreamed of wearing a pastel, Greek-lettered sweatshirt alongside her chapter sisters.
This is the story of a girl who was told she was exactly the kind of sister the sorority wanted.
Until she came out.
When my almost-sorority threw me out of the pledge process—when they “could not condone my chosen lifestyle”—they not only condemned queer girls, they showed their only Latina pledge the door.
I’m not gonna pretend this was the worst moment of my life. If I’m honest, it didn’t even break the top five. But something about those words—chosen lifestyle—stuck to me in a way I couldn’t shake.
The trans boy I would one day marry saw me gritting me teeth through all this.
So he bought me a sweatshirt. Greek-lettered, exactly like the one I would have worn with my sorority sisters. Only it didn’t have the sorority’s letters on it.
It had the Greek letters Lambda Epsilon Zeta. On first glance, it looked like a real sorority. On second, I recognized what the initials spelled. This sweatshirt was a reclaiming of a word whispered behind my back.
I laughed for the first time since the words chosen lifestyle.
It was a few years later, mostly while wearing that sweatshirt, that I wrote Wild Beauty, a book about queer Latina girls in a fairy tale of their own. Queer Latina girls growing enchanted gardens, wearing ball gowns, falling in love amid dangerous and beautiful secrets. Things I always thought belonged only to white, straight princesses.
This is the story of a boy, a girl, and a sweatshirt, my reminder that there’s magic no one can forbid me.
E. Lockhart, author of Genuine Fraud
This is a photo of Moshup Beach in the town of Aquinnah on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
I am not in the picture, but then again, I am. Because this landscape is wedged in my subconscious.
The photographer is named Heather Weston, and she is my very good friend. She has been coming to this beach with me almost every summer for fourteen years.
I have been coming here almost every summer since I was three.
The cliffs are made of clay that’s soft enough to roll into a ball in your hands. Up close, the clay is red, silver, gold and brown. People make sculptures by balancing rocks on top of each other. If you walk to the end of the beach, around the edge of the cliffs, you’ll run into naked people. And cormorants.
I put this beach in my novel, Genuine Fraud, as the place where two characters meet and begin a brief and very intense friendship that will change their lives. Two young women start talking. One borrows a bathing suit from the other. They go swimming. When they come out of the water, everything is different.
I used this beach as a setting not only because of its beauty, but because I moved a lot as a child. I lived in a different house or apartment every year. I’d come here for the summer and return to a different bedroom.
That’s oversimplifying it.
But I am a fiction writer. That’s the story that feels true.
This beach, and the grandparental summer home that’s near it, was a constant in my childhood. It has remained so. To me, it is familiar, and yet too grand and too ever-changing to be familiar, at the same time. It seems impossible that I get to stand regularly on this sand and look at those cliffs. I think, This landscape is not real, or This is not my real life.
And yet it is my real life. It is a place I really go to.
Why is it that some places feel like fiction to us? Why is it that a beloved and familiar landscape can seem unfamiliar? I have been writing about identity—not so much about identity politics as about how slippery the self is. How do we know what our true self is? Is there any such thing? Are there multiple selves? Why do we not know our own hearts? Why is the beloved familiar unfamiliar?
Well. Those questions are why I had the two young women in Genuine Fraud meet on this particular beach.
After we took this picture, Heather and I went out for pancakes and coffee at an outdoor café with a view of the water. She got bacon and wore a big sun hat. I covered myself in greasy sunblock and wore enormous prescription sunglasses that I lost shortly afterward. We’ll be back again soon.
Tochi Onyebuchi, author of Beasts Made of Night
Every time I’ve moved, I stumble across love letters. They are invariably to and from exes, and they invariably wrap me in a blanket warm and suffocating in equal measure. I’m reminded of good and bad and sometimes more good, then when memory puts me back down, I find myself whisked from an absence of reality to the reality of absence. Despite the wrongness or the rightness of the parting, there’s always heartbreak.
Beasts Made of Night was edited in the midst of a breakup, and its sequel was drafted in the aftermath of another. If you know where to look in the books, you can see it. The anger, the hurt, the sadness. But also, hopefully, the love. As much as I may write to vanish from the world, I always end up taking some of world into whatever piece I’m working on. I’ve read books whose writing seemed powered entirely by anger, and I’ve listened to albums that could only have been made in the midst of despair, and I think one reason those things get made is that the act of creation, in and of itself, can provide solace. The working-through of things. A sort of alchemy. So can a story about sin-beasts and palace intrigue be a story about loving and losing and loving and losing and learning to love again? Perhaps.
When I was in high school, I submitted a short story I’d written to a fellow member of a critique group. I don’t remember the particulars of the story, but I do remember one thing he said to me. He said it was clear from the piece that I’d fallen in love. And indeed I had.
Characters love and lose and learn to love again. And somewhere along the line, their creators do too.
Janelle Milanes, author of The Victoria in My Head
I’ve always been insecure about my perceived failures to live up to what a Latinx person “should” be.
I have a passable knowledge of Spanish despite being surrounded by it my entire life. I understand it, if you speak slowly enough…preferably with a Cuban accent. I tell myself I’ll download an app one magical day when I have a surplus of spare practice time. Meanwhile, when I try to speak Spanish, I conjugate verbs in my brain and worry whether my accent sounds too gringa.
We didn’t always eat Cuban food at home. We had lechón asado on Noche Buena, and sometimes my abuela would bring over her arroz con pollo. But most nights it was spaghetti with canned sauce or fast food or whatever was easiest for two working parents. As an adult, I’ve tried to rectify this by purchasing Cuban cookbooks and experimenting with ropa vieja in my crock pot. Usually, though, I’m lazy and order Thai food online. But on that magical day when I have spare time, cooking authentic Cuban meals will move to the top of my to-do list.
I’ve been told by family that I’m too skinny, I need a tan, en español, coño. Yet at the same time, they pushed us to adapt to what they felt was the American way of life. “American by choice, not by chance,” my abuelo touted while we awkwardly straddled the line between clinging to our roots and embracing our American identities. To my parents, success meant assimilating to American culture.
I’m due to give birth next month, and my daughter will be a hodgepodge of ethnicities. I worry that with every generation, that invisible string connecting us to our Cuban heritage will continue to fray. But as an adult I’ve realized that the pork and the cigars and the guava are just window dressing. There are bigger things: my parents’ persistent hard work; my grandparents’ seeing and seizing of opportunities; the whole family’s will to stick together.
I’m going to tell my daughter what I needed to hear: you are not what you eat, or how you speak, or the way you look. You are too complicated for a one-size-fits all label. I’ll say you are a lot of things, a medley of cultures that clash and blend and evolve. But really you are you. Just you. And that’s okay.
Pintip Dunn, author of Seize Today
I was suicidal when I was a teenager. That’s a hard statement for me to write, but it’s true.
I didn’t look like everybody else. I had “squinty” eyes, and boys told me I was ugly. To them, I might as well not have been a girl, but an alien from another planet.
I didn’t even look like girls from that “other planet,” Thailand. My hair was thick and puffy, instead of slick and straight. I towered over everyone in the elevator, men and women. And when I went into a store, the tiny salesgirls would scoff and shake their heads.
I didn’t feel like anybody else. I stood at the edge of conversations, part of the group but not really. I listened to the girls talking and gossiping, and I didn’t get their laughter. I didn’t understand their jokes.
I missed my mother. I thought: if she were still here, she would be the one to understand, the one to make everything better. I cried myself to sleep every night because my five-year-old self forgot to cry at her funeral.
My dad worried about me. He moved me from the basement to the bedroom upstairs and took the lock off my door. He thought I might hurt myself. I thought I might hurt myself—but unlike him, I wasn’t worried. I thought it might be the answer for which I was searching.
It was not. Let me say that again: It. Was. NOT.
And never will be.
I’m not going to lie. The future isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. But I grew older. I learned how to be gentle with myself. I fell in love, and I made a family, and they because the true joy of my life. I worked tirelessly and achieved my dream of being a publisher author.
And finally, I understood that I wasn’t alone. And maybe, just maybe, I never was.
Kristin Cashore, author of Jane, Unlimited
A little over a year ago, my partner Kevin and I challenged each other to do a new thing neither of us had ever done before, together, once a month, for a year.
Thus began our year of falconry; golf; indoor skydiving; flotation in Epson salt tanks; deep-sea fishing; Boda Borg; et cetera. The entire process, from choosing the activity to enacting it, was a beautiful exercise in curiosity, interpersonal discovery, and trust. From Boda Borg (reality gaming with physical challenges), I learned that I’m tougher than I thought, and also that it’s okay when I’m not. From flotation, I learned that something I approach as a meditation, my partner might approach as a science experiment—interesting! From deep-sea fishing, I learned that deep-sea fishing makes me puke for hours and hours. And also how kind Kevin is.
My favorite of all our New Things was when we built a gingerbread version of Kevin’s beloved family cabin in Vermont.
Over forty-five years ago, Kevin’s father built the real-life cabin. What he constructed out of wood, nails, wires, and other hard-core things, we built on a tiny scale, out of sugar, flour, molasses, icing. We glued the pieces together with melted caramel. We sawed little logs for the wood pile out of salmiak candies and cinnamon sticks; used candy canes as joists; fashioned mice out of jellybeans and string licorice; melted marshmallows just to see if it produced anything useful. At the very end, Kevin filled a spoon with confectioners’ sugar and gently blew it over our creation, like a god deciding it was time for a snowstorm.
To our glee and my considerable surprise, the final result looked very much like the real cabin, but tiny, magical. Why is it so delightful to do something you didn’t know you could do? Maybe it’s that moment of realizing that life can be bigger than you’ve imagined; that you can surprise yourself. Our Year of New Things is over, but I’ve developed a taste for it now. What else can we try?
What about you? Every month for a year, do one thing you’ve never done before. Do it with a friend or by yourself. Do something big or something small. I promise you, your world will grow.
Tristina Wright, author of 27 Hours
I never thought I’d miss sneezing until my spine was out of whack.
I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease a couple of years ago. For those who don’t know, DDD basically means the cushions between your vertebrae go “I don’t wanna” and deflate. Then your vertebrae go “We don’t like each other,” and cause a lot of pain to basically your entire torso and usually both legs. Walking becomes difficult on a good day. Anything more than that is laughable, really.
Sneezing, though. I never thought sneezing would be a thing I’d miss. Did you know that your back tenses when you sneeze? Ooooooohhhhh, boy, yes. Yes. It. Does. All the muscles up and down your spine go rigid when you sneeze. Super tight. They squeeze all those irritated vertebrae and discs.
However. If something interrupts that sneeze, say, a sudden burst of pain, you don’t sneeze. Guess what causes a sudden burst of pain? Muscles tensing!
Y’all, I really miss sneezing. A lot.
Emmy Laybourne, author of Berserker
The best birthday gift I ever got was a cigar box filled with socks, given to me by Alex, a handsome, well-read, karate black belt…who had been a total social outcast at my school for several years.
Sometime in middle school, Alex had been pegged as a nerd/loser. He was a bit awkward, true. He knew a lot about…everything, and he often talked about his interests. Probably too often. But he did nothing to earn the total shunning he received. I believe it began when one of the cool kids, let’s call him Eric, decided he hated Alex. Everyone got in line and soon Alex was a loner, and not by choice.
Say, do you get the feeling the kids in my school weren’t that nice?
They weren’t. It was the eighties and honestly, these kids were the actual jerks that high-school-movie bullies are based on. It was so stifling and nasty in our school that I up and left and went to a new school. A boarding school, in fact—I wanted out of the whole town.
What happened when I came home for the summer? I saw Alex at a party. He was glad to see me. He wanted to know how things were going. He was kind and interested. Also, did I mention he was tall and musclely and nice to look at? Did I mention the tousled blonde hair?
I gave him my number and we talked for hours on the phone. Okay, he occasionally talked about things I did not quite understand. He was, I believe, really into physics.
My birthday came just before I went back to school. When he gave me a gift I got a nervous. Did he think we were a couple? Was I about to get a sheaf of handwritten poems or a hand-knitted scarf?
Funny, unexpected and super useful. Just like him.
When Alex visited me on campus a few weeks later, my friends gushed. “Oh my God, he’s gorgeous! Girls at home must be pissed you stole him away!”
The girls back home? They didn’t even know! They’d thrown him away years ago.
Liara Tamani, author of Calling My Name
The year was 1995. I was a freshman at Duke University. Siquó’s “Thong Song” hadn’t been released yet, but that didn’t stop the girl who lived in the dorm next door from always wearing the sexy underwear. Walking behind her on the quad, I could see their outline underneath her fitted pants. And even when I couldn’t, I’d imagine they were there—the thin waistbands and strips of material nestled between butt cheeks.
Thongs were the perfect complement to her strut—neck long, back arched, hips swinging side to side. But I couldn’t rock with her. No. In my mind, she was a ho.
She had to be a ho so that I could be “good.” We had to be different. There was too much of me that I saw in her, and I had to push it away. Far, far away. So that no one could see the fraud I was.
I was still lying about being a virgin. Yes, in college, where no one cared if you had sex. But I’d packed up all the lies I’d been telling everyone in Houston, Texas and lugged them all the way to Durham, North Carolina. Packed them tight around my shame and guilt. And there was no way those two were going to let me own my truth.
My truth: I loved sex. Started having sex with my first love during my senior year of high school, and we’d had it every chance we got. But take my virginity badge off? Oh, no. I grew up in a community where sex before marriage was a sin and girls who had it were often labelled hos and sluts.
I was terrified of being that girl. Of being friends with anyone who reassembled that girl. That girl who was neither afraid or ashamed of her sexuality. That girl who probably could’ve taught me a thing or two about owning my body and standing up to sexist judgements. That girl who loved herself enough not to push any part of herself away.
Rebecca Podos, author of The Mystery of Hollow Places
As anyone who glances at my social media feeds could guess, I’ve very recently had kids, a whopping two of them at once. These human beans were greatly desired, worked toward for years and through fertility treatments, and now that we have them, my primary concern in life is how to protect them.
Among the worries that keep me awake: If an asteroid hits the planet next week, where will I take them to escape the fallout? What if ghosts are real, and if our split-level ranch is besieged by poltergeists, what’s the best escape route to and from their nursery? Can my years-old zombie apocalypse plan be amended so that I could somehow transport both beans across the country on my motorized bicycle?
There are slightly more practical fears, too. Will the beans sprout into small people who love themselves if I remind them one hundred times a day how much I love them? What kind of country will they grow up in, and how do I shield them while still teaching them about the culture of hatred that led us here? Will life treat them kindly, and how deep will their bruises be when it inevitably doesn’t?
Writing for young people, I’ve never felt like it’s my job to protect them/you. This world is a wondrous and wild place, and you can’t hide from it or be hidden from it. I believe the best stories reflect it, even when they’re set in a landscape burned by dragons, or in the deep cold of outer space. If writers can somehow help readers navigate our world with a stronger sense of themselves, maybe we’ve done our jobs.
So now, I have to do the hard work of figuring out how to let my little hearts crawl around outside my body, how to help them grow into complete people, and how to give them both the tools and the freedom to leave me as they walk out into this wild, wondrous world.
Julie Dao, author of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
I think about destiny a lot.
It’s the main theme of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns: is fate something you can choose for yourself?
At seven, I fell in love with crisp pages and the smell of old libraries. All I had to do was open a book and I would fall into snowy Narnia or the Shire’s green meadows. And for a child of overprotective immigrants, to whom everything in America seemed frightening, that freedom of adventure was infinitely appealing.
But there was no security or wealth in the arts. When I turned sixteen, my father forced me toward a destiny of his choosing. I had been programmed since birth to be obedient, so I spent my college years living an elaborate lie. I studied physiology and organic chemistry and felt like I couldn’t eat, sleep, or breathe half the time. I was constantly angry and exhausted and lonely.
One particularly bad night, I threw my neuroscience book across the room and picked up one I could understand: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I had grown up with the series and rereading it felt like coming home. I had forgotten how easy it was to fall into another world, and bit by bit, I found myself again in those pages.
Harry Potter saved me in every way that a writer could be saved. I never got my Hogwarts letter, but I found magic all the same. Rereading those books made me start scribbling again: a snippet here, a fragment there. Every word built up my courage, every paragraph led me to that day in 2008 when I decided that if I didn’t stand up for myself then, I never would.
So I shook off the lie. I chose my own destiny.
I owed myself that much.
Dashka Slater, author of The 57 Bus
Just before the start of my junior year in high school, I moved across country to a small town in Oregon. Everything about the change felt radical. I had spent 9th and 10th grade studying the social rules of my arty urban high school and had finally, sort of, mastered them. Now I suddenly found myself transported to Opposite Land. The things that helped me fit in at my old school—my straight legged jeans, my thrift store tops, my taste in music, being Jewish—guaranteed I’d be an outcast at my new one. (In one memorable conversation, a classmate who had just found out I was Jewish asked in all seriousness, “Do you love money?”)
I spent the next year and a half in open rebellion against my new school and everyone in it. Given that I couldn’t fit in, I made a point out of standing out. Weary of my antics, the school eventually offered to let me graduate midway through the year. I skipped the June walk across the stage.
That summer, shopping for college supplies, I ran into a girl from school. “Excited to be done with high school?” she asked as she rang up my purchase.
“Very,” I said. “I never felt like I fit in there.”
Her response stunned me: “Me neither.”
This girl had been Homecoming Queen. She’d been a member of the reigning social clique. She represented everything at the school I hated. But as I met her eyes, I saw the vulnerability there. For the first time, I felt curious about this person I’d always dismissed as a pair of frosted lips frozen in a perpetual smile. What in her life made her feel like a misfit?
I never found out. A week later, I left town for college and didn’t look back. But that moment has stayed with me. It was the moment I realized that everyone has a story and if you set aside your preconceptions, sometimes those stories can surprise you.
Nidhi Chanani, author of Pashmina
A while ago my husband and I traveled to India for a vacation and to see family. At the end of our trip, we hailed an auto rickshaw and headed to the gift shops. As with most excursions there, we stood out because my husband is a tall white man with an afro. Although we were accustomed to vendors approaching us, we were unprepared for the garment district push.
We bought bangles and were offered pashminas to go along with them. We bought blankets and saris and again were offered pashminas. We bought some sandalwood, hand carved stamps and before they could offer we began lying that we owned plenty of pashminas. We counted the number of vendors who approached us and they reached double digits.
Each shop seemed to believe that we needed pashminas. Why? Did we look cold? Did they find our attire drab and colorless? Was it a ruse to get us inside the shop? Was there immense excess stock? Or was it even more mysterious than that—were pashminas alive and pressuring these vendors to help them travel the world? Our theories abounded.
We returned without purchasing any pashminas. The story of that day became one of our travel anecdotes. The Great Pashmina Phenomenon. And although that specific day did not become a larger story, it left an impression. And it was one of the experiences that lead me to craft a graphic novel about a magical pashmina.
Erika L. Sánchez, author of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
When I was fresh out of grad school, the economy was at its worst. I had bills to pay, so I ended up in a marketing job that had nothing to do with writing. I was stuck there for two years, calculating the cost of print ads. I felt like the weird girl all over again. Nearly everyone there was white, and I totally stood out. I’d get strange looks when I heated up my Mexican food in the lunch room. My only real friend was a 50-something Italian man in the next cubicle. If it weren’t for him, I don’t know how if I’d have made it without completely losing my marbles. He always made me laugh and tell me that he was going to see me on Oprah one day.
I’d sit at my desk and consider where my life went wrong. I felt like all of my childhood dreams had been dumped out the window. It got so bad that I literally gagged on my way to work some days, which in retrospect is kinda funny. How the hell did I end up here when all I’ve ever wanted was to be a writer? I applied and applied to other jobs and fellowships, but I got nothing. I fantasized about running away to a foreign country and teaching English. I would have done anything to have meaningful work. During this time, writing was the only thing that made sense. I kept doing it even though it felt like it was leading me nowhere.
This was six years ago. Right now I’m writing this story in my apartment in New Jersey. I’m teaching creative writing at Princeton and I have two books out. I wish I could have told my younger self that everything would be okay.
Kes Trester, author of A Dangerous Year
My father and I have not spoken since I graduated from high school. You might think such a dramatic break was the result of an abusive relationship, but it wasn’t. You might wonder if it happened after a knock down, drag out fight that had the neighbors dialing 9-1-1, but it didn’t. It was simply the end of him pretending interest in his children.
There are some men who should never be fathers. According to my mom, he wanted children more than she, but as anyone who’s a parent knows, nothing can fully prepare you for the toughest job you’ll ever love. He spent so much time away from home that when my parents finally divorced, my brother and I barely noticed his absence.
The irony has not escaped me that my debut novel features a close and loving relationship between a teenage girl and her father. I can write that relationship authentically because while I might not have a paternal relationship, I have so many other close and intimate bonds. I realized long ago that I am not responsible for my father’s failure to parent, nor does the past dictate the future.
I am happily married to a great guy. We are raising our kids with love and respect, and family time is filled with laughter. My friends are generous and supportive, and we celebrate all of life’s milestones together, even if we sometimes make them up (like ice cream appreciation day!). I value what I have rather than dwell on what I don’t.
Maybe I am stronger for learning early on that being happy is largely a product of my own doing. From choosing the people in my life, to being accountable for my choices, to spending my time in satisfying and productive ways, I am living my best life. We all can.
Fox Benwell, author of Kaleidoscope Song
Have I ever told you about the time I broke into a library? Of a monastery?
I’m not proud*, okay? At all. But I was desperate.
I’d been travelling—with nothing but a 50l backpack—for long enough to read the five books I’d brought with me, twice. And trade them. And trade them again, and again. And then my luck ran dry; I barely met another westerner, and those I did were avidly Not Readers, and hadn’t allocated half their luggage weight to words.
And there I was, staying in a monastery half way up a mountain in the middle of the desert. And there was a library.
A library which they’d let me see, but didn’t seem to want anyone using.
A library stocked with well-worn texts on religion and world affairs.
And then, on one tiny floor-level shelf, English fiction! And, treasure of treasures, half a dozen Pratchetts.
For two days, I ignored the calling books, carefully avoiding the library door lest I be tempted. But on the third day I could bear no more.
This mountain-cliff-top library was fortified with heavy wooden doors. The only other access through a tiny window on the exposed cliff-side of the building. But I grew up in a house of climbers. And, it turns out, I was exactly the kind of desperate that leads you to edge out along the wall and trust the rock will hold. Exactly the kind of desperate that will have a guy jimmy a window, haul himself inside and sit reading by torchlight all night long, right there on the floor, surrounded by old paper, older stone, and the whispering wind.
The first peachy hints of light appeared when I was walking city streets with Vimes, and I hauled myself up and out, jamming the window shut behind me.
No one ever knew.
I don’t know what the moral of this story is, except that stories are, apparently, Fox-whisperers. And every time someone decides to close a library or limit access, I want to hand each reader leather slippers and a pouch of lock picks, just in case.