A big blog welcome to Kat Magendie, bestselling author of TENDER GRACES, SECRET GRACES and now SWEETIE. Her books are lyrical, evocative Southern lit-fiction. The Kindle edition of SWEETIE is currently perched high on the literary fiction bestseller list at Amazon.com. And now, here’s Kat:
Teen Bullies, Outcasts, Prejudice and SWEETIE
Whenever Bellebooks/Bell Bridge Books sends my novels out to the world (bless you BBs!), something hidden is always revealed—because of my readers. You’d think I’d know all the inside and outside and in the nooks and crannies of my work, but this is not the case. Readers will see what has not occurred to me or has not been revealed to me, and then they will open my eyes wider and brighter.
I knew SWEETIE’s themes of belonging, place/displacement, home, friendship, loyalty, and family—topics I return to time and again. But what I never thought was that Sweetie would help readers with their own painful memories of childhood/adolescent angst, loneliness, being bullied, and those awful feelings that one is a misfit in a world of Those Who Fit. As sophisticated as we think we have become, we still have problems with compartmentalizing on the “playground,” in schools, in social networking, in neighborhoods, at work, and sometimes even within families.
Narrator Melissa remembers torment by the Circle Girls (Beatrice and Deidra were the head Circle Girls. They picked the girls to be The Circle, and the ones to be inside of it. It was never good to have their attention until you knew which one . . .) as she says, “What society of children could resist tormenting the walking cliché from daytime movies?—I was always the awkward new girl in town. One would hope I brought that cliché to the limit, somehow growing to be beautiful and showing them all, but I was at best unremarkable, average . . . .” And Sweetie says, “Not nothing average about you, Miss-Lissa,” because she sees deep into the full burning heart of Melissa.
There is a troubled boy who, along with his Posse, bullies Sweetie and Melissa. But it is again Sweetie, with her wonderful insight, who understands T.J.’s bullying behavior, “Nobody deserves to be treated like a dirty worm under a dirty foot by they’s own kin. T. J.’s mean but his daddy’s a long-sight meaner. Guess his daddy teaches him how to be.” Sweetie, who is scarred and strange and mis-fitting sees the world with wonder and generosity—we could all use a Sweetie in our lives.
A humbling but incredibly cool thing is mail I receive from teachers and from parents. Teachers have said how through the years children like Melissa and Sweetie have come to their classroom, and the Sweetie novel not only resonates with their experiences, but with the teacher’s own memories of childhood awkwardness, friendship, with their own mothers and fathers, with fitting in and filling out, and even first crushes.
And mothers pass my book(s) on to their daughters to read to inspire discussion about just how hard it is to be a kid, an adolescent/pre-teen/teenager, no matter if it is the 1960s, 70s, or 2011—we all have been 11, 12, 13, and we all have searched to find Identity without being Different—oh to celebrate our differences!
What more could an author hope for than to have teachers, mothers, fathers, and other readers relay to her how her books promote discussion—to those who remember a time when they felt as if they’d never fit in, or never rise above a bully’s harsh words and taunting, or felt ugly or weird or fat or scared or skinny or . . . just different. (Melissa: “I think it would be great never to feel pain.” Sweetie: “I reckon that’s what most would think.”) We do rise above it, things do become better, we grow up and out and beyond—we learn empathy, a great gift. As Melissa says, we are beautiful biological wonders; scientific anomalies. No one can take away our joy if we only believe in the magic of our own beautiful Selves.
When I write a book, I never set out to teach a lesson, or write something that will promote discussion. I just write what the character experiences, digging deep into the core, the heart of the character, peeling away layers (except those that must remain). I listen and I relay. It is you all, you readers, who take my work to the highest level, opening up my world and their world to even greater possibilities.
Thank you for reading with such care. Thank you for telling me your stories. Thank you for your trust. And in return, I promise to do the best I can—to write my stories with a full and burning heart. As Sweetie says, “All a person can do is give it all they’s got. Right?” Right, Sweetie . . . that’s right.
Kat lives in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, in a little cove at Killian Knob with two dogs, a ghost dog, a GMR (Good Man Roger, her husband,) a mysterious shadowman, and many wild critters. She is co-editor/publisher of the Rose & Thorn. Visit her at kathyrnmagendie.com, follow her on twitter @katmagendie, on Facebook, or her blog www.tendergraces.blogspot.com.