Today is release day for my YA LGBTQ Contemporary Romance, Clean. And while there is romance, I struggle to classify Clean as STRICTLY a romance, because it is a book about social issues. In particular, it is a book about teenage substance abuse.
The two high school seniors who are the main characters in Clean are not using drugs and alcohol to alleviate boredom or to try out adult behavior or because of peer pressure. Trevor and Lanny use substances to medicate themselves—to dull the pain of difficult lives.
So, as the author, what would I like you to know about Clean?
First, I would like you to know Clean is very edgy. VERY EDGY. I went back and forth on whether to list it as a YA or a New Adult, but YA won out because of the two narrators’ youthful voices. This is the story of two teenagers, and although they deal with some tough stuff and experience sexual situations and abuse substances, it does not change the fact that this is a YOUNG ADULT novel. It is a mature YA novel, and edgy one, but still it was written to be read by teens and adults who enjoy books for teens.
Here are a few quotations about edgy YA that ring true to me:
“In terms of YA fiction, I think “edgy” means moving closer to adult genre fiction. Horror beyond R.L Stein, romance with a more adult view of sex, adventure with more realistic violence. It’s also more emotionally intense. There is still a big difference between what is acceptable in YA vs. adult fare, but it’s getting closer.” ~Austin Camacho
“Edgy to me has always been about topics that were once considered taboo. Today, some books cover illegal drug use and alcoholism but I’m seeing more titles about characters who must overcome sexual violence, are struggling with sexual identity, or must find a way to create their place in family groups. There seem to be more stories for YA about abandonment (youths living without parents), responsibility (youths who are the parents), terminal illness, and death.” ~Tony Russo
Secondly, I would like my readers to know that Trevor’s voice is written in the stream of consciousness style. Here are a few definitions of stream of consciousness I found online.
“In literature, stream of consciousness is a method of narration that describes in words the flow of thoughts in the minds of the characters.” Literary Devices
Its “purpose is to emulate the passage of thought through your mind without any inhibitors.” May Huang
Here is an example of how I use stream of consciousness in Clean:
“Laughter bursts up out of me too it just forces its way up from my gut to my throat to my lips and I can’t hold it back and I don’t even try too hard. The sound of my laughter fills up the cold shed where we’ll be drunk soon enough and he’ll forget I stopped being an asshole for a minute or two just long enough to laugh.” ~Trevor, Clean by Mia Kerick
I promise—I do know how to punctuate appropriately; at least, most of the time. But when writing in the stream of consciousness style, punctuation and grammar take a back seat to capturing the genuine movement of thoughts as they move through my character’s brain.
Third, I would also like to admit that I took a break halfway through the writing of Clean because the book was as tough to write as I think it might be, in places, to read. The research was intense—on the topics of head injury, drug abuse, alcoholism, and Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as on the sexual abuse of a minor—and it took an emotional toll on me. And writing the gritty downfall of two boys is not exactly fun. But the jewels I uncovered—the love, the trust, the hope—at the end of the novel made the journey worthwhile for me as a writer, and I hope for you as a reader, as well.
Finally, I suffered over the book’s title and the author’s note. Here’s why:
I do not like the use of the word clean for describing a person who does not have a sexually transmitted disease. I believe that having and STD does not make a person dirty, which is implied by calling people without STDs clean. Trevor, having been sexually abused by his guardian for the past several years, feels that he is dirty in more ways than one. He believes that he is in some ways impure, and thinks that he is also somehow dirtied by his lifestyle of drug and alcohol use. He longs to feel clean, and he considers Lanny perpetually clean. The subtitle, “Only by coming clean do they learn that they were always clean,” was added to clarify that I, in no way, am suggesting that people can be clean or dirty based on their behavior, or the status of their health.
And now, about the author’s note… It was my first time speaking directly to my readers (not through my characters) when not in the confines of an interview. I focused my notes on the way that many teens believe there is an immediate and complete solution to life’s problems, and it comes in the form of a pill or a joint or something you can snort or inhale. I realize that there are prescribed medications that can ease mental turmoil, and I do not intend to say that this is not true, but I believe that these medications work most effectively combined with hard work.
And now, I truly hope you are enlightened and uplifted by my fifteenth novel, Clean.