Picture it. Early morning. A mom and pop diner outside a popular YWCA. It was easily 10 degrees below zero with six-foot high snow banks lining the curbs of cloudy Madison, Wisconsin. Over dry toast and half-eaten scrambled something, I rolled the selection wheel on my scuffed iPod to Lenny Kravitz’s electric guitar feast “Are You Gonna Go My Way.”
It seemed like a Lenny kinda breakfast.
Out of that sweet pre-lyric riff that only Mr. Kravitz could rip, the opening of what would become my third novel, FAT ANGIE (Candlewick Press, March 2013), came clear into view. I poured over a wrinkled paper napkin with a borrowed black ink pen from the waitress. Her name was Grace. In the pulse of the music, I was swirled into the beautiful-sad, retro-modern and awesome-geektastic chaos of FAT ANGIE.
This misfit of a hurt soul, Angie (Fat Angie to the kids in her high school and immediate family), tore onto the scene with a larger than life presence, courtesy of a bizarre third person narrator.
Fierce Fact #177.52: I didn’t have the slightest on how a third-person narrator was supposed to be written. Somehow there it was evolving on said napkin.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get better on that crumbled napkin, KC Romance strutted into the William Anders High School gymnasium. Yes, her name really is KC Romance, and it’s an absolute ultra-swell fit. She was —
P A U S E .
There was a sort of five second delay that nearly crippled the creative juice. See, the what’s next was in view, and I’m pretty loyal to the what’s next. When characters have a truth, I stick with it. However, I could see that there would be … well, some “gay girl gay” liking. As a filmmaker/writer/creative person type, let’s just say I’d been pretty cautious about gay themes in my art. Even if I was personally tipped a little closer to the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple exactly in that order rainbow (otherwise known as a card carrying gal of the not completely straight), I was not LGBTQ in my art.
But then there was a girl. Her name was Angie. She was … yup, about to have one of those “gay girl gay” moments.
In the desperation of that mini-delay and with Lenny Kravitz bending guitar strings in my ear while singing “What I gotta / Gotta know is / Are you gonna go my way?” I tried to reconfigure the long-legged KC from a goth girl with Catholic School appeal to a teen boy.
Fierce Fact #286.33: Let’s be on the level, okay? KC was a fiery feminist in training, not a dude. She was the girl that soundtracks were written for and that was exactly what Fat Angie needed. So pen tip to napkin and the story went on the way it was meant to be.
Fast forward past our introductory rewind (also known as deliberate exposition) and FAT ANGIE is living large, picking up star reviews while being nominated for Best Young Adult Fiction by the American Library Association in May 2013. The novel I was convinced no one would get is being got!
Not too shabby.
Extra Bonus: My production company made a cinematic style book trailer in a matter of days that has attracted some Hollywood attention (there’s nothing in ink just yet).
But fantastic author praise and reviews aside, the real magic … the thing that gets you in the place that’s soft is knowing this book can reach in. Kids pick-up this book and know they are not alone. They can see someone out there is saying it’s not easy this thing called the best years of your life. So borrow Angie’s hilarious, dark, pop culture, sweaty T-Shirt world of struggles and triumph and know you are never alone.
I’ll be honest even I wondered if this book was way too much. This novel is an anti-romantic, romantic story about bullying, self-image, war, belonging, family, suicide, divorce, same-sex relationships, basketball and a few other things that are chat worthy.
While some bloggers have thrown the book under the bus for going against the normal conventions of storytelling and abundance of hard-hitting themes, I celebrate the possible Scarlett Letter of sorts for writing the book. I can’t begin to describe what FAT ANGIE, WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON, DEFINE “NORMAL” or THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER would have meant to me as a “small-town girl living in a lonely world” (extra bonus if you know those lyrics).
Fact #6,243.01: The thing is FAT ANGIE was never about the norm. It isn’t kittens and puppies. It isn’t hail and tornados 24/7 either. It has its own brand of different. This book is about seeing differences and finding your voice in them. Is it a gay girl gay book? No. And yes.
This book is about showing up, finding your voice and letting go of the things that hold you back. It’s a love story and it’s not. It’s what you need and sometimes what you don’t. Most of all, it’s a place where you can find truth.
Given this is Pride Week, I say rock out your story — your exuberant fiction/nonfiction complete with colorful characters and without pause. And if you happen to find yourself listening to Lenny Kravitz, Gossip, Bikini Kills, Shiny and the Spoon or Pink, maybe you’ll be guest blogging about a tattered paper napkin someday that was able to change lives.
e.E. Charlton-Trujillo is a Filmmaker/Novelist/Rockstar In Training. The small-town Texas native is the founder of Piñata Productions, a film company based in Cincinnati, Ohio. She recently Executive Produced the feature film HOME and saw her film NOW for GLSEN-Cincinnati spotlighted on the Huffington Post.
As an author, Charlton-Trujillo won the prestigious Delacorte Dell Yearling Award for her first novel PRIZEFIGHTER EN MI CASA which garnered a number of accolades. Her second novel, FEELS LIKE HOME, received critical praise, but it was her third novel, FAT ANGIE, that generated theNew York Times Bestselling Author buzz form the likes of Gregory Maguire and Ellen Hopkins. In May 2013, FAT ANGIE was nominated for Best Fiction for Young Adults by the American Library Association and has garnered star reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal.
This summer Charlton-Trujillo will travel across America discussing some of the themes in Fat Angie while mentoring at-risk youth at no cost to them while filming the feature length documentary At Risk Summer. Authors such as: Ellen Hopkins, Kathy Erksine, K.L. Going, Jo Knowles and A.S. King will be interviewed for the film about bullying, belonging and youth accessing voice.
Not too shabby, huh?