Karen Finneyfrock on Fictionalizing Her Real-life Friendship
Karen Finneyfrock's young adult novel "The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door" explores the relationship of Celia, a high schooler on the social fringe, and her new best friend Drake, who comes out to Celia in a touching moment. Finneyfrock reveals to Bookish the story from her own life that inspired this fictional friendship.
Among the facts that people are surprised to discover about me is this gem: I've had the same best friend since nursery school. Aside from a few sketchy memories of cardboard automobiles and pretend fueling stations, Warren is the only thing I remember about preschool. When my mother came each day to collect me, she found me playing with the same blond, curly-haired boy. She couldn't have guessed that that boy would later counsel me through high school, then college; escort me to countless dances, weddings and parties; usher me across the United States to Seattle and, at 40, that he would still be my best friend.
During our senior year of college, Warren came out to me as a gay man. We sat in a car together and cried for all the suffering and hiding that our small town had inflicted on him. Until our friends and family knew, it was the most important secret I ever guarded. Warren has witnessed every major event in my life: every relationship, each graduation, my first poetry reading, my sister's death. Sometimes I think there should be another word for what Warren means to me, friend doesn't feel big enough.
So, when I started writing my first YA novel, I knew the type of relationship I wanted to place at the center of my story. Celia and Drake in "The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door" discover the unique bond in their freshman year that Warren and I started forming in nursery school.
Fictionalizing a relationship that represents your earliest friendship is tricky business, especially in young adult fiction. Friendships that span 40 years aren't easy to reproduce, and the cultural climate facing young people now is different from when I was in high school. More and more young people are coming out at earlier ages, which was tremendously rare when I was in 9th grade. So, the specific details of my characters are not those of my real life.
For example: My parents are still happily married, I had friends in high school and I did not dream of revenge. Still, I felt like a kooky oddball who wrote poetry, wore a lot of black and desperately needed a friend to tell me I was beautiful. Warren accuses me of making Drake cooler than he was, since Warren could neither play basketball, nor ride a skateboard.
One of the hardest scenes for me to write occurs early in the story when Drake comes out to Celia. Although more than one man came out to me early in my life, the times were different. What does it look like 20 years later when young people come out? Is it possible that this conversation can occur without tears, without fear of judgment or injury? I didn't know the answers to these questions and had to rely on instinct. I hope that for Celia and Drake, I got it right.
I do work closely with youth, including many queer youth who openly embrace their identity. I'm a Teaching Artist instructing youth in writing poetry and fiction. Clearly, one aspect of Celia that matches me closely is her devotion to poetry. I've published two full-length books of poems and toured around the U.S. and abroad as a spoken word artist. One of the parts of the book I enjoyed the most was writing Celia's poems.
As a kid, I loved the television show "Laverne & Shirley." The guiding idea for the show seemed to be: As long as you have one close friend, you can make it through anything. In creating Celia and Drake, I wanted them to have each other and, through having each other, I wanted them to create a safe space that exists inside of a trustable friendship where they could process all the other challenges of their lives. That's the primary gift that Warren has given me. I hope every young person finds that.
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