No, this doesn’t mean I’m going to quit working on The Ado Ward. Far from it. If anything, it means I’m going to try to wrap it up all the faster, in order to clear the way for all the massive editorial work I’ve got coming down the pike.
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I’ve gotten a few emails lately asking about how much of my own personal experience is going into TAW, and it’s fair to wonder – if weird for me to answer. As I mentioned when I first started talking about this project, yes, I spent a few weeks in an adolescent psych ward when I was fifteen. I got arrested for shoplifting makeup in a drug store, as you do, and the ado ward was my mother’s idea. At least I never went to juvey.* Truth to tell, the entire episode was something I hadn’t thought much about in years — not until the opportunity to write YA fiction showed up on my radar. That’s when I started reflecting — trying to consider my own adolescence and what sort of experiences might make for an interesting fictionalized retelling.
Do note the word “fictionalized” there. At the Florida Hospital adolescent ward there were, in fact, no supernatural monsters. No murderous fey “doctors” hunting for lost treasure. No magic of any kind, alas. There was also no hurricane, and even if there was – in Orlando? Nobody would have cared much, that far inland. So yes, this is 100% fiction – let there be no James Frey ambiguity.
But sure, I’m drawing on that experience — and the characters are picked and mixed from my own teenagerdom. No, I do not appear in the book, but yes, most of the kids who do are either based on people I knew or collaged from them. What writer doesn’t do that? Some of the reasons the kids are in the ward are lightly based on their real misdeeds as well, and all of the procedural protocol is based on what I remember. And as Jym and I were discussing last night, I made a point of keeping this a private hospital because it’s scarier that way. The administrators have permission from your parents to do basically whatever they want – secretly, without answering to anybody at all; and the “residents” are all acutely aware of it. They’re reminded of it daily, or at least we were.
Something else I’ve kept in the book — at least as a passing reference — was a movement that was just beginning to gain attention back in 1990. We kids heard rumors of it in the ward and we all wondered when we would get … our very own gay kid. One of the counselors, a younger guy who was pretty cool,** told us that he’d heard we were going to begin “treating” homosexual teens — that the hospital was looking into starting a program to fix them. The counselor told us he thought it was stupid, and he didn’t think it would ever take off; but once we’d gained that piece of information, we all became intensely curious about each newcomer.
It wasn’t that we cared whether or not fellow Christian teens were gay, exactly; but we didn’t know any personally — or rather, we almost certainly did, but fifteen years ago (even moreso than now) it was the closet or nothing for queer Adventists. So it was less an issue of, “Ew, gross!” than, “Seriously? We have gays? Where? Show me.” No, it wasn’t the most enlightened attitude to have, but in my defense, I was an SDA kid, and I didn’t really have any frame of reference to work from.
I don’t know if Florida Hospital ever did implement a program like that one. Frankly, I’d be surprised if they did. Probably the most normal institutions Adventists run are their hospitals; their health care is highly regarded (think Loma Linda and the Sunbelt Health Care System) and they go to great lengths to avoid bad P.R. If they ever did sponsor or participate in such activities, it would’ve been kept on the down-low, and almost certainly off-campus.
But at any rate. For the last week or so I’ve been dragging my notebook around with me, trying to remember every last detail and every last nuance, social structure, procedure, and residential aspect of my time at the old hospital. And these are the things that bubble up to the surface — a girl who tried to kill herself by stabbing her veins with a safety pin, the boy who tried to electrocute himself with a bathtub full of water/a paper clip/an electrical outlet, and the kid who drank a bottle of contact solution while trying to get high. The fat, angry nurse who wore yellow all the time and clearly hated us all. The grub from the hospital cafeteria that came in segmented trays. The doctor who laughed and refused to medicate me, because he said there was nothing wrong with me except an overinflated sense of narcissistic entitlement. Heh. You know. Random weirdness that can only help flesh out the setting and feed the characters with peculiar stories, traits, and motives.
It’s all coming together.
* I lucked out – did some community service at a home for severely mentally disabled kids, and the charges were dropped.
**In retrospect, he probably wasn’t but five or six years older than we were.