Anyone who knows me knows that I am passionate about realistic, positive representation of small towns and rural communities in fiction, especially when it comes to portraying LGBTQ+ and characters of color. I’ve lived in a rural farming community my entire life, my hometown is considered a “city” at just under 10,000 people because we happen to host a small state university, and I grew up on a farm and participated in 4-H in middle and high school. While many stereotypes about rural communities and small town prejudices do have a grain of truth in them, I’ve found that my lived experiences don’t often match up to the ways in which small towns are often portrayed in YA books. Or worse, they’re not portrayed at all.
My awareness of this disconnect was only heightened when I attended Vermont College of Fine Arts for my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. While that program is full of awesome, wonderful people and I highly recommend it if you’re serious about writing (for real–email me!), I also became familiar with how these stereotypes are continually reinforced. Like how if you live in a small town, you’re supposed to want to get out. That everyone is small-minded. That queer people can’t possibly find happiness in small communities. But! I also encountered some really amazing writers who were also from small, rural communities and fought against these prejudices alongside me. One such writer is my amazing critique partner, Monica M. Roe, who wrote her critical thesis on rural stereotypes, titled Reconsidering the Trailer Park: Confronting Stereotypes of Rural and Blue-Collar Culture in Young Adult Literature and the MFA Academy.
Another great writer I met through VCFA is Nora Shalaway Carpenter, the author of the picture book Yoga Frog, and the forthcoming YA novel The Edge of Anything. Last year, Nora (who is from West Virginia), had the great idea for a YA anthology about teens from rural areas. I sent her back an all-caps text that was essentially, “YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” After a lot of hard work on Nora’s part, and hard work from so many other writers and our respective agents, I am so excited to announce that I will be contributing a short story to RURAL VOICES: YA STORIES ABOUT GROWING UP IN REMOTE COMMUNITIES! The book will be published by Candlewick Press in Fall 2020!
When Nora first approached me with the idea and asked if I’d like to write a short story for this anthology, I knew I wanted to address two things: the experience of raising pigs in 4-H, and the experience of being an out, queer young woman in a small town. Raising pigs was a trip, and I’ve never failed to acknowledge that from the outside, a pig show looks somewhat bonkers. I loved raising pigs when I was younger, and it was so much fun to give that experience to my character. Writing about being out in a small town was harder for me, because it can be such a rollercoaster experience. There are clear disadvantages, and not-so-obvious advantages. I drew heavily on personal experience for both elements of this short story, and ended up with “Best in Show,” a f/f romance about county fairs, a pig named Herbert, and first dates! I hope you’ll like it!
And in conclusion, here is a photo of me at age 14, with my show pig. I don’t remember his name, and believe me, that makes me really sad. The Laura Ingalls Wilder braids were courtesy of a rumor that the judges liked it when the girls wore braids and ribbons, which is pretty sexist! I’ve a sudden urge to write a sequel YA short story about a feminist revolution set during the county fair…