By E.R McTaggart
In which ace author and editorial dominatrix E-to-the-R talks about Heathers, our new collection of true fiction for Young Adults of all ages.
When the opportunity came up to work with Pankhearst on a collection of Young Adult shorts, it was one I didn’t think twice about.
Not only had I read, and enjoyed, their debut collection, Cars and Girls, but I appreciated their mission statement, and I was excited by the prospect of working on stories about young adults. Let me amend that: REAL young adults.
In recent years the YA genre has enjoyed a resurgence of sorts. Yes, that’s an understatement. From Twilight to The Hunger Games, as well as the less well-known (which is a very relative term as both have also been turned into movie franchises) Mortal Instruments and Divergent Series, teenagers are more popular than ever.
Is it any wonder? That expanding kingdom of teenagedom holds everything the lead of an epic might desire: the youthful bones, the unfailing optimism, the emotional honesty, the freshness of every experience and feeling. Between the bindings of a book, the emotional melodrama of that age and a confined space containing a vast array of personalities, opportunities and talent – a high school – make children and young adults the perfect characters to observe and fantasize about.
It’s ironic then, that while YA is more popular than ever, nobody wants to read about real young adults. Sure, ones that are facing down death by exsanguination, martyrdom, or heartbreak. Those teenagers we’ll look at, so long as they’re pretty, they’re witty, and they have at least two lovers fighting for their affections. Only straight white girls with clear skin and thin limbs need apply, thank you.
What happened to the acne, the bad clothes, the punk rock concerts and the best friend dramas? Forget about the homecoming queen; what happened to winning the scholarship to the college of your dreams? Forget lovers fighting over you, what happened to fighting for a spot on the volleyball team? Who cares about bloodsucking fiends or a dystopian future when the icebergs are melting, your parents are fighting and the most popular girl in school hid your clothes in the trash can outside the change room while you showered after gym class?
Maybe that’s the answer then: for teenagers, dystopia is relief. Mortal combat and bloodsucking fiends are twisted symbols in a world where people are famous for sex tapes, bad behaviour and often, just for being famous; where the gap between rich and poor is ever increasing but the ability to see the difference is too; where the idea of change was a flame that’s turned to smoke. Novels are a land where the possibility of being special for having morals and values and for improving the world in some tangible way still exists. And no one knows this better than teenagers, those with the most intuitive sense of the technology that allows to access all this information.
The reality of adolescence is too uncomfortable for any of us to want to (re)experience it. The age of information is fraught, especially for the young and dumb; every vulnerable moment, every ill-conceived thought, experimental behaviour or rash decision is hashtagged and flashed LED for the whole world to see, easily dug up for the rest of eternity with a few keystrokes. The mistakes that their parents and grandparents made could be buried, for today’s teens, their mistakes follow them to the new school, the new town, the new set of friends or values.
That’s the story of an epic tragedy. But nobody wants an unhappy ending anymore.
So what is Heathers all about? Well, someone once told me that you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. At Pankhearst, we’re about giving you what you need.
Heather is lonely in a building full of peers. Heather is top of the class, and cutting herself in the basement. Heather’s absolutely beautiful, and she’s starving because it’s never enough. Heather is whispering secrets to her best friend. She’s learning about betrayal. Heather wants to be Heath. Heath wants to be Heather.
Amanda. Megan. Tyler. Rehteah.
Heathers isn’t about themes or lessons or platitudes. Heathers is about them.
Heathers is about of us; the shadow of what it used to feel like.