As October 3, the release date for my young adult novel, Being Roy approaches; I find myself waxing sentimental about its birth story, and marveling at the twists and turns of fate that led to its publication.
What few people know is that although my main character, Roy Watkins, grew up in a trailer park in West Virginia and matriculated to a posh all-girls boarding school in Virginia, her story truly begins in Mexico. San Miguel de Allende, to be exact, at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference.
I was in the midst of a pitch session with an agent, laying out my literary wares in hopes that one of the manuscripts stacked on my desk back home would catch his world-weary eye. With a wave of his soft, academic’s hand, he dismissed my heartfelt memoir as too hard to market as an unknown author, and my dystopian young adult novel as a trend that was past its expiration date. “What else have you got?” he asked, looking past me to the hopeful authors waiting in a sweaty-palmed cluster for their turn in the hot seat.
I told him about the idea that had grabbed hold of me the night before, about the unique ecosystem of an exclusive boarding school in the early nineties. There would be a teacher, a mentor whose lessons in the shifting, illusory nature of boundaries, borders, and right and wrong would lead his students to test their own limits in some potentially catastrophic ways. It would be informed by my own experience at just such a school. Though I was not a boarding student, I told the agent. I commuted from my home in West Virginia each day.
“West Virginia trailer trash at a snooty boarding school?” he hooted, finally giving me his full attention. “Now that is a story I would read!” I stiffened at his use of the term “trailer trash” and his assumption that such a term applied to me, or anyone for that matter. People are not trash, not even the ones we make up.
“I can write that book,” I said. But I won’t, I added silently. Because though the story would be about the boundaries we cross in the search for identity, belonging, and purpose, the story had already ceased being mine. It was Roy’s, and Roy, as I hope you will learn for yourself, is like no one that agent could have ever imagined.