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April 29, 2011

Barbara Dee: Seeing Past the Coolness

Posted by jordana
Trauma Queen cover.jpgBarbara  Dee  1 for web_credit Randy Matusow.jpg
Barbara Dee, author of TRAUMA QUEEN, is posting today on the Teenreads blog about how buying into stereotypes and labels can get in the way of some awesome (and possibly romantic!) experiences. She's also doing a giveaway, so scroll down for all the details! 
Flashback to high school graduation.
There I was in my cap and gown, passing my yearbook around for autographs. Because I was a bit of a geek (okay: not a bit of a geek. A GEEK), most of my classmates were scribbling Congrats, Barbara! I know you’ll go far, or other such painful reminders of what a basically antisocial workaholic I’d been.
But so what, I told myself. I’d be going off to college in a couple of months. And if these kids had written me off as some kind of boring one-dimensional stereotype, fine. I’d never have to see them again anyway!
Then somehow it happened that my yearbook passed itself to Nate.
Nate (not his real name) was the quintessence of cool. He was smart, but definitely not grade-obsessed. Athletic, but in a casual, schoolyard way. Played bass in a band that actually got paid sometimes, had a million friends and at least three girlfriends, and got into exactly enough trouble to make your heart flip when he got called to the dean’s office.
Oh, and did I mention he was gorgeous? And that he’d been my secret crush since eighth grade?
Okay. So now here he was signing my yearbook. Stay calm, I told myself. If he writes I know you’ll go far, just smile and tell him thanks.
I watched his left hand fly over the page. He gave my yearbook back to me, and walked away with his head down, blushing. That was weird, I thought. And then I read what he’d written: I’ve always liked you. Nate.
How can I describe the jumble of emotions I felt right then? Of course I was thrilled. (I mean it was NATE.)  And of course I was stunned. (He liked ME?) But I was also furious at myself for having written him off for the past four years. Why hadn’t I even tried to get to know him? Why couldn’t I see past the coolness?  Maybe if I had—well, who could tell what would have happened. Nothing, probably. But it was also possible high school would have been a whole lot less excruciating.
I think about Nate all the time. I don’t mean in a what-could-have-been way—I mean in a writing-lesson way. (You knew I was coming to that, didn’t you?) Here’s what that yearbook-signing incident taught me as a writer: never make assumptions about your characters. Try to see past the coolness (and the geekiness, too). Don’t write off human beings as types.
In my new book, Trauma Queen, the crazy performance artist mom tells her drama students: “The key to acting is surprise. If I don’t surprise you, why should you even watch me?”  That’s also pretty much my philosophy about creating characters. I try not to make up my mind about my characters until I’ve lived with them for a long time, and sometimes not even then. The school jock, the gothy misfit, the cool boy, the geeky girl—as I’m typing away, I want them all to constantly surprise me. Because I believe that if your characters aren’t capable of surprising you, they’re not going to surprise the reader. They’re just going to be boring one-dimensional types, so why would a reader bother to get to know them?
Besides, you never know when they’ll reveal a secret crush. And unlike me, you want to be ready.

--- Barbara Dee
TraumaQ giveaway low res2 (1).JPGGiveaway Details
Trauma Queen fab giveaway! Three lucky winners will receive one copy of TRAUMA QUEEN by Barbara Dee along with a limited edition t-shirt! To enter, send an e-mail to In the body of the e-mail, include your name and e-mail address (if you're under 13, have a parent enter for you). One entry per person and prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses. Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on 5/13/11. Winners will be selected in a random drawing on 5/14/11 and notified via email.

Barbara is a featured author on a new website called VYou. Readers can submit questions and chat with her! Just go to: