When we were getting ready to head to university, my friends and I filled out one another’s residence hall applications. I don’t remember our reasoning behind this, but I guess we figured that we knew each other well enough to keep ourselves honest when it came to filling out the “are you tidy?” question. In any case, this proved very important for me, because one of my questions was “would you like a single room or a dorm-style room?” I was all ready to put “single” when Colleen stepped in with the following bit of wisdom:
“Kate,” she said, “you can’t live by yourself. If you live by yourself, you will never meet another soul.”
She was, of course, completely right.
My roommate in first year was a girl named Louise, and we were pretty much perfectly suited to each other, once she started going to bed at midnight instead of two, and I started getting up at eight instead of six. We were both quiet, non-partiers with a fondness for British humour, and she tolerated my obsessions (at the time it was LotR and CSI). There was only one problem. Louise was from Cambridge, and after first year she planned to commute forty minutes and live at home, which meant I had to go apartment hunting on my own.
Fortunately, all was not lost. There was a girl on our floor named Jocelyn who was friends with Louise. After Christmas, she came into our room and sat down on my bed.
“So, Kate!” she said. “We should live together. Because if we live with anyone else, we’ll probably kill them.”
Like Colleen twelve months earlier, Jocelyn was completely right. We found a three bedroom apartment that had the added bonuses of free laundry and an eight month lease. We decided to gamble on the third person, and took the room. We lived there for the next three years.
Now, Jocelyn and I were quite different people. Though we shared the common bonds of neatness and quietness, and we also had a similar value system, we had almost nothing in common in terms of what we did “for fun”. This completely baffled the other girl we lived with (and our parents, for that matter), but we managed quite well. I took me some time to figure it out, but what it really came down to was that Jocelyn was a girly-girl, in every sense, and I was not.
It was Jocelyn, for example, who waited for me in the living room the day I went to get my grad pictures taken and said “You are not leaving here without at least eye make-up!” It was Jocelyn who, upon seeing my dress for the Engineering Ball said “You need to wear these heels. For me. Because my fiancé is two inches shorter than me and your boyfriend is six inches taller than you.” And one day, when I was watching “A Knight’s Tale” on TV, it was Jocelyn who sat down next to me and said “I love this movie!”
I was surprised. Up until now, we had tolerated each other’s taste in TV (with her it was Friends, Sex and the City, and Spongebob, and with me it was Star Trek, Stargate, and whatever else was on the Space Channel), and I don’t think we’d ever watched a whole movie together. So I made room on the couch and she made popcorn, and we settled in for the duration.
At one point, she leaned over and said “I’m surprised you like this movie so much.” I said pretty much the same thing to her, ending with “So…why do you like it?” “Are you kidding?” she said. “The Princess is named JOCELYN. Why do you like it?”
I love “A Knight’s Tale” for a bunch of reasons. It’s deliciously campy. The soundtrack makes me giggle. It has one of the most ridiculous dance sequences in movie history. But the reason I gave that day was none of those.
“Are you kidding me?” I said. “I love it because the blacksmith’s name is Kate.”
In the YA book market, I think that’s called “crossover appeal”. The trick with any good story is to make it work for the Jocelyns of the world, and also for the Kates. It’s something I struggle with a lot. I live in fear of an editor saying to me someday “Okay…but can they maybe have a bit of romance?” because, um, NO, THEY CAN’T. I do have romance in my books, but almost never involving my main characters. They have too much other stuff going on.
When I worked at the bookstore, I would always ask questions like “How old?” and “What do they like to read?”, but chances are pretty good that regardless of what the answers were, I would recommend the same book anyway. Yes, some books are “for girls”, and frankly I’m okay with that, because until very recently this genre was sorely under-populated*. I’m not a huge fan of dividing that even further (on purpose). I’m not a horse person or a romance person (and I’m CERTAINLY not a Mr. Darcy person), but I LOVED “The Scorpio Races”. I am a space ship person AND a murder mystery person, but “Across the Universe” turned out to be Not My Thing. When you pigeonhole a book, that’s the risk you run.
That’s one of the reasons I am so pumped about the fairy tale trend. I’ve read a bunch of them lately, specifically four different versions of Cinderella, and each of them is this brilliantly fresh take on the memorable details***. There are just so many options for the Jocelyns and the Kates to read the same books, and love them for the slightly differing reasons.
Wide appeal doesn’t mean vague. And it shouldn’t mean “for boys”****. It should be about the very books that were missing all along: good female characters who, on occasion, talk to OTHER good female characters*****.I think the key is whatever happened in “A Knight’s Tale”. I always try to make sure that there’s a princess named Jocelyn to balance out my blacksmith named Kate when I’m writing. Sometimes they’re the same character. Most of the time, there’s actually a blacksmith. And I’ve learned that no one ever complains when you throw in a little Heath Ledger to round it out.
*I can’t cite this source at all, but I remember reading something once that said that before Virginia Woolf, there were ZERO books written about females that weren’t related to each other somehow. ZERO. HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?**
**Don’t answer that.
***Man, I did not think that line from “Once Upon a Time” would keep being so HANDY.
****It probably does.
*****Preferably not about boys.